Let's face it folks, if you sign up for a mass wine tasting the odds are you will not get to taste anything better than a reasonable economy standard; somewhere in the region drinkable to half decent is about the best you can expect; very ordinary to mediocre will be the fare if you are unlucky.
Firstly you are obviously a tourist and not expected to know any better. Secondly you are probably travelling by air and can't carry much anyway.
I am pleased to report that the tasting organised for us in Tournon was much better than that. Whilst the presenters naturally did not include the local celebrity wines, they did present us with an attractive selection. Obviously not a scientific survey, but it did enable us to gain some sort of idea of the differences between the wine of the left bank (left) of the Rhone, known as Crozes-Hermitage and the right bank (below right) called St-Joseph. I shall leave the discussion of Hermitage itself to those who can afford it and who are therefore in a position to know better.
This is the region of the Shiraz (Syrah) grape and it so happened that the majority of our party were Australians who know a thing or two about this variety. They were not shy about testifying to the merits of Australian labels and interested to sample the French competition. Some we encountered were promptly condemned.
Not so Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph. They approved and I would not be turning up my nose at either of these should anyone care to donate a case or three to a good cause, though if pressed I would say the St Joseph is somewhat smoother and more to my own taste.
What is the link between Hermitage and my recent posts about religious mysteries of Southern France? Well, it so happens that the region takes its name from Seigneur Gaspard de Stérimberg who, wounded during the Albigesian Crusade, came here to recuperate and subsequently live as a hermit. Quite why he did so is a puzzle, since in common with the other north Rhone wine areas it has a continental rather than a Mediteranean climate, which means it has wet winters.
On the other side of the river, Saint-Joseph, named for its origins in a Jesuit winery, uses the same grapes but has a different exposure and other differences that produce subtle distinctions from its close relative. The last photograph shows Tournon on the right and Tain on the left, which are the centres of the respective areas.