Glorious Gigondas - Southern Rhône Red

Posted by David on 17th Nov 2016

Worldwide demand for the gloriously rich and generous wines of the Southern Rhône’s largest and most famous appellation, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CNDP), has pushed prices beyond the reach of most. It’s also focused attention on the more affordable wines of nearby Gigondas, an appellation traditionally in the shadow of CNDP, more recently appreciated by astute drinkers for the value they offer.

The countryside around the tiny village of Gigondas has been noted for its wine since Roman times, but when official appellation rules were introduced in France in the 1930s, the area was rather surprisingly relegated to the generic Côtes du Rhône status. It took until 1966 for it to be elevated to ‘Côtes du Rhône-Villages’ and in 1971 it was finally recognised with its own appellation. 

The appellation sits within the Vaucluse département, a mere 10 miles north east of CNDP, and with approximately 1,200ha of vines, is only about a third of the size. The often terraced vineyards are protected by the imposing Dentelles de Montmirail, a saw-toothed limestone mountain range. Another feature of the landscape is the prevalence of garrigue, a low, soft and fragrant shrubbery that’s found in limestone soils across parts of southern France. 

With no white and about 1% rosé, it’s safe to think of Gigondas as a red wine appellation. The official website for the Rhône Valley notes (with typical French bureaucratic simplicity) the makeup of Gigondas:

  • Grenache may be used up to 80%.
  • Syrah and/or Mourvèdre must account for a minimum of 15%.
  • All other grape varieties covered by the Côtes du Rhône appellation are authorised, excluding Carignan.
  • And the following varieties may make up to 10% of the wine: Cinsault, Clairette and some stocks of Terret Noir, Counoise and Picardan.

Gigondas is essentially a Grenache dominant blend with a bit of Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvèdre, a blend we’re familiar with here in Australia.

Traditional Gigondas is made in a similar way to CNDP, with long maceration. This means that when the wine is being made, it spends a long time in contact with the grape skins, giving it plenty of oomph and colour. Gigondas tend to be full, earthy, aromatic and relatively high in alcohol. The most commonly associated descriptors are powerful and rustic. You’ll find they have a lot in common with Grenache from around the word, but likely have mineral notes and the telltale savoury herbal perfumed characteristics of garrigue, which “seems to encompass thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, garlic and chives, often a signature component of southern French red wines.”Eric Asimov, NY Times wine critic.

“(Gigondas)… are often thick-textured, with rugged tannins that give them their rustic reputation. But the best examples marry ripe, dark black fruit with fine-grained tannins and perfumed, minerally finishes. These wines age well, delivering mesquite, iron and black tea notes after five to eight years.” James Molesworth, Wine Spectator.

“A glass of Gigondas should provide a stimulating mix of plum or prune fruit, dark berries, spice, pepper and dried herbs. These are genuine, fresh, often well-priced wines, and finesse rather than raw strength quite rightly features in the appraisal of a Gigondas, be it young or mature.” John Livingstone-Learmonth, Decanter Magazine, Jan 2016.

Similar to the CNDP tradition, Gigondas producers also use a heavy bottle embossed with a distinctive insignia. This one features the hunting horn of the family of Orange (who ruled this area from the 12th century), and olive branches.

Here are three great producers.

Domaine d’Ouréa Tire Bouchon 2015

1. Domaine d’Ouréa Tire Bouchon 2015

Adrien Roustan is the new kid on the block in Gigondas. He established Domaine d’Ourea in 2010 after inheriting a handful of prized vineyards from his grandfather in Gigondas, as well as the neighbouring appellations of Vacqueyras and Côtes du Rhône.

The Ourea were Greek mountain Gods, an apt name as the domaine owns a beautiful vineyard, up amongst the Dentelles de Montmirail, the highest in Gigondas.

Interestingly, Adrien’s parents were not in the wine game and his grandfather only grew and sold grapes. Early on, well before taking over from his grandfather, Adrien had his sights set on becoming a winemaker. He studied oenology and viticulture at Beaune in Burgundy, after which he scored an apprenticeship at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, without doubt the finest estate in Burgundy, if not the world - WOW! After this, Adrien spent time at Turley Winery, one of the Napa Valley’s finest producers and winner of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year Jan 2015.

Adrien works his vineyards organically and they have been certified since 2012. His Grenache vines are close-planted and well established, those in Gigondas planted in 1975 and those in Vacqueyras in the 1950s. In the cellar he uses wild yeasts and whole bunch as much as possible with very light extraction, and like CNDP, he ages mostly in concrete tanks. Adrien’s wines are gaining recognition for the fresher style they are bringing to the Rhône.

This is the Domaine’s entry level wine and while some its fruit is from Gigondas, it also has some from Vacqueyras and Côtes du Rhône… so it’s not technically Gigondas. It’s labelled instead as a generic Vin de France. You can't find Gigondas for under $40 in Australia, so I’ve included this because I like it.

This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Carignan, 10 % Syrah and 20% other varieties including Aramon andOeillade. It’s fermented using wild yeasts in enamel lined concrete tanks and aged a further 6 months in tank, ie. no oak. Interestingly there’s also an element of semi-carbonic maceration, which involves fermentation within the uncrushed grapes in a sealed, carbon dioxide rich environment. Without going into too much technical detail, when done properly, the result is beautifully soft tannins and lifted and intense fruit aromas.

The wine is light purpley-red and not quite clear. Deliciously aromatic, you'll find fresh raspberry, wine gums, cinnamon and spice notes. On the palate it's bright and drinkable, with vibrant sweet red fruit, turkish delight, liquorice, fresh spices, pepper, iron and herbal notes. Beautifully dry, mid-weight (with 12.8% alcohol) and with fine, feathery tannins, it’s hard stop at one glass.

Not a typical Gigondas but very yummy all the same, and a perfect mid-week quaffer. 

I can offer it for $24 a bottle. Click here to order.

Domaine St Damien Gigondas Vieilles Vignes 2013

2. Domaine St Damien Gigondas Vieilles Vignes 2013

Domaine St Damien has been run by the Saurel family since 1821 and for most of that time they’ve sold their grapes to others. Current custodians Joel and Amie Saurel took over the estate in 1978, changing the name to St Damien in 1979. They named it after a Chapel, long since fallen down, that stood near the estate, honouring St Damien, an early Christian saint who was martyred in 287AD. Damien is the patron saint of doctors, surgeons, blind people and barbers!

The couple started using the estate’s grapes to make their own wine in the mid-90s, soon after engaging renowned consultant Philippe Cambie, with admirable results. “Proprietor Joel Saurel, backed up by the inimitable Philippe Cambie as his consultant, has transformed this estate into one of the greatest locations in Gigondas, rivalling the two top producers…” Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate.

Today the estate has 42 acres of vineyards, of which about 30 are in Gigondas, the rest in surrounding appellations. With an average age of 50 years, the vines are old as well as low yielding and produce intense fruit. The estate was certified organic in 2012.

This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre. It was made using traditional methods, with fermentation carried out in lined concrete tanks, followed by extended maceration (5 weeks) and a further 12 months maturation in large oak (foudre). The idea behind this technique is that the concrete tanks allow retention of the natural fruit and mineral elements, while the large old oak allows the benefits of wood maturation, without imparting an oaky character. All wines at the estate are bottled without fining or filtration.

“Bright ruby-red. Assertive red berry and Asian spice aromas open up slowly with air and pick up suggestions of pungent flowers and smoky minerals. Palate-staining, sappy raspberry and bitter cherry flavors become sweeter with air and show excellent depth and energy. In a graceful, energetic style, finishing with powerful thrust, sneaky tannins and an echo of juicy red fruit.”
92 points, Vinous Media, May 2016.

Aside from being dense, intense and downright delicious, it’s the only Gigondas I know of in Australia that’s less than $50 and a decent drop.

And it seems I’m not the only who’s impressed. In fact it’s so popular with several cool joints around town, including Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Farmhouse and Bistro Moncur, (where you’ll find it for $99 a bottle) that it’s sold out in just a few months. Luckily I managed to get the last of it.

See for yourself what outstanding value real Gigondas offers. 

I can offer it for $46 a bottle. SOLD OUT Click here to order new vintage.

Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2012

3. Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2012

Domaine du Cayron is one of the benchmark producers in Gigondas. The family-run estate was founded in 1840 and the current underground cellars (winery) were built in 1936 by Georges Faraud. These days, respected winemaker Michel Faraud, (Georges’s son) and his three daughters Roseline, Delphine and Cendrine are at the helm.

The estate has 16 ha of vines, ranging in age from 45-75 years, made up of 22 plots situated in various ‘lieux dits’ (locations) within Gigondas. The vineyards are very low yielding and managed with eco friendly methods.

Unlike most estates Cayron produces just one wine, which is more or less the same blend each year of 70% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 14% Syrah and 1% Mourvèdre.

Cayron is a very traditional estate with production techniques having changed little over three generations. The fruit is hand harvested with strict sorting and selection of berries before fermentation, which is carried out using natural yeasts in lined concrete vats. After ferment the wine is basket pressed and run into large old oak foudres where it spends an additional 12-24 months. The finished wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

“Domaine du Cayron are considered the benchmark traditional producer of the appellation. Their wines give great pleasure when young with a heady mix of florals, ample red and purple fruits, spice and garrigue but importantly have the ability to age for decades in good vintages.”Vinousimports.

“(Domaine du Cayron)… is one of the best sources for Gigondas, which combines, as few do, weight with finesse.” Andrew Jefford, New France p139.

For those of you wanting to sink your teeth into something sumptuous, this one’s for you. It’s an absolute beauty that’ll entice you from the first sniff. It’s a full, smooth and hedonistic mix of sweet blackcurrant, wine gums and garrigue.

"... Faraud's wines are the richest, most exotic, and often the most dramatic of the appellation. Domaine du Cayron is an old favourite. The 2012 was ripe and fruity, as is generally the case with grenache-based wines. It had almost a liqueur-like quality, interwoven with a savory, herbal, evergreen aroma. On the palate, the wine was earthy and mineral, well balanced with smooth tannins. With time, the herbal complexity grew and expanded. I thought it was lovely.” Eric Asimov, NY Times.

"One of my favourite estates in Gigondas, Domaine du Cayron’s 2012 Gigondas doesn’t disappoint… it shows a classic Cayron perfume of basil, wild herbs, sweet dark fruits and mint. Medium-bodied, supple and elegant, it’s already hard to resist but will evolve nicely through 2022.” 91 points, Jeb Dunnuck, The Wine Advocate.

“Bright ruby. Raspberry, lavender and passion fruit on the exotic, highly aromatic nose. Spicy, sappy and concentrated, offering intense red fruit liqueur, apricot and floral pastille flavors that expand with air. There's a delicacy here that's surprising given the wine's power. Singular and wild in the best sense, with gentle tannins and superb finishing clarity, thrust and length." Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media, 92-94.

You’ll find this wine at a handful of good places around town including Restaurant Hubert, Eleven Bridge ($150) and Felix Restaurant where it’s also $150 a bottle. 

I can offer it for $69 a bottle. Click here to order.