2007 Domaine Grangier Saint-Joseph

Domaine Grangier Saint-Joseph We were at the Rhone Valley Decouverte, the annual tasting of Rhone wines in Avignon. We caught up with a lot of old friends: sommeliers, winegrowers and importers. There was a quiet buzz in the room. People were talking about a young producer who had made a little bit of a striking Northern Rhone Syrah. The importers didn't much care, as the entire production was under 5,000 bottles. But we made a bee-line for Roland Grangier.

The 2007 St. Joseph from this 30-year-old star in the making was a showstopper, a stellar Syrah that just had it all -- deep purple color, lush forward red fruit flavors, and a wonderful chiseled finish. Where did this guy come from, and how did he manage to turn the heads of some of the best tasters in the world?

When Roland Grangier came home to his family's tiny estate in the hamlet of Chavannay, he knew the road to making money was a long one. But he was only 23 years old, fresh out of enology school, so he told his parents that he was ready to take over, but only if he was calling the shots. What the heck? There wasn't much to lose.

His parents farmed just 14 acres of vineyard land, six of which were comprised of four small plots in St. Joseph. Young Roland took one look at the finances -- the winery was barely break even -- and decided that there was only one way to go. He would only bottle a little bit of wine, not even a third of his production. But that which he would bottle would be the best he could do.

Roland's yields were very small in the amazing, Indian Summer vintage of 2007. Less than three tons per acre of small, perfectly formed clusters of Syrah. Tasting grapes well into September, Roland told us the grapes were "croquant," small, crunchy and sweet -- the kind of Syrah that promises both richness and sinew. He sorted in the vines, then again in the cellar. All the grapes were destemmed, then fermented in stainless steel tanks. Then he did something that is generally reserved only for the top cuvees of the Northern Rhone. He transferred the wine into barrels -- 50% of which were new -- so that the secondary, malolactic fermentation would be carried out in barrel.

What's special about the "malo" in barrel? First, it's a lot more work. But second, the work guarantees a seamless marriage between the fruit and the wood, offering wines that are beautifully integrated on release.

The Appellation of St. Joseph
The Appellation of St. Joseph
New wood? Malolactic in barrel? Tiny yields? This is a recipe for quality. It's also a quick way to go broke if you can't fetch top dollar for your wine. When we asked Roland the price of this delicious, concentrated, sophisticated St. Joseph, he just shrugged his shoulders. He'd never sold to the U.S., had heard that times were tough, and gave us a price that we felt almost bad in accepting. We shook hands and Roland just shrugged his shoulders, smiled his introverted smile and said, "Tant pis." ("Too bad.")

Tasting Notes from the WineAccess Travel Log
"Beautiful purple color to the edge. Sweet kernel of purple and red fruit on the nose, a hint of new wood perfectly married with the wine's lushness. Lush cassis and red fruit flavors to the core. Plush layers of concentrated red fruit with a hint of garrigue. Long, chiseled finish. Superbly elegant Syrah with the class of much more expensive bottlings. Drink now for its gorgeous ripe primary fruit flavors or age until 2015."