What I’m Drinking Now: This Bold, Complex Northern Rhone Syrah

2019 Pierre Gaillard Clos de Cuminaille

Grapes: 100% Syrah

Location: Saint-Joseph, Rhône, France

Winemaker: Pierre Gaillard

Approximate Retail Price: $48

Website: domainespierregaillard.com

Tasting Notes

Color: Opaque and cloudy with rich hues of garnet

Aroma: Earthy with ripe blackberry and mild black cherry, as well as a hint of black spice

Taste: Delicately bold and complex with dark fruits, coated tannins and mouthwatering acidity

The southern Rhône Valley in France enjoys fame for its grenache-based red wines and regions such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac and the whole Côtes du Rhône. In cooler, narrower northern areas, though, locals use only syrah for red wine and viognier, marsanne and roussanne for whites, depending on the specific region. Sometimes, a tiny percentage of white grapes will be blended with the syrah.

Many believe that the best winemaking starts in the vineyard and that the grape harvest plays the most vital part in producing quality wine. Many also believe that most winemaking takes place in the vineyard and, therefore, take a minimalist approach when actually making wine, allowing the grapes to speak for themselves.

So it is with Pierre Gaillard. Gaillard and his crew focus primarily on the proper care and harvest of the grapes, believing that only then can they make the wines they envision. They work with three vineyards or estates: Cottebrune and Madeloc in the south and Malleval in the north. From Malleval, Gaillard produces wines from Cornas, Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu and Saint-Joseph.

Believing that oak should “never mask a wine’s true characteristics,” the crew at Gaillard takes meticulous care with their oak treatment. More specifically, they use carefully selected new and used French oak for their programs. Whites ferment in the barrel, but not too long, and reds are barreled only after primary fermentation but before malolactic (or “secondary”) fermentation.

Northern Rhône wines, white or red, enjoy a reputation for their elegance, structure and complexity, which tends to lead to higher – albeit justifiable – prices. As a perfect example, Gaillard’s Clos de Cuminaille from Saint-Joseph offers subtle earth, complex fruit and floral attributes, as well as smooth tannins – the kind of wine to compel one to pause over the dazzling aromas for drinking.

Food Pairings: Leaner red meats, game, roasted duck, tomato-based sauces, soft to medium cheese, peppery charcuterie, grilled medium-rare salmon and steak soup all would nicely accompany this wine.

Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne owns Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves.