Decanter book reviews
Gigondas - John Livingstone-Learmonth Bottin - Gourmand/Image & Gastronomie, £35
Let’s start by affirming that there is much of enduring interest and merit within these 500 pages. Given the paucity of decent books on the Rhône’s wines, this puts it firmly in the ‘essential reference’ category. However, the fact that publication is sponsored collectively by the commune’s growers’ syndicate inevitably compromises its independence and blunts its critical edge.
Its core comprises extended discussions of Gigondas’ history (Jean-Baptiste Amadieu), wines (John Livingstone- Learmonth), ‘geology, terroirs, climate and botany’ (Georges Truc) and producer profiles (Louis Barruol and Véronique Raisin). Truc contributes a profound and insightful 91-page technical treatise on Gigondas’ terroir. The 82 domaine profiles are less comprehensive – indeed, little more than potted histories. Allowing a Gigondas producer, Louis Barruol, to write 23 of these confirms the editorial policy as equal-merit-for-all rather than any attempt at disinterested assessment. Even within this restrictive brief, one might reasonably have expected information on each estate’s hectarage by grape variety, distinctive stylistic identity and a description of different cuveés offered. A touring map pinpointing producers would also have been useful, not least to relate each to its geology. Some of these gaps are filled by the commune’s well-thought out website: www.gigondas-vin.com
Authoritative vintage assessments from Livingstone-Learmonth (Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Rhône) reflect deep experience. Inexplicably, his tasting notes are scanty to the point of worthlessness; why only six notes for each of the splendid 2005 and 2007 vintages? Reducing the timeframe (1959–2009) to allow horizontal assessments of recent vintages, via the star-rating system used, would introduce a welcome element of qualitative comparison between estates. His perspective on Gigondas’ affinity with local gastronomy would add another dimension. Eating well is an element of life in the Vaucluse and the surrounding area is rich in fine restaurants.
On a technical level, there’s informative discussion of the evolution of the Gigondas AC and of the transition from quantity to quality; subtle and cumulative influences driven largely by the increasing structural and flavour contribution of Mourvèdre and Syrah and the contemporaneous diminution of carbonic maceration which gives fruitier, less classically structured wines. Another noteworthy quality marker is that yields across the appellation average 26-34hl/ha against a permitted 35hl/ha – the result of reduced plantings of Cinsault and Clairette Blanche and of deliberate efforts to limit crop levels.
Gigondas has raised its game and deserves a wider audience. Together with neighbouring Vacqueyras it offers among the best value for quality anywhere. Old vines and conscientious winemaking endow its produce with appeal for those seeking ageworthy wines of depth and character without the destructive curses of overripeness, immoderate oaking or contrived extraction. This book contains a wealth of material to advance that cause. Ilka Kramer’s splendid photographs enhance this evocation of the place and its people. Its publication will doubtless re-energise the converted and tempt the newly curious to discover this charming corner of France for themselves.
Remington Norman MW