The appellation of Saint-Joseph was created in 1956 and focused on a few steep granitic vineyard sites in a heartland around the villages of Glun, Lemps, Mauves, Saint-Jean-de-Muzols, Tournon and Vion. Infamously, the local wine-makers' syndicate approved a six-fold expansion in 1971 thereby granting 'AOC' status to inferior vineyards to the north and on the valley floor. To this day Saint-Joseph remains problematic. There are some great wines made in the best locations but it is a definite case of caveat emptor.
Jean-Louis Chave, the paragon of Hermitage, has spent the last 24 years overseeing a personal project to restore his family's ancient terraces above Mauves that were lost to phylloxera in the 1870s. These furnish the fruit for the 'Domaine J-L Chave' Saint-Joseph which many observers feel sets the qualitative benchmark for the appellation. Made from pure Syrah, from sites in Mauves, Lemps, and Tournon, the grapes are largely de-stemmed and the wine is matured in used oak barriques for at least 12 months before blending and bottling without fining or filtration. Typically, it exhibits a bouquet of crushed blackberries and bilberries with subtle violet notes preceding a palate of sleek black fruit with racy mineral notes and a framework of supple tannins. It can drink well on its youthful fruit but really comes into its own with 5-10 years bottle age.
Jean-Louis also produces some excellent red and white Saint-Joseph under his 'J-L Chave Sélection' négociant label. The white, called 'Circa', is made from Marsanne and Roussanne from mature rootstock. It has alluring almond and acacia scents and a sensuous stone fruit palate with some nutty nuances and an elegant dry finish. Its red stablemate 'Offerus' is a straight Syrah with violet and blueberry top notes and a peppery palate of stewed black fruit. It drinks well from release with red meat or mushroom dishes.
Although best known for their Crozes-Hermitage the Graillot family also produce a spot of red Saint-Joseph from two plots of vines at Saint-Jean-de-Muzols and Saint-Désirat. With a deep purple robe, aromas of plum and mulberry and a palate of juicy hedgerow fruit offset by a fresh acidity, Alain avers: "It is a wine to drink at the counter of a bar."
Christine Vernay, of Condrieu fame, makes a fine red Saint-Joseph evocatively named 'Terre d'Encre'. Hailing from the north of the appellation at Chavany, it has a blackberry and liquorice bouquet and smoothly-textured core of black fruit with deftly-integrated oak and fine-grained tannins. It will cellar well for 3-5+ years.