Gigondas: Southern Rhône Wines to Enjoy Right Now (Or Much Later)

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I have always loved the wines from the Gigondas region in France’s Southern Rhone Valley. They are full-bodied, energetic red wines, packed with vibrant red and black fruit flavors. At a recent dinner in New York City, hosted by the Gigondas Winemakers Union, I was reminded just how well Gigondas wines age, too – ten, twenty, even thirty years. We tasted back as far as 1972 that particular evening. But you don't have to wait — they're delicious now as well.

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The Southern Rhone Valley

First let me give you a little background to the region. The Gigondas wine region is situated in the Southern Rhône Valley, not far from the more famed area of Châteauneuf du Pape. The Gigondas designated area, which became an AOC in 1971, covers just over 3000 acres. The nane Gigondas comes from the Latin word "Jocunditas" which means joy and happiness.

Gigondas is quite a spectacular region to visit, with vineyards set against the backdrop of the ‘Dentelles de Montmirail’ – a small chain of jagged ‘Jurassic limestone’ formed mountains in Provence. The Dentelles de Montmirail form a sort of protective amphitheater around both the picturesque (and tiny) village of Gigondas itself and the Gigondas AOC.

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Gigondas – Where Grenache Reigns

Gigondas wines are not varietal wines. They are blends based on Grenache up to a maximum percentage of 80% of the blend. Blending partners are Syrah and Mourvèdre, which must constitute at least 15% of the blend. ‘Other’ authorized varieties can make up a max of 10%. Australia coined the terms ‘GSM’ to designate wines made from these same varieties.

Out From the Shadow of Châteauneuf du Pape

Gigondas is often described as CDP’s little brother. I think the wines deserve praise in their own right. While Châteauneuf is certainly more tightly structured and concentrated, Gigondas wines show a particular vibrancy of fruit and refreshing acidity that is quite unique – both characteristics that I rate very highly in any wine.

Gigondas wines are not cheap, nor are they very especially expensive, given what they deliver in terms of wine quality. Prices range between $20 and $50, considerably cheaper than Châteauneuf but more expensive than the regional Côtes du Rhône wines, which sell for under $20. Gigondas wines are more powerful, dense, tannic and age-worthy than most Côtes du Rhône wines.

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Gigondas Wines to Drink

While I have built up a pretty good (a.k.a. long) list of favorite Gigondas producers, today I have selected five producers, whose wines most impressed me at “Le Grand Gigondas Dinner.” The older vintages that we tasted came direct from the individual producer cellars and are not currently available to buy at retail. For that reason I have also identified the vintage currently available in the United Sates and its $US price.

  • 2010 Domaine Grand Bourjassot, Cuvée Cécile ($22). We tasted the 2004 at the dinner – made from 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, it was bright, refreshing with a floral life and layered with flavors – dark berry fruit, black tea, dried meat, leather and a wonderful savory earthiness. 2010 is noted as an excellent vintage in Gigondas so I have no hesitation in recommending this wine. And, while it can be enjoyed now, buy a few bottles and try one every year to see how it evolves.
  • 2009 Domaine Pesquier Gigondas ($30). Like the first wine, it was also the 2004 vintage that we tasted at the dinner. The blend was Grenache 75% and Syrah 20% with 5% Mourvèdre. Complex savory nose with aromas and flavors of marmite dried flowers, ripe berry fruit. Dense and still quite tannic, but showed a fresh juicy mouth feel. The 2004 will continue to age another 10-15+ years. This current 2009 is from a warmer vintage so expect a more powerful wine and perhaps a little less finesse than the 2010s.
  • 2010 Domaine La Bouissière 'Font de Tonin', Gigondas $45 – Another excellent wine from the 2010 vintage. At the dinner we were treated to the 1999. Now that was a special treat. It showed beautiful evolution and persistence – licorice, leather, dark cherry fruit, peppery notes, roasted meats with a bright spine of acidity and brightness to the flavors. Tannins and flavors nicely integrated but the wine could also hold up to further cellaring.
  • 2010 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas ($30) - We were served the 1995 at the dinner and it was a sublime treat. Earthy, leathery and very savory, yet it still maintained a solid core of refreshing red fruit and a subtle lift of dried flowers and jasmine tea. Santa Duc has long been a firm favorite in our house. If past record is anything to follow, this 2010 is worth stocking up on.
  • 2010 Lavau Gigondas ($30) – We did not have an aged Lavau Gigondas at the dinner – as the company only produced its first Gigondas in 2009. However, as I was seated next to owner Fréderic Lavau, I had the opportunity to taste his latest 2011 vintage. It was very vibrant, still slightly uptight, and bursting with youthful energy. The 2011 was packed with lively red and black berry fruit, wild herbs, dried flowers, sweet spice and a distinct clove/licorice note. After all the older wines, it seemed positively an infant and a reminder of the merits of cellaring for a few years. Searching around the Internet, it seems that it is the 2010 vintage that is still most readily available around the country.

The oldest wines served were a 1981 Domaine Les Goubert Gigondas, a 1978 Domaine du Crayon Gigondas and a 1972 Pierre Amadieu, Romane – Machotte – this last wine dating back to when the region just had its AOC status. All three wines showed lovely mature complexity and bottle development. If I had to choose one, I slightly preferred the 1978, for its finesse and elegance and how the limestone soil really shone through the mature flavors.

I would love to hear our readers’ thoughts or tasting experiences with the wines of Gigondas.

(Image credits: Mary Gorman-McAdams)

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.