Similar to Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas, St-Joseph is a northern Rhône appellation whose high-quality Syrah-based red wines can be found for reasonable prices. While not cheap, the wines of this appellation are much less expensive than those of Hermitage. St-Joseph's wines take after those of Hermitage, with similarly rich though less deep flavors. They are often drunk early, as they do not require aging to be complex and balanced.
With about 2,200 acres under vine, the appellation is second to Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhône in terms of planted size. The St-Joseph vineyards produce 600,000 cases of wine each year; white wine production is miniscule.
Older than Hermitage itself, the St-Joseph region has been making wine for centuries. The wines have been well-known since the 15th century, when King Louis XII commended them as his favorite. However, in the 1800s St-Joseph was overshadowed by Hermitage. The region received its AOC status in 1956, originally for red wines only. In the 1970s regulators made two important decisions: to expand the appellation's size, and to allow white grapes.
Climate and Viticulture
Most of the best vineyards of St-Joseph are located on slopes; usually made up of gravel, these slopes are reminiscent of those of Hermitage. In general, flavors of the wines produced here are Hermitage-like, although usually much less complex. However, due to the appellation's size, inferior soil areas also exist.
Since 1979, it has been legal for producers to make white wines from Marsanne and Roussanne here. These grapes make flowery, fruity, rather rich white wines, and generally add a floral element when blended into the reds. Reds are made up of at least 90% Syrah, the famous grape which only a few miles away (in Hermitage) makes the wines that many consider to be its best. Rich, full of black fruit and pepper flavors, and with amazingly thick textures, these very complex wines can be drunk young or given 10-20 years to mellow out.
Despite the appellation's large size, it is considered extremely reliable, almost as much as Hermitage itself. Seven leaders are listed here, but these are by no means the only good producers.
- Maison Chapoutier: The Chapoutier producer makes two cuvée wines. The Deschants is decent, but the Granits is far better. The red Granits has intense yet sweet flavors of red fruit, licorice, and oak, while the white wine has flavors of smoky, exotic poached fruit and minerality.
- Domaine Jean-Louis Chave: Known for their Hermitage, Chave makes a sort of second wine here in St-Joseph. The non-cuvée red wine has a dark color and subtle flavors of dark fruit, smoke, and flowers.
- Domaine Coursodon: One of the rare producers that is fully committed to its appellation, Coursodon makes wines only in St-Joseph. The Le Paradis St-Pierre red is a masterpiece, with hugely perfumed, vibrant flavors of spice and minerality. Heavy and unfriendly when young, this wine becomes excellent with the requisite amount of aging.
- Domaine Yves Cuilleron: This producer's St-Pierre cuvée is white, with fresh tropical fruit flavors and bright florality. The L'Amarybelle is a great red, with broad, smoothly sweet flavors of red and dark fruit. The Les Serines is more intense and classical, with deep, gamy flavors.
- Delas Frères: Delas' best cuvées here are the spicy, perfumed, surprisingly fresh and modern François de Tournon and the even better bouquet of herbs, sweet fruit, and impressive smokiness and florality that is the St-Epine.
- Bernard Gripa: Gripa is an above-average producer that has a great cuvée in Le Berçau; full of wild, spicy and smoky fruit, the wine manages to be powerful, complex, and vibrant all at the same time.
- E. Guigal: Guigal, the producer that dominates the Rhône, has a strong presence in St-Joseph, beginning with the deeply smoky basic red. From the "Lieu-Dit" vineyard, the thick, lemony, creamy white and rich, diversely flavored red are both great. The Vignes de l'Hospice is the main attraction here; though highly priced, it offers Guigal's typical combination of pungent berry fruit flavors, subtle herbal elements, florality, and a velvet texture.
St-Joseph does not have any official subregions.