The Rhone Valley wine region stretches over about 250 miles, with a 30 mile gap in between the northern and southern regions. The Northern Rhone region is smaller, and generally speaking, considered to be where the more prestigious wines originate from. Home to prestigious regions such as Cote Rotie and Hermitage, although permitted, you rarely find a Northern Rhone wine carrying the Cotes du Rhone designation. In the Northern Rhone, you can expect excellent quality wines, with a price tag to match.
The Southern Rhone on the other hand is larger in area, and can get quite confusing when trying to understand the Cotes du Rhone vs. Cotes du Rhone Villages quality designations. And then there are AOC regions here as well – 9 of them! The middle tier – Cotes du Rhone Villages can include wine from many villages, but 21 of them are allowed to append their village name to that designation, so there are really two levels at the mid tier.
The Southern Rhone is where 95% of the Rhone region wines are produced, and 75% of those carry the region’s basic quality designation – Cotes du Rhone. The Villages designation is widely thought to be a noticeable step up on the quality level for not a ton more in price. The top of the quality pyramid for this region are the AOC’s often called Crus by locals.
More than 2 dozen grape varieties are permitted, with the Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre playing the biggest roles in red wines, it is the home of the GSM blend. The region produces white and rose wines as well, but I’m going to stay focused on red for this article. There are a dizzying array of soils with land stretching from mountains to the sea. So how do you know what you’re getting when purchasing wine from this region?
You can expect the red wines to be bold, high in alcohol, with fruit, mineral, earthy and herbal notes. Often described as rustic, the region is an endless, usually delightful, grab bag with a wide variety of blends and styles, at approachable prices.
You can’t write an article about the Southern Rhone region, without mentioning Chateauneuf du Pape. This region gained AOC status in 1923, one of the first in France, is the crown jewel of the southern region. Commanding the highest prices, the most recognizable name, and a cult like following the world over.
Which brings me to Gigondas. Gigondas (Jhee-GON-das) is an AOC region, and is often referred to as the poor man’s Chateauneuf du Pape. I’ve read many opinions that refer to Gigondas as a lesser version of it’s famous neighbor. Well okay, I can think of worse things you could say about wine.
Gigondas has a unique microclimate due to its being bordered by the sharp, jagged edge peaks referred to as the Dentelles de Montmirail. The vines also benefit from the Mistral winds. The protection of the jagged peaks and the cool winds lengthen the growing season, setting the stage for complex, and beautiful wines.
In the first century, Gigondas was called Jocunditas, a Latin word that literally translated as joy and/or jubilation. This is not a coincidence to me – these wines take me to my happy place!
There are 16 red and 12 white permitted grape varietals in Gigondas, but the wines must have at least 50% Grenache, and Syrah and/or Mouvedre must represent a minimum of 15%. The yield restrictions in Gigondas are some of the lowest in France, resulting in grapes that with phenolic concentration. Most wines from this region age in both stainless steel and neutral oak, leaving the wines fruit characteristics in tact.
I have to be honest, I pulled this out of the wine fridge one evening to go with a pizza. I couldn’t remember when I had bought it, or how it came to be in my rotation, but I figured it was a good option. I don’t have many wine “moments” so to speak. I don’t know if my palate is just not advanced enough, or if I’m just not that observant, but I can count on one hand the number of times a wine has stopped me in my tracks and made me take notice of it. This wine did that.
Aromas of rose petal, black olive, dark fruit and mineral, it was so smooth on the palate with juicy blackberry, a tiny kiss of vanilla, and silky, smoky, floral finish. The blend here is a GSM (80/10/10). It is interesting to note that this producer Crous Saint Martin makes a Chateauneuf du Pape with the exact same assemblage. This is the wine that makes me go down with the ship on Gigondas being a beautiful, complex, and absolutely elegant wine. I still don’t know how this bottle came to me, I have checked with two local wine shops that tell me it didn’t come from them.
The tragedy here is I can’t seem to find another bottle! Even online! I was left with no choice but to try any and all Gigondas’ I come across. Next up Perrin Family sealed the deal that Gigondas is my jam right now.
The grapes in this bottle are 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. There were aromas of stone and lavender, with a deliciously complex palate: ripe black fruit, white pepper, smokiness, and a licorice/fennel note.
Next up was this one, it was the most rustic to me. The grapes are 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. I got flavors of red fruit instead of that ripe blackfruit I got the with others. The acidity was less integrated as well, and it just wasn’t as complex as the others. But. This one came from Trader Joe’s for less than $15, so not too much complaining from. Overall it was a very enjoyable wine, we certainly drank it all lol!
Another fun thing to note about the Rhone Valley is that many of the wines come in bottles that have the “coat of arms” of the region molded into the glass. Gigondas’s includes a horn and olive branches that replicates a 15th century coin from the village.
Have you experienced a Gigondas wine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!