Andrew Jefford provides tasting notes for Crozes-Hermitage 2015 red wines, arguing that the appellation offers some of the best value in this highly praised Rhône vintage.
Regular readers may recall my explanatory article about Crozes-Hermitage three weeks ago, in which I pointed out just how different Crozes-Hermitage is from the rest of its Northern Rhône peers. It’s different by scale (already the biggest appellation in the Northern Rhône, it has the potential to grow to double the size of its nearest competitor, St Joseph, within a decade or two) – but it’s also different in terms of terroir and style.
It has at least three different sorts of vineyard site: classic, steep granite, loess and gravel slope terraces in the north; rich, limey clay (kaolin) slopes in the centre of the appellation; and extensive, pebble-rich brown or red clay flat-land soils in the south, on the Chassis plain, where the great majority of Crozes comes into being. These soils have high potassium levels, meaning in general less piercing finished acid levels in its red wines than in some of its Northern Rhône peers, giving wines grown here potential fleshiness and voluptuousness. Drinkers enjoy relaxing with that, especially when the wines are fruit-packed and tannin-structured, as they were in 2015.
John Livingston-Learmonth’s full report on the Northern Rhône 2015 vintage
Top scorers: The best of the best Northern Rhône 2015 wines
Jefford: Northern Lights in the Rhône
For Crozes, vintage is all. In a great vintage, the wines sing and dance, and can make old bones, too; in cooler and (especially) wetter vintages, they can struggle for density, ripeness and vigour. Crozes-Hermitage in 2014, for example, is only patchily successful, and even wines from leading domains can show green tones. After the magnificent growing season of 2015, by contrast – not a drop of rain between June and mid-August; a leonine July; and fine, warm though tempered harvest weather in mid-September – red Crozes in on song as never before. (Northern Rhône sage Marcel Guigal declared it the best of the 55 harvests he had overseen.)
Here is a selection of tasting notes for the top-scoring wines in a blind tasting of 60 red Crozes-Hermitages, tasted in Tain in mid-February. I doubt that there will be better Northern Rhône values in this vintage than these wines.
Red Crozes-Hermitage 2015 wines
Natacha Chave has crafted a beguiling red 2015 Crozes from her Chassis vineyards: sweet-fruited, fresh and floral in scent, and almost juicy at first on the palate – then the tight-knit, close-weave tannins begin to make themselves felt, and the wine finishes with ample density as well as innate freshness and poise. Beautifully judged. 92
Julien Cécillon, Les Marguerites
Made from a parcel of 80-year-old Syrah sited on east-facing granite slopes in the villages of Crozes-Hermitage itself (the lieu-dit is called Pierre Aiguille), this is a beguilingly floral, perfumed style of Crozes; the quality of the vintage emerges in the supple, lacy brocade of fruit which underwrites and sustains that perfumed enchantment. Not at all the blockbuster style, this will have huge appeal for Northern Rhône classicists. 92
Domaine de Chasselvin
Just a touch of reduction on the nose of this very dark wine, produced by Etienne et Dorothée Chomarat at Beaumont Monteux on the Chassis plain and hand-harvested (by no means the rule here). There’s plenty of dark, brooding, earthy blackcurrant and plum too, though, with the potential to turn smoky with time. The palate offers a poised, shapely arrow of fruit with relatively low acidity, juicy, plump tannins and a spicy finish: 100% delicious. 91
Domaine de Chasselvin, Les Lièvres
Selected parcels and a lower yield, plus a year ageing in small wood (with an average age of five years) mark out this cuvée. The aromatic profile is much more polished, creamier, and with purer fruit notes; on the palate, by contrast, there is a power, drive and tannic force here which insists on a year or two’s storage. Note, too, the saline edge to the black fruits which, with the tempered acidity, is another hallmark of Chassis fruit. 93
Domaine de Chasselvin, 1942
This gruff, broad-shouldered, muscular Crozes just has to hail from Chassis – and owes its depth to 75-year-old vines (planted in 1942). I adored its ample, soft tannins and big shovelfuls of generous, broad-backed fruit. Chewy, open-hearted wine for food (and barely a trace of the wood). 93
Domaine Yann Chave
A scent of creamy black fruit, and a dense, deep, spicy, close-knit palate fuelled up with plenty of energy, thrust and solar force. An exemplary ‘classic’ cuvée which needs a little cellar slumber first. 91
Domaine Yann Chave, Rouvre
For the time being, I prefer the classic to the Rouvre (an old-vine parcel in Chassis close to Pont l’Isère) since the latter shows its oak just a little too flamboyantly, but give it a year or two and that core of intense fruit may begin to outpace the timber. 90
Domaine les Chenêts
This Mercurol-based domain is a new name to me, but the quality sings out in this enchantingly floral, graceful, smooth- fruited wine: arresting perfumed elegance, for the short to medium term. 90
Domaine les Chenêts, Mont Rousset
If ever a special cuvée was distinguished from a classic cuvée, this is it. The oak influence is generous, but there is such an armful of voluptuous, succulent fruit to back it up in this steamroller of pleasure that you can’t say it lacks harmony. If you want the perfume of the Northern Rhône combined with the generosity of the South (yet with only 13%), check this out. 92
Domaine du Colombier, Cuvée Gaby
This wine is the old-vine cuvée from this domain, whose cellar lies just a stone’s throw from the hill of Hermitage. Its almost fierce aromatic complexity (flowers, fruits but something meaty too) suggests that it would be better with a stint in the cellar; time, too, will help unpick the wine’s dense, firm fruit, still closely bonded to generous but fine-textured, shapely tannins. 93
Laurent Combier’s 2015 Classique is hard to match for perfumed elegance: graceful, lifted Syrah fruit which combines peppery freshness with a little citrus-grove sensuality, and a long, smoothly textured, svelte palate. If you find Crozes brutal on occasion, seek out this wine and its old-vine, Clos des Grives sibling (which ups the elegance still further). 92
Emmanuel Darnaud, Les Trois Chênes
There are complex scents here: flowers, mixed black fruits and a little exotic lemon zest; the wine’s touch of oak (60 per cent for 15 months in first, second and third use oak) adds richness and class. On the palate, this is full of life and energy and Northern Rhône classicism. Neither light not mid-weight, but it is balance rather than extract which carries that energy. 91
Fayolle Fils et Fille, Les Pentaix
This wine from the Gervans vineyard of Pentaix has an earthy, warm, close-knit scent and surprisingly lush, spicy blackcurrant flavours for a vineyard from the north of the appellation (it is, in fact, limestone-soiled rather than granite-soiled). There are plenty of backing tannins though the Gervans hallmark elegance is in evidence, too. 91
Ferraton Père et Fils, Les Calendes
This is a wine to which one might apply the fashionable (and overused) term ‘precision’: very clean, clear, blackcurranty poise and lots of purity and freshness on the palate, too, supported by tannins which build in the mouth. 91
Gaylord Machon, Ghany
This Beaumont Monteux-based domain has produced a splendidly perfumed Crozes from Chassis vineyards (at just 12.5%). The citrus-grove scent might almost, in a blind tasting, make you guess this was Syrah from a Languedoc hill site, but the floral enchantment of the palate, and its overall delicacy of form, is more typical of Crozes. Another wine to prove that Crozes from Chassis doesn’t have to be clumsy. 90
Domaine des Hauts Châssis, Les Châssis
From a parcel of 50-year-old vines, this is as typical a red Crozes as you could wish for, with its pure, smoky blackcurrant scents and long river of fruit through the palate. Dive in and let the current sweep you along. 89
The Cornas-based Lemencier’s Crozes shows a little reduction on the nose, mingled with sweet-fruited excitement; the palate is as soft, generous and giving as you might wish, its lush black fruits with a salty lick to them, and toothsomely soft tannins to give the wine shape. 89
Domaine Michelas St Jemms, La Chasslière
A blend of different parcels from Chassis, this wine is just packed with sweet, poised, shapely fruit, full of life and freshness. Even the tannins are sweet. Not for long keeping, but it will make a lovely mouthful over the next half-decade. 90
Domaine du Murinais
Luc Tardy’s Beaumont-Monteux domain has produced a warm, open, generous and earthy classic in 2015: ample fruit, lent complexity by some finishing asperities, though the textures here are smoother than many. 90
Domaine du Murinais, Vieilles Vignes
The Vieilles Vignes cuvée is a clear step up here: a polished wine with fine, subtle oak; sumptuous, billowing fruit and supportive but unobtrusive tannins. It’s not a Crozes to blow your glasses off, but it will provide huge drinking satisfaction. 92
Domaine Rousset, Les Picaudières
This Erôme-based domain specialises in the granite sector of Crozes; Robert Rousset was a nephew of legendary local grower Raymond Roure, and their portion of the steep Picaudières was purchased from Roure. At this stage, this wine (with its unresolved apple and blackcurrant scents) lacks some aromatic finesse, but the palate is classically promising: fresh, poised and pure but generous, too, built on a core of juicy, singing fruit. 90
Terroir from the Cave de Tain
The outstanding co-operative Cave de Tain produces around half of Crozes-Hermitage, and it has growers in every sector of the appellation. It now produces a series of five different sub-regional cuvées (three Terroirs d’Excéption and two Séléctions Parcellaires) in order to showcase the appellation’s internal terroir differences. The 2015 versions are not yet bottled, but here are notes and provisional scores on these fascinating wines. Their enigmatic names reflect the fact that village names are outlawed on Crozes-Hermitage labels.
This wine comes from the granite slopes of the northern part of the appellation around Gervans. Its oak is evident at this stage, but it’s balanced with a bright, singing core of vivid, almost crunchy blackcurrant fruit: fresh and zesty. 
The name here indicated the kaolin-soiled slopes of Larnage. There’s less overt oak here, but lots of pungent fruit — pippy raspberry as well as the darker blackcurrants. It’s also fresh and pungent in style, with a Valrhona hint to the suave tannins. 
This is from Beaumont-Monteux, the vines growing on the flatland pebbles tossed about by the Isère in the past. It’s not as tight-sewn a wine as Nord is; instead you can revel in the classic Chassis generosity of fruit, and its softly smoky richness. 
Hauts du Fief
This wine in 2015 is a blend of fruit from the La Négociale vineyards in Chassis pebble soils with other components from Larnage and Gervans … so you’d expect a balanced palate. And it is: full-fleshed and lush yet with neatly seamed fruit. Classic smoky blackcurrant scents, too. 
There is a Hermitage site of this name, but the source here is a single hillside in Chanos-Curson. It basked in the 2015 sunshine, evidently: there are fleshy, spicy scents and dense, rich, chewy flavours with almost brambly fruit, as if the wine were glancing down to Bandol. Fine tannins, too, and typical Crozes generosity. 
More Andrew Jefford columns on Decanter.com:
Jefford on Monday: Northern Lights
Our columnist goes cruising in Crozes...
Jefford on Monday: The other Châteauneuf
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Jefford on Monday: The Crozes crusader
Andrew Jefford hunts down outstanding value...
Jefford on Monday: Letter to a young wine taster
Jefford offers three decades of advice...