Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saint-Péray AOC: A fount of bubbles in a still-wine sea

The Rhône wine region runs along its namesake river for 150 miles between Lyon in the north and Avignon in the south with a division into northern and southern sub-regions at the point where the Drôme tributary intersects the main course. Northern Rhône is characterized by a continental climate, granitic soils, steep slopes, and the Mistral wind while the south has a more Mediterranean climate and stony soils. What they both have in common, though, is a sea of red wine: only 2% of the region's production is white. And an even smaller percentage is sparkling. In my previous post I covered the sparkling wines of Die, but Die lies off the Rhône beaten path. In this post I will cover the sparkling wine of Saint-Péray, an AOC in Rhône's core.

Used with the permission of Syndicat de
la Clairette de Die et des vins du Diois 
Saint-Péray is an appellation (accorded 1936) for still white and sparkling wines produced in the parishes of Saint-Péray and Touland, neighboring communes in the Ardèche Départment of the Rhône-Alpes Region of Southern France. The region, located as it is three miles west of the town of Valence, is the southernmost of the Northern Rhône appellations.

The climate in Northern Rhône is continental, with warm summers and cold winters. While Saint-Péray exists within this climatic mantle, it is somewhat cooler than Cornas -- its neighbor to the north -- thanks to a cold wind -- Bise -- which flows along the Mialan Valley from an opening in the north. Average temperature in the region is 12.5℃ and average annual rainfall is 823 mm.

The Saint-Péray soil is a complex mix of limestone, clay-limestone, and granite which owes its composition to a number of donors ( (i) granite from the Primary Period contributes a hint of silica; (ii) Jurassic limestones from the Secondary Era; (iii) marine deposits from the Tertiary Period are the source of today's clay-limestone soils; (iv) a veneer of loess from the Quaternary Period and Major Glaciations; and (v) alluvial deposits carried down from the Alps by the Rhône River.

Saint-Péray vineyards extend over 75 ha of the gentle slopes on the right bank of the river at the foot of the limestone outcrop called Crussol Hill. The vineyards have a south to southeast exposure and are at altitudes that range between 107 and 652 meters. Regulations mandate minimum vine density of 4000 vines/ha.

The allowed grapes in the AOC are Marsanne (majority of plantings) and Roussanne. The characteristics of these two varieties are presented in the table below.

                                                  Saint-Péray Varieties
Marsanne Blanche, Grosse Roussette, Avilleran, Ermitage, Ermitage Blanc
Franceas Rousette, Bergeron, Plant de Seysel, Fromenteau
Site preference
Warm, dry, stony
lean soils; arid; rocky
Vigorous, high-yielding
Vigorous; semi-erect; sometimes fragile
Large; round; rough; 3-5 lobes; matte dark green upper surface, tufted lower surface
Medium to large; thick; 3 to 5 lobes; rough; Dark-green on upper surface, downy on lower
Conical, winged, medium-sized
Medium-sized; elongated; semi-cylindrical; winged
Small, round, thin-skinned; deep golden color on ripening
Small; round; sometimes irregular; golden with rust spots at maturity
Soft; juicy, sweet
High alcohol level; deep color
Light; dry; short-lived; added to Syrah to provide finesse; when combined with Roussanne, results in aromatic, delicate, interesting wine; toast, honey, and almond aromas
Blended with Marsanne; used in Vin de Paille; Lime and blossom aromas
Susceptible to disease; sensitive to temperature extremes
Low yielding; susceptible to rot; difficult to ripen; prone to oxidation
Sources: Grapes and Wines of the World,;

Sparkling wine production using the Traditional Method has been practiced in Saint-Péray since 1829. The grapes are harvested and then quickly transported to the cellar to prevent oxidation. After slow pressing, the juice is directed to vats or oak casks for fermentation and then to barrels or tanks for aging. Oak is used fairly commonly in the region in order to add complexity to the mix. Second fermentation occurs in bottle with the wine residing on lees for a minimum of 15 months prior to market release. Allowed yields are 52 hl/ha and a max of 11.5% abv for sparkling wine (The corresponding numbers for still wine are 45 hl/ha and 13%). Sparkling wines can be 100% Marsanne, 100% Roussanne, or a blend of the two. Blends are the dominant market-facing elaboration.

According to, 2012 Saint-Péray production amounted to 2686 hl ( yield attainment of 35 hl/ha) while sales amounted to 3008 hl, most of which was consumed domestically (9% exported).

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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