With the festive season approaching, our Wine Correspondent Leona De Pasquale explores why Gigondas wines can be something that spice up your Christmas dinner table.
“The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.” (Psalm 97:5).
Welcome to Gigondas! Perched on the foothills of the famous Dentelles de Montmirail, it is arguably one of the most pretty wine villages in France. For long, Gigondas wines have been seen as an alternative to Châteauneuf-du-Pape with equally good quality but offering much better value for money. But in fact, the two appellations are quite distinct in terms of terroir.
(Photo credit: Emma Wellings)
Gigondas, as with the surrounding area, was once covered by the sea. But through years of tectonic movements, in the end of the Miocene epoch, the earth underneath was lifted up and the limestone ridges became vertical. What followed was an overthrust, which means that the underneath bedrocks, composed of marls, limestone and sandstone etc, were overturned and flowed down like wax (just as described in the Bible verse mentioned earlier) to the hills and the plain, creating a complex and unique terroir that is truly one of the kind.
(Photo credit: Emma Wellings)
Located in the southeast side the Gigondas, Dentelles de Montmirail literally means “the lace of an admirable mountain”. But wine writer Andrew Jefford offers a better analogy: “rotten teeth of a giant who tried to eat the sky”! Apart from creating a dramatic landscape which attracts countless tourists, the existence of these mighty ridges has in many ways influenced the styles and the taste of wines from Gigondas, which won its own appellation status as early as 1971.
(Photo credit: Emma Wellings)
Due to the complexity of the soil composition, wines from different areas of Gigondas can have different characteristics. Vineyards here are normally facing west or northwest, therefore sheltered by Dentelles de Montmirail from the strong wind “Mistral”. Here, as with the rest of the Southern Rhône, it’s the traditional blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah (some others varieties are also allowed) that grabs the attention. But recently, wines with “nearly” 100%* of Grenache can also be found. (* The regulation permits a minimum of 50% up to around 99% of the principal grape variety Grenache. But the wine must remain a ‘blend’, even though other varieties could be as little as 1%.)
Wines from Gigondas are best to be drunk when they are a bit older. Recent vintage such as 2010 is considered as one of the best. 2007 is also very good; while 2005 needs time and patience. 2004 is a classic year. As for older vintages, 2000 is excellent, while 1999 is so-called the most ‘well-balanced’ vintage in the region. 1998 is a great one.
As for the taste, the wines that I tasted recently from vintages 2012 all the way down to 1998 can be quite varied in style, which of course was due to the vintage itself, the fact of complex terroirs, grape compositions, and wine-making skills. But one thing that I do agree with many other people in the tasting is the freshness of fruit that shows through each of the wines (whether old or young). I also noted the structure, the fine tannins as well as some of the lovely spices and floral notes from the wine tasted. Some say it’s the smell of “garrigue”, the mixture of herbal and floral notes reminiscent of Herbes de Provence such as thyme, sage and so on. But all the taste and aromas actually remind me of the coming festive season and the abundant food that we enjoy during Christmas. Maybe it is time to crack open a bottle of Gigondas! Cheers!
If you are eager to know more about Gigondas, a good 500-page thick book called GIGONDAS, its wines, its land, its people might be something for the Christmas stocking (might just be a bit too heavy though). Click here.
Below are some of my favorite Gigondas tasted in November at a Press and Trade Tasting in London:
Blend: 80% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre
Tawny in colour. Mushroomy, savoury, soy sauce, with a hint of fruit compote. On the palate, complex and fruity, tannins still fine and fresh. (UK Importer: O.W. Loeb & Company Limited)
Domaine les Teyssonnières 2000
Blend: 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah
Ripe fruits, spicy and earthy. Rather clean and fresh on the palate with fine tannins. (Not available in the UK yet)
Domaine Des Bosquets 2004
Blend: 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre, 3% Cinsault
Spicy, smells like ripe cooked red fruits, but on the palate showing fresh red berries, sweet spices and silky tannins. With long ageing potential. (UK Importer: Liberty Wines)
Domaine Raspail-Ay 2010
Blend: 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre
Ripe red berries aromas, juicy with fine tannins. Quite enjoyable. (UK Importer: Vine Trail; Thorman Hunt & Co Ltd)
Maison Gabriel Meffre, Domaine de Longue Toque 2010
Blend: 50% Grenache, 50% Syrah
Elegant and supple, quite floral. With fine tannins and good structure. Long finish with good ageing potential. (UK Importer: Guy Anderson Wines)
Gigondas Le Pas de L’Aigle 2011
Ripe dark fruits, firm tannins. Clean and long. Quite stylish. Needs time. (UK Importer: Champagnes & Châteaux Limited)
Château de Saint Cosme Le Claux Gigondas 2012
Blend: 100% Grenache (almost)
Red berries aroma, very approachable. Already enjoyable now but has good structure and firm tannins that needs time to soften. (UK Importer: Bibendum Fine Wines)
By Leona De Pasquale, The Vintage Magazine’s Wine Correspondent
Originally from Taiwan, Leona moved to the UK in 2005. She started her career as a PR professional, helping brands (spirits, travel, food etc) to create stories that would interest journalists. She also worked for Sopexa Taiwan as Project Manager, managing wine projects and media relations; it was then she started to be fascinated by the world of French wine and wishing to explore every single detail about wine making and vine growing.
Leona began her wine writing and translating career when she moved to the UK, firstly with Decanter Magazine (Chinese Edition in Taiwan) and is currently UK & Europe Correspondent for the most influential wine and spirits magazine (Wine & Spirits Digest) in Taiwan. She has travelled extensively to vineyards in Europe and you will almost always find her in major International Wine Exhibitions “grilling” producers.