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2011 St Péray, Les Cerfs, Domaine Yves Cuilleron
Yves Cuilleron, is described by Wine Spectator as "the leader of Condrieu's new generation of winemakers." Yves represents the 4th generation of Cuilleron vignerons although he initially trained as a engineer. The lure of the vine proved too hard to resist and after a year's training at the Ecole Viticole in Macon he took over the vineyards in 1987.
Since then he has built an entirely new winery at Chavany facility while at the same time he acquired additional vineyard property. The domaine now produces about 50,000 bottles annually divided between the appellations of St. Joseph Blanc, St. Joseph Rouge, Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu.
Most of the vineyards are situated in and around the commune of Chavanay which is just south of the town of Condrieu. He produces approximately 12,000 to 15,000 bottles of Condrieu each year with his production split into 3 cuvees; La Petite Cote, an old vines cuvee Les Chaillets, and a late harvest cuvee Les Ayguets.
In the north, the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray are produced from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit. Roussanne, a notoriously low yielder and pernickety to grow, produces intensely aromatic wines which contribute bouquet, delicacy and finesse to the blend.
Until about 15 years ago there was very little interest in southern Rhône whites as it was widely believed that the combination of dull non aromatic grapes and the baking summer heat meant quality wine production was nigh impossible. Since then the quality has improved markedly through the introduction of cool fermentation techniques and increased plantings of northern Rhône white grapes.
The base of many blends is still Grenache Blanc, a widely planted variety producing fresh wines with apple-like fruits, often with hints of aniseed. Ugni Blanc is still found in many blends, as is Clairette though their general lack of character and definition has led to a reduction in plantings. The future for southern Rhône whites appears to lie with Roussanne, Marsanne, and, increasingly, Viognier.
St Péray is a small Northern Rhône wine appellation situated directly south of Cornas, and directly west of Valence. There are 65 hectares of vineyards (mostly limestone-based), and the main production is sparkling wine made via the traditional method.
Ninety percent of the planting is Marsanne, the remainder being made up of Rousanne and the lesser-known Roussette. Production of still whites is on the increase and this is undoubtedly an appellation to watch.
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