Every region in the Rhône Valley has a story to tell – Gigondas’ is perhaps the most inspiring of all. In the mid-20th century, the red wines of this tranquil commune were mired in obscurity, subsumed into the generic Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation. As a result, growers struggled to achieve international recognition for their hand-crafted wines, denying Gigondas vital investment and the rewards of fame.
However, after years of campaigning, Gigondas was finally awarded its designation in 1971. The positive effects of this decision cannot be underestimated; wine producers could market a single ‘brand’ entity under the appellation banner, attracting the attention of global buyers and sommeliers. Since that time, Gigondas has scarcely put a foot wrong; wine quality has recently soared, often achieving parity with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Yet prices have remained remarkably stable, only to the oenophiles’ benefit. As a result, Gigondas is a rare example of a wine region that offers endless pleasure while asking for little in return.
Geography and terroir
Visiting Gigondas is an absolute delight. The village sits in a particularly beautiful part of the southern Rhône Valley, located in south-eastern France. To the west is Vaucluse – Rasteau lies to the north of the appellation. Indeed, Gigondas is part of a cluster of wine villages that offer superlative quality without the usual expense. The landscape, cultural riches, and gastronomy attract millions of tourists every year.
The climate also holds great appeal. In every sense of the word, Gigondas is a Mediterranean destination; vines thrive under the Provencal sun, with mild winters and increasingly hot summers inevitably encouraging high levels of phenolic ripeness. In early autumn, the sound of the cicadas combined with the heady smell of garrigue in the air as the sun sets is truly magical. But in July, the heat can be so intense that shelter is best advised by lunchtime. Therefore, site selection is of the utmost importance in Gigondas. A poor choice can lead to unwieldy alcohol and blowzy red wines.
Fortunately, there are some genuinely world-class terroirs in this corner of the Rhône. The appellation’s vineyards extend from the eastern boundaries of the River Ouveze up to the limestone slopes of the majestic Dentelles de Montmirail, which dominates the scenery of the village itself. The zone’s calcareous soils and the abundance of higher altitude climats are a recipe for fresh and balanced wines. As a result, many growers have become fixated on seeking out the highest elevations possible, coveting diurnal temperature variation and its positive impact on acidity levels.
The current trend is to vinify wines from each plot separately, expressing the nuances of a particular terroir. The Burgundian spirit has captured the imagination of ambitious winegrowers in Gigondas. They’re unlikely ever to give it up.
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The uninitiated are usually very surprised by what Gigondas has to offer; tasters often anticipate a brash concoction of alcohol, body, and brute force. For sure, some bottles of Gigondas do conform to that stereotype of the southern Rhône. However, a great deal of local wine is gently made, with wonderful freshness, elegant tannins, and bold aromatics. This is partly due to the cold soils and higher elevations of the appellation and partly due to winemaking.
Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache is the star red grape of the zone, normally accounting for at least 70-80% of the cuvée (mono-varietal wines are quite rare in the region). Syrah and Mourvedre play the supporting roles, although the love affair with Syrah is on the wane as temperatures continue to rise. According to the appellation rules, Gigondas may contain up to 10% of any grape variety permitted under the Côtes du Rhône framework, except Carignan. A little rosé wine is also made – utterly delicious in the summer months. It pairs very well with local dishes like Bouillabaisse.
Meanwhile, Red Gigondas comes in many guises. So much depends on the producer in question; the wines of Domaine Santa Duc are understated and almost ethereal, while St-Gayan offers velvety concentration and plenty of body/alcohol. Gigondas can be medium-weight or decadently sumptuous and rich. It all comes down to your mood and preferences.
But there are unifying characteristics in red Gigondas; despite the variances of style and character, the nose is typically open and expressive, with aromas of red berries, plum, herbs, and white pepper. The palate will be generous and long, supported by ripe acidity and moderate tannins. A mosaic of tertiary flavors can emerge with bottle age, including licorice, dark chocolate, mocha, and tobacco. If you desire a textbook pairing, try Gigondas with Boeuf en daube Provençale, ideally served with an uninterrupted view of the exquisite landscape, heaven on earth indeed.