Decanter experts gives their verdict, tasting notes and drinking windows on St Joseph 2010.

With many small domaines and two zones, St-Joseph is poorly understood. But these northern Rhônes are worth seeking out, says John Livingstone-Learmonth

See the top 20 wines from our St Joseph panel tasting here…

Two words crack the code that is St-Joseph, and they are ‘Syrah’ and ‘granite’. St-Joseph is a poorly understood appellation that has no village to show off its wares, unlike Cornas or Crozes-Hermitage. It wanders down the right bank of the Rhône over nearly 65km, is home to a plethor of small domaines, and is not much exported.

While these features may hamper the marketing of the wine, they also contribute to a countryside authenticity. Holdings at St-Joseph are mostly under 10 hectares, and domaines and their small cellars are dotted around the hills and valleys of the land wedged between the granite slab of the Massif Central and the powerful running Rhône River.

St-Joseph’s roots lie in the rugged existence of hill farmers who for centuries grew cereals, livestock feeds and some dairy up on the meadows and gulleys of the plateau, or fruit trees and vines on the slopes. Wine has always been made here to drink, without ceremony.

Legislation created two St-Josephs, though. The heart is the southern sector opposite Hermitage, formed in 1956. Here there are six communes led by the villages of Mauves, St-Jean-de-Muzols and Tournon. Mauves is the seat of the most dynastic families: Jean-Louis Chave, Coursodon, Gonon, Gripa and Marsanne. Their benchmark wines are marked by red fruits, fine-grained tannins and slight floral notes. At St-Jean-de-Muzols and Tournon, the wines have interesting tension and fine fibre, a true granite ‘clack’; senior figures here include Guigal and Delas, with their Vignes de l’Hospice and Côte St-Epine plot-specific wines.