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2011 St Joseph Blanc, Domaine Pierre Gaillard
Pierre Gaillard is one of the most respected vignerons in the Northern Rhône. He had worked previously for both Vidal-Fleury and Etienne Guigal before starting out on his own and then received great reviews when he first started producing in the mid-eighties, his first vintage being 1987.
From the precipitous Medieval village of Malleval, Pierre surveys his fine granitic vineyards of St. Joseph, Condrieu and Côte Rôtie with experienced eyes. He produces around 18,000 bottles of red St. Joseph each year from just under 40 hectares. He is particularly skilful in using oak to coax luxuriant and extremely seductive flavours, but flavours that never lose sight of the individuality of their originating terroirs.
His St Jospeh Blanc is unusual in that it is entirely made from Roussanne, its more usual partner, Marsanne, eschewed in a successful quest for aromatic harmomy. The wines spend six months in 10-20% new oak prior to bottling, adding weight and richness to the final wine.
Pierre had always been fascinated by the beauty of the Banyuls countryside and by the huge potential of the terroir. In 2002, he purchased the old estate of Pagès and went into partnership with a former member of the local co-operative Jean Baills and his son Matthieu.
Jean and Matthieu not only brought their wide knowledge of the terroir, the local weather and the history of the cru but also about 15 hectares of vineyard containing mostly old Grenache and Carignan vines, as well as plantings of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Vermentino and others. All these have been added to the original seven hectares of the Domaine Pagès, and new plantings have been under way since 2003.
The Magenca is a red Collioure blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan which has spent 15 months in barrel, 30% of which was new oak.
Roussanne is one of the most important white grape varieties in the Rhône Valley. It is a particularly pernickety grape to cultivate being a notoriously low yielder as well as being highly susceptible to rot. It is difficult to ripen, and seemingly prone to oxidation at every opportunity. Roussanne's name comes from its russet-coloured skin and it produces richly aromatic wines, often with fruit characteristics of lime and blossom.
In the northern Rhône it is typically blended with Marsanne to produce the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit, while Roussanne contributes bouquet, delicacy and finesse.
It is grown less extensively in the southern Rhône although it is one of the permitted varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are plantings of Roussanne in the Languedoc and Rousillon and in the last decade the grape have been cultivated with particular success in California, where it is produced both as a single varietal and as a component of Rhône-style blends.
St Joseph is the second-largest appellation in the Northern Rhône with 50 growers producing wines from over 600 hectares of vineyards. Established in 1956, over 90 percent of the wine is red – made exclusively from the Syrah grape. The white wines, meanwhile, are typically a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne varieties. Its vineyards run due south on the west side below Condrieu, and are in six communes: Mauves, Tournon, St Jean-de-Muzols, Lemps, Vion and Glun.The styles of wine in St Joseph tend to be much lighter than other red Appellations d'Origine Contrôlee and the quality can vary dramatically. The soils and climate differ, as it is a long, narrow AOC. There is no particular characteristic of the commune as some wines are produced near Côte-Rôtie, while others are near to Cornas.
The best St Josephs are still produced in the original heartland of the appellation between St Jean-de-Muzols and Mauves, where soils are predominately granitic with patches of limestone and schist. Typically, even the finest St Josephs are slightly lighter and faster-maturing than the wines of Hermitage, as St Joseph's east-facing vineyards lose the sun up to two hours earlier in the crucial ripening season.
To meet demand, some extensions of the appellation have been made on less than ideal land, producing wines of indifferent quality.
Recommended producers: Pierre Gaillard, Jerome Coursodon, Paul Jaboulet
Best vintages: 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2000, 1999, 1996, 1990