Today’s wine is such an unmistakable, authentic northern Rhône Syrah—and such an utter joy to drink—that I can’t help being a little melodramatic here: If you love this grape and this place, as I do, passing this wine by would be a huge mistake.
As some of you are already aware, Philippe Desbos of Domaine DeGouye is an unsung superstar in Saint-Joseph, a true-blue vigneron farming some of the greatest high-elevation vineyards in the village of Saint-Jean-de Muzols—directly across the Rhône from the Hermitage hill and not far above the historic vines of Raymond Trollat. Some of Desbos’ plots are too steep for his trusty plow-horse, Ramses, forcing him to use mechanical winches, and from his perch at one of the highest points in the appellation, he crafts some of the most aromatically complex, mineral driven Syrah not just in Saint-Joseph but in the Rhône Valley, period. Today’s wine comes from a north-facing, high-elevation Syrah plot in the hamlet of Gabouillon which falls ever-so-marginally outside the Saint-Joseph appellation boundary. Its humble ‘Vin de France’ designation and $22 price tag are completely incongruous with the wine in the bottle—a Syrah that offers a perfect snapshot of its place while also delivering pure, uncomplicated joy. Whether it’s treading grapes by foot or using a 19th-century vertical press, Philippe is the ultimate in “old school” and his wines are both pure and incredibly evocative: focused, mineral, highly perfumed, and loaded with energy. Few wines in recent memory caused the kind of stir this one did—so, like I said, do not miss it!
As I’ve noted before, Desbos holds a special place in my heart not just because he’s one of the most genuine articles I’ve ever met but because, on our last visit, he arranged an impromptu visit with retired Saint-Joseph legend Raymond Trollat. It was Trollat who attracted worldwide acclaim to Saint-Jean-de-Muzols, and Desbos is carrying the torch with aplomb: With each new vintage, his wines are more and more assured, complex, and just straightforwardly delicious. Like the wines of the great Jean Gonon, Saint-Joseph from de Gouye is investment-grade wine, plain and simple. Meanwhile, today’s “Gabouillon” represents one of the best Rhône Syrah values I’ve ever seen.
Saint-Jean-de-Muzols is a special place. It’s one of the ‘original’ villages of the Saint-Joseph AOC, along with a handful of others clustered on the west side of the Rhône opposite Tain l’Hermitage. This is prime territory for the best expressions of Syrah, thanks to high elevations and soils that are largely granitic with patches of limestone—far superior to the clayey soils found at the base of the hills. The vineyard source for Gabouillon sits at 1,100 feet on decomposed granite, with vines averaging 40-50 years of age. In classic Desbos fashion, it is hand-harvested—there’s no other way—and foot-trod in upright oak fermenters. It ages in a mix of tanks and used oak barrels for about seven months and is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Pure, pretty, peppery, perfumed…the superlatives just roll off the tongue when tasting this stellar 2018. It’s a medium ruby in the glass with hints of magenta and has a brambly, wild berry fruit quality that leaps from the glass. Aromas of black raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate, juniper, white pepper, warm spices, wild herbs, and a hint of black olive. Medium-bodied and pulsing with life, its tannins are relatively soft and the acidity bright and balanced. The sweet-savory balance in spot-on and the refreshment level off the charts. Think of it as the stripped-down, “acoustic” version of DeGouye’s seriously rocking Saint-Joseph: Splash it in a decanter about 15 minutes before serving at 60-65 degrees in Burgundy stems with burgers, lamb sausages, or, for a vegetarian option, some tangy Provençal tartlets. Frankly, I think this wine will go with just about anything—and it disappears very quickly, so consider stocking up! Enjoy!
Partial Neutral French Barrels