St. Péray may be the most obscure region in the entire Rhone valley. Once as famous as regions like Cornas and Condrieu, it has now dwindled to a near obscurity. Situated directly south of Cornas, St. Péray is the most southerly of all the Northern Rhone appellations, except for a small piece of the large Croze-Hermitage.
Napoleon Bonaparte once described the still wines of St. Péray as his first wine discovery – much like many wine lovers today have that moment that opens their eyes and palates to wine. But since the excitement of the 19th century for the wines of St. Péray wore off, the region has seen a continuing decline in interest. Today there are only a dozen growers and a handful of negociants, with half of the wine being made at the cooperative of Tain L’Hermitage. All the more rare it is, then, to find a wine from the caliber of a producer like Auguste Clape, who is probably the leading producer in Cornas. Accordingly, Clape’s St. Péray vineyards are just south of his Cornas vineyards and comprise a miniscule 0.23 hectares. As a result, Clape only makes 100 cases of this very rare dry white.
Clape’s vineyards are sited on acidic soil, with quartz granite and patches of clay limestone on the lower slopes. The granite tends to produce wines that drink better young. The Marsanne, which comprises 99% of the wine (1% Roussanne), is picked mostly from 55-65 year old vines, with about 1/3 of the fruit from 15 year old vines.
There has also been a trend in St. Péray to increase the use of oak, which tends to cover over the more terroir driven aspects of the wine, which are quite delicate despite the commonly robust alcohol. Clape, on the other hand, ferments in concrete and stainless steel, and allows malo-lactic fermentation to complete naturally before bottling in April. This vinification methodology also reflects that the oaked whites need more time in bottle to come together. With Clape’s terroir favouring younger wines, it makes little sense to produce an oakier style of wine.
St. Péray – its Own Terroir
The pale colour of the wine belies its richness and its luminescent nose of pear, apple and a touch of honey nut. The palate presents tremendous minerality with deep orchard fruits. This has impeccable structure for a 14% ABV wine, and it holds the alcohol extremely well. The richness is outstanding given the complete lack of oak – and this is perhaps why the wine is so balanced. The finish is very persistent given the price point. Overall this is a distinctive terroir based wine that shows more minerals and spice versus the more honeyed and floral tones of its St. Joseph counterparts. The price I paid for the quality is astounding – it is worth four times as much.
$17 at K&L Wine Merchants in SF.