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2007 St Joseph Blanc, le Clos, Domaine Florentin
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 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
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