2018 Domaine Francois Merlin, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The Domaine Merlin, based in St-Michel-sur-Rhône since 1989, a commune just south of Condrieu, is a small producer focused on Syrah and Viognier with good holdings in Condrieu, Cote-Rotie and Saint-Joseph, where this beautiful wine comes from, it is a stylish and pure example of Northern Rhone Syrah that delivers a fine performance in the glass and is a stellar value. The Saint-Joseph Rouge is made from various small plots with a mix of sandy soils and granite, with a bit of limestone and was all de-stemmed to promote elegance and opulence in the wine, which was easily achieved here in this 2018 version. The wine saw a short cold soak maceration and gentle hand punch downs while fermenting after which this dark purple/garnet Syrah is raised in a combination of wood casks with about 20% being new 228L barrels with the majority seeing neutral oak in various sizes to allow for freshness and balance to shine here. This is quite impactful Saint-Joesph in the glass with more than expected density and presence, in fact it is almost as impressive as the winery’s top Cote-Rotie with loads of blue and black fruits, delicate spices, perfume and textural pleasures. This is solid stuff with a classic medium to full bodied palate with lush layers of boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch and cedary wood notes, a touch of feral/earthy savoriness (the good kind of Syrah funk) and pretty violets, adding hints of anise, flinty mineral and a lingering sense of creme de cassis.

In my review of the Domaine Merlin Cote-Rotie, I noted that, Francois Merlin, a largely self taught winemaker, who has been joined full-time by his son Laurent in 2013, is a serious vigneron that studied under the legendary Rene Rostaing. I found he has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone, with Decanter Magazine really loving these wines, and with a tidy collection of high quality parcels, some that he planted himself from ancient massele (syrah) selections, including Serine clone, notably in Cote-Rotie as well as here in Saint-Joseph. Laurent uses mostly organic and sustainable methods to farm his family’s challenging, mostly steep, sites which are set on the region’s mostly decomposed granite soils with areas of gneiss, gravel and schist. The Domaine gets exceptionally small yields from their vines and the concentration of fruit is utterly sensual and divine. Francois credits his son Laurent, for playing a big part in the vineyards, that has taken the quality to the next level, and this 2018 Saint-Joseph is proof. In the small cellars Francois employs some Burgundy style small barriques, plus a few puncheons and large 600L casks that range from toasty brand new to six year old casks, used in combination to achieve a studied balance in his reds. With extended air, the 2018 Merlin Saint-Joseph gains depth and richness, but stays gracefully detailed and it is at its best with food, be sure to look for this bottling as it offers a ton of quality and personality for the price, this is a producer to add to your watch list, especially for Syrah lovers.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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