The northern part of France’s Rhône Valley is home to some of the great appellations of the wine world, including Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage for reds and Condrieu for whites, to name just a few. Among the reds, this is Syrah country. Here, the grape produces exquisite, complex wines in small areas like Côte Rôtie and Hermitage with prices to match.
Fortunately, as part of their portfolios, some producers also turn out notable yet affordable wines from just outside those appellations — so-called IGP wines (for protected geographical indication), which used to be called vins de pays. One of them is Yves Cuilleron, whose 2020 Syrah “Les Vignes d’à Côté” offers us a compelling taste of Northern Rhône Syrah in the $20 range.
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The vines are grown in a mix of granite and alluvial soils, and the grapes are hand-harvested and fermented with native yeasts. The wine is then aged for eight months, half in barrels and half in stainless-steel tanks. The result is a fresh, fruit-driven, and earthy wine with alcohol at a moderate 13 percent.
It illustrates the difference between the Syrah-based wines of the Northern Rhône and the deeper, Grenache-dominant wines like Côtes du Rhône from the warmer Southern Rhône, where alcohol levels tend to be higher.
Red and dark fruit tastes are supported by a firm tannic structure and accented by notes of black pepper, cocoa, powdered cinnamon, and braised meat. This is a wine to enjoy now or in the next several years with pork chops, roast chicken, or grilled meat and vegetables.
The Cuilleron family has been making wines for just over a hundred years in Chavanay, which is within the Condrieu appellation and just south of Côte Rôtie. Its charming 2020 Syrah “Les Vignes d’à Côté” gives us an excellent window into a region that should be on your radar.