The Rhone Valley’s viticultural dinosaur” was how Robert Parker described St-Peray in 1987.
The appellation blurs its boundaries with the sprawl of Valence, and it can be difficult to spot where the town ends and dinosaur territory begins. The village itself remains rather down at heel, spottily pretty, like the off-beat charm of its wide-ranging wines. Today 60% is still, 40% sparkling. I have no real knowledge of the area, my only experience was battling the Sat-Nav to try and find the cellar of Hirotake Ooka, a natural producer whose brilliant wines en cuve didn’t quite seem to survive the experience of being put into bottle
In the appellations heartland, the hillside slopes, there is exceptional exposition, old vines and some of the very best Rousanne in the whole of the Northern Rhone.
All Northern Rhone white wines of genuine quality are under-rated and undervalued by the market. Still, even within this context, St-Peray shows a special talent for ‘going missing’ in the mind of the wine buying public.
In 1889, the order book of a local merchant show the prices fetched for the still St-Peray (3 Francs) matching those of Corton and Pommard, besting those of Cornas and Crozes and just below those of White Hermitage (3.5)
Is some of the problem that two very different styles of wines are produced? The quirky, full-bodied sparkling wines, that largely find the mouths of the local French market and the still version, from old vines on hill-side vineyards.
No one seems to be articulate a bright future for the sparkling wines. It just doesn’t really fufill the modern requirement of sparkling wines to be fresh, uplifting and acidic. Phillipe Jaboulet remarks that even as early as 1960: “People lost the habit of sipping wine at 4pm with their cakes, or taking it as a desert wine. It slid from view”.
There are only four domains making sparkling St-Peray, which remains now rather a local tradition. Of the still style, there are about a dozen small growers making and bottling their own wine
Of those, St-Perays from producers like Clape, de Tunnel, Lemenicier, Gripa, Cecillon, Grand Colline and others, are the last best secrets of the Northern Rhone.