2007 Domaine de la Ville Rouge Crozes-Hermitage

Domaine de la Ville Rouge Crozes-Hermitage

We're always on the lookout for this. Historically, some of the very best vineyards are tended by growers who don't bottle their wine. This fruit carries a heavy premium and ends up in the hands of the top bottlers, houses like Guigal and Chapoutier in the Rhone. Just a splash of the juice from these secret sources can completely transform otherwise ordinary cuvees.

From time to time, an unusually talented son returns from enology school and convinces his parents that it's time for the family to bottle its own. In our experience, this often signals the birth of a "new," great estate. That's what we discovered recently when one of the top sommeliers in the region pointed us to Ville Rouge and the Girard family's prized Syrah holdings on the galets roules of Mercurol.

The wines of Crozes-Hermitage are far from equal. The best come from a area called the Chassis plain at the southern end of the appellation. This is where you find the stellar Syrahs of Alain Graillot and Laurent Combier's incomparable Clos des Grives. It's also where we discovered Ville Rouge. The landscape is packed with stones; the soil granitic and sandy. The wines? More Hermitage than Crozes -- fabulously rich with wild berry flavors that are both explosive in youth and built to age.

Domaine de la Ville Rouge
Domaine de la Ville Rouge
In 2005, young Sebastian Girard came home after a stint with the Courbis brothers in St. Joseph. His parents gave him a nod, and, in 2006, the family hand-selected 20% of their production and bottled a few hundred cases of wine. The 2006 was superb, but this 2007 is something else altogether. In this spectacular vintage that combines concentration and fabulously chiseled structure, Sebastian has come out with a wine that announces the Girards' arrival at the pinnacle of Crozes.

This wine is deep ruby in color, with a pure red-fruit nose, and wild red-fruit flavors. Most impressively, it succeeds in combining the perfectly honed, pristine red fruit flavors of northern Rhone Syrah with excellent structure.

Serve this with roasted rack of lamb, or even some braised venison, if you can get your hands on some.