Occasionally, wines provoke an extreme reaction: from disbelief at an extravagantly floral perfume to disgust at excessive farmyard stink to despair at the smothering spice of heavy-handed oaking.
At the other end of the spectrum, many more wines provoke hardly any reaction at all – they are conventional, familiar and pleasant but otherwise unremarkable. You could argue over which is the worse scenario, but somewhere in the middle lies my favourite reaction.
It’s a subtle, spontaneous but unimpeachable indication that what I’m tasting is just simply delicious: when a wine makes you smile.
Considering that us lucky wine professionals taste thousands of wines a year, this reaction is surprisingly infrequent – which makes it even more memorable when it does occur. Most recently, it happened with a Crozes-Hermitage from Domaine Chasselvin.
I came across this wine as part of a tasting staged by The Sampler, the London merchant who pioneered the use of Enomatic machines to serve tasting-sized measures of wine to its customers. The 2014 vintage was being poured, and it proved an instant smile-inducer.
It has everything that exemplifies the beauty of this style of Syrah: classic savoury aromas of pepper, roasted meat and black bramble fruit, delivering loads of flavour at modest alcohol and with just enough tannin to give some chewiness, but not enough to need bottle age. At under £15 it was a superb bargain, so I bought a bottle on the spot.
This turned out to be the 2013 vintage, which scored even higher on the smileometer. On the nose there’s a sort of ferrous iodine character that some might find too peculiar, but which worked in brilliant harmony with the sumptuous fruit and I scored both 17 out of 20. The 2013 is perhaps a better prospect for moderate ageing but something I value in most Crozes-Hermitage is an immediate drinkability on release – quite unlike its big brother Hermitage.
I see from our database that Jancis very much enjoyed the 2013 vintage of Chasselvin’s white Crozes last year. I tried the 2014 version at The Sampler tasting but was less convinced, I confess. The producer's website gives nothing away about the white, though it does reveal the existence of another red cuvée called Les Lièvres, which appears to come from lower-yielding vineyards and spend longer maturing in oak.
International availability is uncertain, with wine-searcher.com showing that the Utah state liquor monopoly has a Chasselvin Crozes 2009 (colour unspecified) at $31.87. Could well be worth a punt, although the official website warns that is is 'available by special order only'. In Britain, The Sampler offer the wine via their website.