The long and large appellation of the northern Rhône Valley, second only to Crozes-Hermitage in size. Saint-Joseph was created as an appellation in 1956. Before, the wines of this region were sold as Vin de Mauves, named after the tiny commune of Mauves. Since that time Saint-Joseph has expanded rapidly in size with varied results to the wine. At its best the wines can be similar in weight and fruity strength as other appellations in the northern half of the Rhône, at its worst it can be a dull, fruity red made by carbonic maceration.
The secret seems to be in the location of the vineyards. Those made from vines grown on the steep slopes behind the Touron and Mauves tend to be powerful expressions of Syrah, while those grown in the softer alluvial soils on the valley floor lack strength, intensity and character. Saint-Joseph is made primarily from Syrah, with up to 15% Marsanne and Roussanne allowed in the mix. Small amounts of white wine are made from these varietals as well.
Saint-Joseph can be an excellent alternative to the more expensive versions of Syrah found in the northern Rhône. While the wines lack a certain finesse and grace, and are frequently described as rustic, they also offer a powerful, earthy and gamey expression of Syrah.