Crozes-Hermitage is an appellation of the northern Rhone valley in France. It covers a relatively large area on the eastern bank of the Rhone river, to the north and south of Tain L'Hermitage town. Much larger than the prestigious Hermitage appellation which it surrounds, Crozes-Hermitage is also much more prolific. In 2011 almost 70,000 hl of wine were produced and sold under the Crozes-Hermitage title – more than the other seven northern Rhone appellations combined.
(© Christophe Grilhé)
The vast majority (around 90%) of Crozes-Hermitage wines are red, and made predominantly from Syrah. Interestingly, the other grape varieties used in the red wines here are Roussanne and Marsanne the light-skinned varieties used to make white Crozes-Hermitage Blanc.
The exception to this is an interesting and uncommon one: the only other grapes that may be added to a red Crozes-Hermitage blend are Roussanne and Marsanne. These are also the only two varieties permitted in white Crozes-Hermitage wines. The co-fermentation of white grapes with red is designed to soften the otherwise robust wines and add complexity to their aroma – it is restricted by law to a maximum of 15% of the final blend.
The wines made here are generally less complex than those from Hermitage; they are grown on richer soils that challenge the vines less, resulting in fruitier, simpler wines. The valley floor does not benefit from refreshing air currents or prolonged sunshine, leading to slightly stewed flavors in the wine, particularly in hot years. The prices that Crozes-Hermitage wines attract is somewhat limited by this simplicity, meaning that costly barrel maturation is rarely employed to add complexity and structure to the wines.
The terroirs of Crozes-Hermitage are many. There is an area north of the town of Tain L'Hermitage that benefits from a favorable mesoclimate and a warmth-retaining granite bedrock and produces richer, more complex wines than those from the flatter lands to the south. These eastern areas of the appellation have a predominance of clay and limestone soils, while the southern areas closer to the river are set on alluvial soils. Neither of these areas benefits from the increased elevation or sunshine levels enjoyed by the south-facing hillsides further north. This less-favorable environment produces wines that age for only five to ten years for the better red wines, and only a couple of years for the whites. The positive side to this is that the wines are much less expensive, and those from areas such as Gervans in the north (for reds) and Mercurol in the east (for whites) can provide excellent, affordable expressions of the local wine style.