A Transplant from Japan Works the Soil—And Soul—of St. Peray

Sometimes you happen across a wine that is utterly beguiling, from the back-story to the palate—even the label. Domaine de la Grande Colline St. Peray 2005 white blend is such a bottle.

First, there’s the winemaker, Hirotake Ooka, a Japanese transplant in the middle of the Rhône valley. (It’s a good story—one you can read about here.)

StPeray_Support1Then there’s the label: unique and more than a bit suggestively Japanese in its use of white space, elegant hieroglyphics, and minimalist typography.

Then there’s the wine. True, there’s nothing unusual about a Marsanne-Rousanne blend in this southerly corner of the northern Rhône, but that’s where familiarity ends.

Ooka has taken the non-interventionist route with his wines, letting them ferment naturally, with no added yeasts, for as long as they take to go dry. He eschews the use of sulfur at any stage, including bottling. For such a “naturally made” wine, the St. Peray feels pure and fresh. (Granted, if all you ever drink is cheap Pinot Grigio or white Zinfandel, you may find the nose a little funky.)

Some tasters have detected residual sugar in this wine, but to me it seemed totally dry, albeit full bodied, creamy, and voluptuous. The flavors suggest the wine saw a bit of skin contact, with intense peach and candied pear, aromatic herbs, and a little nuttiness. I suspect the wine is increasing in complexity and depth with each passing year; reviewer Jamie Goode described it as taut and reductive when he tasted it in 2012, but by the time I got to it in 2014, it felt open and expressive.

So how does a winemaker ensure that a wine like this will stay fresh and endure the passage of time so effortlessly? That skin contact, if any, could help, contributing some phenolics to the final wine, which serve as anti-oxidants.

But Ooka has made yet another surprising choice, especially from someone steeped in biodynamics and back-to-the-soil sentiment: The closure is a synthetic cork—a Nomacorc. Few French vignerons are predisposed to such a pragmatic, common-sense option, mostly because tradition often dominates the decision making. But given that Ooka’s is a mid-priced wine with great aging potential, his decision feels as assured and considered as his careful and brilliant winemaking.

Photo Credits: Thinking-Drinking.com and WineTerroirs.com

About the Author

A specialist in organic, biodynamic and natural wine, Simon Woolf is an award-winning wine writer based in Amsterdam, blogging at The Morning Claret.

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