Clos Saint-Joseph, Syrah, 2013, Villars sur Var, Red wine from France

7 points

Perhaps the first thing I should say about this wine: it is too young! It could be better to let this wine age one more year before selling it. Since Roch Sassi produces only a few hundred bottles per year of this remarkable red wine, it’s not terribly easy to buy wines from him. Because the wine is of great quality and has a very special character,  you would expect that his wines are pre-sold anyhow, although they aren’t.

WP_20160406_013I took notice of Clos Saint Joseph some years ago. It was a recommendation of the landlord of La Brocherie at La Napoule (please see at https://avdwineandfood.net/2015/05/20/la-brocherie-restaurant-port-la-napoule-2/) – and actually not for this Syrah but for a white blend which I also like a lot. The name is also a little bit misleading, since most of people would first think about Saint Joseph – one of the largest wine regions of Northern Rhône valley.

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Clos Saint Joseph is based in a small mountain village called Villars-sur-Var and belongs to the appellation Cotes de Provence. Search for it! You wouldn’t expect wine growing in this area, ca. 50km in north of Nice, upstream of river Var. It is a very beautiful mountainous area – jumping-off point for some trekking, biking tours and also not too far away from ski areas. It is not an area which you would consider a wine area. And it isn’t! Most of villagers have small private wine gardens – probably poor and sour wines. Only the grandfather of Roch Sassi believed in the terroir and started many decades ago with his own wine production. Roch Sassi turned everything into an organic production although he has no certificate. His wines are fascinating products of this unique alpine region.

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And in particular his Syrah! The vineyard isn’t directly in the village but a few hundred meters upstream. During winter there is no sun (!) for around five months because of the narrow valley. During summer, there is sun almost all day, and it gets really hot since there is barely any breeze. Only the rivers exhaling a refreshing clamminess in early morning. Soil promises much minerality as it is lime covered by gravel of Var.

It is a remarkable wine: even if it’s much too young in my opinion, it is already smooth today – which leads you to immediately imagine how this wine would be if you kept it for some years – also because of a fascinating, tender and really perfectly balanced acidity and dryness. Minerality in combination with real tannin, Morello cherries, blackberries and even some lingonberry, also som peppery and chili notes. Cool, excellent structure, almost like a Pinot Noir. The color is transparent, which supports the impression of tasting a Syrah. Honestly, I don’t believe there are many professionals who would immediately recognize Syrah if they tasted this one blindly. The wine matures in young oak barrels.

I think this wine is perfect for any beef dish, and also with lamb. And of course for rich, hard cheese!

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When I saw the vineyards, I thought first time I tried to imagine the flavor: indeed it has a very unique character – the character of this narrow, beautiful southern alpine valley and mountains.

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Roch Sassi isn’t one of these “big” French winemakers – and his name isn’t French either. His cellar is modest, he is unquestionably not making wine because of business, he is related to his village, and he is a mountain guy who loves skiing tours, climbing and this tough nature. He is rooted in this land, and is as entrenched as the roots of his vines are – many meters deep!

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Consequently he doesn’t use any chemicals or synthetics for his wine. He sells his wines – so far – only within the region to avoid transport. Interesting, thinking about all trends of “regionalism”. This said, I believe his wine deserves more attention. It isn’t available expect one or two stores in Paris somewhere else than along the Cote d’Azur.

The best of course is a visit to Villars sur Var. I found only one online wine store which offers this wine: http://www.rhonalia.fr/.