The wines of Saint-Péray are all too often overlooked by oenophiles and commentators which is a great pity as this is an ancient and interesting enclave of viticulture where some terrific (and great value) wines are produced. It is the southernmost Cru of the Northern Rhône lying just below the hills of Cornas to the west of the river. Saint-Péray's relatively obscurity is partially explained by its diminutive size; there are currently just 92 hectares under vine and real estate encroachment doesn't bode well for expansion. The permitted grapes are Marsanne and Roussanne which are primarily used to produced characterful still white wines known as 'tranquil' locally to differentiate them from 15% of production that is devoted to sparkling (mousseux) wines. Indeed, sparkling Saint-Péray was considered the height of sophistication in its 19th century heyday and is reported to have been enjoyed by such diverse figures as Queen Victoria, Pope Pius VII, Napoleon Bonaparte and Richard Wagner.
Jean-Louis Thiers of Domaine Biguet in the far south of the appellation makes an excellent non-vintage Saint-Péray mousseux from pure Marsanne that is bottle fermented and hand riddled. The finished wine has delicate 'pear flan' scents, and a lively mousse with russet apple notes and a fresh finish: it makes a versatile aperitif and partner to canapés. His still Saint-Péray – also from pure Marsanne – has mirabelle plum scents, a smooth texture and a yellow stone fruit palate with an elegant, dry finish.
We are always delighted to get an allocation of any wine made by Clape pére et fils but as they have less than a hectare of vines at Saint-Péray - yielding their only white wine - it is a relative rarity and highly sought after. With a bouquet of brioche and a ripe orchard fruit palate offset by granitic mineral notes, it drinks well from release and makes a fine partner to fish and chicken dishes served with herb and cream sauces.