Sunday, November 26, 2023

Thanksgiving with Saint Joe

I thought I didn’t like Roussanne until I opened a bottle of white Saint-Joseph (pronounced “sahn joe-zef”) over Thanksgiving. Made with 100% Roussanne, the 2020 vintage from Domaine des Pierres-Sèches delighted my palate and changed my mind. It reminded me of the time when I thought I didn’t like Chardonnay, and then I tasted my first white Burgundy.

2020 Domaine des Pierres-Sèches Saint-Joseph Blanc

The same day, my neighbor surprised me with a 2012 red Saint-Joseph from Domaine de Blacieux. It was earthy, spicy, and quite vibrant for its age. As it turned out, both white and red Saint-Josephs made fine pairings for a turkey feast. It seems appropriate to give some love to this Northern Rhône Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) that has been dwarfed by its more famous siblings - Côte Rotie, Hermitage, and Cornas. 

2012 Domaine de Blacieux Saint-Joseph Rouge

So let's talk Saint-Joseph.


It is believed that vines were grown in the Saint-Joseph region during the Roman Empire, as early as 124 BC. By the Middle Ages, the wines were known as Vin de Mauves or Mauves wines. Vin de Mauves were enjoyed by royalties, such as Emperor Charlemagne and King Louis XII. French writer Victor Hugo even mentioned the wine in his masterpiece, Les Misérables.

And Now

Fast forward to 1956, Saint-Joseph received its AOC designation. Today, it is now among over 30 appellations in the Rhône Valley. Located on the west side of the Rhône River, Saint-Joseph is the longest appellation in Northern Rhône, stretching 50 km from north to south. To its north is Condrieu, famous for its exquisite Viognier. To its south is Cornas, known for its powerful age-worthy Syrah.

Northern Rhône Wine Map by DalGobboM at French Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons
Vines and Wines

Three grape varieties are grown in over 1,300 hectares of vineyards within Saint-Joseph. They are Syrah, Roussanne, and Marsanne. The vast majority of the wines produced (about 85%) are red. AOC regulations require that red Saint-Joseph be made with at least 90% Syrah and no more than 10% Roussanne and Marsanne. White Saint-Joseph can be made with any amount of Roussanne and/or Marsanne. 

The vines in Saint-Joseph are mostly grown on east-facing slopes, and the grapes are ripened by the morning sun. The terroirs range from rock formations to limestone and alluvial soils along the Rhône River. The resulting wines tend to be lively with varied expressions depending on the soil from which the grapes grew. Red Saint-Joseph tends to be meaty and spicy with more vibrancy than its more famous Rhône counterparts. White Saint-Joseph is rich and floral with lively acidity to balance it out. 

Here are my tasting notes from the two Saint-Josephs:

2020 Domaine des Pierres-Sèches Saint-Joseph Blanc
A lovely deep gold and almost amber hue, the wine was aromatic with honeysuckle and jasmine. The palate was rich, silky, and pleasing with honey and a tinge of herb, all balanced with a nice acidity. The finish was long and lingering. It was the first Roussanne that turned my head.

2012 Domaine de Blacieux Saint-Joseph Rouge
Deep brick red, the nose on the wine was earthy, funky, leathery, and reminiscent of an old Cornas that I once had. On the palate, it was tart cherry and spice. Its body was medium to light with high acidity and refined tannins. For a 2012 vintage, it was surprisingly vibrant. The finish was brief but pleasant.

Thanksgiving by Pro Church Media on Unsplash
My Verdict: There were a few firsts for me this Thanksgiving - my first Saint-Josephs, both white and red; and the first Roussanne that I loved. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well both wines paired with our Thanksgiving meal. Both have a nice acidity to cut the richness of the gravy galore as well as the herb and spice undertones to complement with the turkey and stuffing. It was a nice change of pace from the usual Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Riesling rotation. Try it some time and let me know what you think.