Having style expectations for wines from specific regions, like the Northern Rhone as an example, is an unavoidable reflex after years of tasting. Planning to drink a Northern Rhone Syrah from AOP’s like Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas, or St. Joseph requires some fortitude. For one, they are not cheap. Second, modern day Northern Rhone Syrahs have powerhouse reputations; robust wines, often laden with bacon fat and earthy, herbal overtones. While many are benchmark global expressions of the Syrah grape, these bottles usually succeed in solidifying their reputation as filling, chunky, rich wine. I think when Rich from Sudbury Wine and Spirits stuffed a bottle in my hand and asked that I just let him know what I thought, he suspected that Jean Gaillard’s ***½ $12 2012 Gaillard Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah might turn my head and crush all assumptions I may have made before pulling the cork.
Pierre Gaillard, Jean’s father and a well known iconic Northern Rhone winemaker equipped by early career stints with Vidal Fleury and Guigal, produces his own luxurious Northern Rhone wines. His daughter Jean holds vineyards in the Collines Rhodaniennes, which best I can pinpoint is south of St. Joseph near Crozes Hermitage. The sub region has been building a reputation for simpler, less expensive alternatives to pricey Viognier from Condrieu or Syrah from Cote Rotie. My lack of familiarity with Collines Rhodaniennes wines had me assuming they were cheaper, yet still similarly bold styled wines. As I contemplated this bottle that Rich was waiting for feedback on, I turned curious about what a next generation Gaillard working with vin de pays fruit could accomplish.
Jean Gaillard’s 2012 Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah not only offers a fresh look at Northern Rhone Syrah, but also offers freshness in its style. It’s light red not purple, bright not brooding, and 12% alcohol…not 13-14%. Add crispy red fruit, good hits of pepper, a salty flavor line, striking acidity, and a supporting foundation of elegantly light Syrah fruit extraction and you have this wine that drinks and looks like anything but big and bold modern day Northern Rhone Syrah. And, that’s just fine by me for Syrah with dinner. On top of all that, it’s an amazing value at $12.
Sadly, day two with the wine was more disappointing. I was hoping that the youthful structural elements would knit up a little more with oxygen exposure. Instead, the wine actually lost some of its depth of flavor. Without any discouragement, this just informs early consumption of a delicious wine and not bothering to cellar any over extended periods.
Lots of new California and European producers are striving to achieve this lighter, more acidic, less ripe, lower alcohol level in red wine and are achieving fine results pricing wines somewhere between $25 and $60. If you like those kinds of wines, then the 2012 Gaillard Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah should get you really excited, like I now am, for $12.