Crozes-Hermitage is a satellite of the great Hermitage appellation. Both red and white wines are made; the reds are made from Syrah, while the whites are blended Marsanne and Roussanne. Crozes-Hermitage is a rather large appellation, in fact the largest in the northern Rhône. A total of 11 villages make up the appellation, so there are over 3,000 acres planted under vine, which is more than half of the northern Rhône's total acreage. These acres yield 750,000 cases of wine annually from the vineyards. About 90% of these wines are red.
As a result of perceived overproduction, Crozes-Hermitage is having a serious problem with its reputation; many people are now treating it as a workhorse appellation. There is some truth to this; due to overproduction, there are many low-quality wines. However, critics of the appellation tend to overlook the many great wines, which are certainly capable of brushing shoulders with Hermitage in good vintages.
Crozes-Hermitage is not as historical a region as its namesake, but it was one of the first regions in the Rhône to receive AOC status (in 1937).
Climate and Viticulture
All the appellations of the northern Rhône are quite similar in climate, but Crozes-Hermitage's size is a drawback. There are some rocky soils that cultivate poor wine. Generally, though, the soil is made up of thick, drainable sandy clay, with some pebbles.
In Crozes-Hermitage, main red grape Syrah makes very potent wines that are full of black fruit and pepper flavors, although they lack the finesse and refinement of the best Hermitages and also the brute power of the best Côte-Rôties. They should be drunk early, when they will generally provide pleasant, balanced flavors.
Marsanne and Roussanne are allowed to together make up 15% of the reds. Although they add a decent floral element to the reds, they are better off together in their own white wines, which are quite powerfully flavored.
There are many good producers in the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, but we seek to isolate the great ones. Five of these are listed below.
- Albert Belle: Belle is a very solid producer here, producing a good, inexpensive Marsanne white wine. Reds include the smoky, textured Les Pierrelles and the rich, oak-influenced, spicily flavored Louis Belle cuvée.
- Domaine Yann Chave: The warm, slightly floral basic wine here is good, but it pales by comparison to the more rich, rounded, smoky Le Rouvre cuvée.
- Domaine Alain Graillot: This producer, whose wines are common across the northern Rhône, makes a great basic Crozes-Hermitage. Full of smooth wild fruit and spice flavors, this wine has an open-knit texture. The La Guiraude is Graillot's most complex cuvée, with smoother, darker, and more herbal flavors.
- Paul Jaboulet Aine: Jaboulet is one of the largest producers here. Their best white wine, titled Domaine Mule Blanche, is a smooth, citrussy, smoky Marsanne-based style. The Domaine de Rouré is another good white cuvée. The red version of the Domaine de Rouré is also good, with meaty, intense black fruit flavors. The Domaine de Thalabert is a cult favorite, with powerful but precise black fruit and spice flavors.
- Domaine des Remizières: As well as a surprisingly good basic wine, Remizières makes the terrific Autrement, an exotically fruited, lively, eccentric cuvée that may well be their best. The Christophe white wine is smoky with diverse fruit flavors, while the red version is lush and floral. The Particulière white is full of mineral and herb flavors, while the fresh, herbal red is the most easy-drinking wine in this lineup.
Crozes-Hermitage, despite its size, has no subappellations.