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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Favourites - Cave de St Désirat

We first visited the Cave de Saint Désirat in the summer of 2005 - I know when because it was early in our wine explorations in France, but they told us they only moved to the current site in 2004, so it must have been just after that.  It's on the west bank of the Rhône south of the village of Condrieu, and it's the delicious if expensive white wine of the same name which is one of the main attractions.  Condrieu is a small appellation controlée and the first to make famous the difficult but very perfumed white grape viognier which has since become ubiquitous across the south of France and across the world.  But as Chablis is to chardonnay, so Condrieu is to viognier.  There are lots of fruity, flowery examples from elsewhere (Mary described one of the first we bought, from St Estève d'Uchaud in the southern Rhône, as tasting like dolly mixture - it made her laugh), but the original AOC is an altogether more elegant and refined wine.  Not, at the price, one for everyday, but a beautiful apéritif for a special occasion or (as the French always have it) accompaniment to foie gras.

But the main business of this cave co-opérative is the production of another AOC, Saint Joseph, one of several in the northern Rhône (others include Hermitage, Cornas and Crozes Hermitage) made from 100% syrah.  The impressive array of 2005 and 2006 wines on offer at the moment come from 2 quite exceptional years in the Rhône as in most of France.  All were deep-coloured and deep-flavoured - the less expensive ready to drink soon, but the better-made, with old and new oak adding to their complexity without 'woodiness', capable of being kept for some years.

Incidentally, the historical proximity of the viognier and syrah cépages on this bit of the west bank of the Rhône has led to a curious mixture in one of the great wines of the area, Côte Rôtie.  This appellation, as small as Condrieu, is at face value another deep red syrah, but unlike its northern Rhône neighbours the wines have a small amount of viognier added to give a wonderful exotic lift to the smell and taste of the wines.  In recent years lookalikes from Australia and South Africa have made this rare combination of grape varieties better known.

Coordonnées GPS : N 45°15'53.27" et E4°47'50.15"

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