The Sleeper Syrah of 2016

At Delas, Claire Darnaud was taken by surprise by the 2016 Northern Rhône reds
The Sleeper Syrah of 2016
Jacques Grange and Claire Darnaud have back-to-back winners in 2015 and 2016. (Courtesy of Delas)
Aug 2, 2018

With a new winery in Tain under construction, things continue to move at Delas, another of my regular stops in France's Northern Rhône Valley. As they shifted the winemaking style here in recent years, the team of Jacques Grange and Claire Darnaud hit a homerun in 2015. They've got a superb followup in '16, a vintage marked by racy, fresh Syrahs. In fact, Darnaud says she almost missed it, it was so sneaky ...

"We underestimated it at the beginning. But '16 has totally grown on me," she says. "All the finesse and elegance—I just couldn't see the full development early on. But after coming out of oak, blending and so on, the midpalate just started to grow and grow."

In the 2016 Crozes-Hermitage Le Clos, the lush blackberry and cherry preserve flavors are alluring, with warm mesquite and woodspice notes throughout. It's very rounded and open through the finish, but without sacrificing length.

The 2016 St.-Joseph Les Challeys shows more of the vintage's typical profile, with a sleeker feel and pretty violet, mesquite and sanguine notes amid the black cherry fruit. The 2016 St.-Joseph François de Tournon has nice energy, with bramble, mineral and savory notes, adding range to its black cherry core. And as it often does, the 2016 St.-Joseph Ste.-Épine pushes its minerality forward, with a mouthwatering feel throughout while the cherry and raspberry fruit is driven and long through the finish.

The trio of St.-Josephs captures the changes being made here: wines of elegance and minerality, but without sacrificing fruit or energy. It's more than winemaking shifts—the shift in viticultural philosophy here is starting to show up in the wines.

"We did our first organic trials in '12 and then were fully organic in all the vineyards by '17," says Darnaud. "It took time, but I think there's a noticeable shift in the wines. I can't argue it scientifically, but there's a vibrancy now that wasn't there before."

That vibrancy is really on display in the 2016 Cornas Chante-Perdrix, which has a bright and higher-pitched feel as it ripples with pomegranate, damson plum, savory and iron notes.

The 2016 Côte-Rôtie Seigneur de Maugiron shows smoky bay and singed cast iron notes amid currant and blackberry preserve flavors, while the single-vineyard 2016 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne has a focused core of mulled cherry and blackberry fruit infused liberally with mesquite, olive and alder notes.

The 2016 Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes showcases the purity of the vintage, with a refined core of cassis and cherry fruit flecked with anise, sweet toast, tobacco and loam. It has wonderful range and length.

The 2016 Hermitage Les Grandes Vignes is a new bottling, from the lieu-dit of the same name, that was kept separate in 2015, '16 and '17 because of its quality (normally it goes into the Tourettes bottling). Its core of black cherry, currant and fig fruit is very intense, as is the loam and iron spine that affords it serious grip. Due to the hail in Hermitage in 2016, there were just 125 cases made of this cuvée.

Last is the 2016 Hermitage Les Bessards, marked by its density from start to finish, delivering a similar cherry and currant fruit profile but loaded with more loam, ganache, alder, humus and black tea notes. It's got a thumping bass line that manages to be extremely precise.

Follow James Molesworth on Instagram at @jmolesworth1, and on Twitter at @jmolesworth1.

France Rhône Valley Northern Rhône Red Wines Syrah / Shiraz 2016 Winery Intel

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