Many Rhône lovers looking for affordable wines get no further than Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But, says JOHN LIVINGSTONE-LEARMONTH, those getting to know nearby Gigondas & Vacqueyras will be well rewarded.
Gigondas and Vacqueyras form the southern Rhône’s support system to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Though they are just a couple of miles apart, important distinctions exist between them.
Gigondas has been a cru since 1971, Vacqueyras since 1990. Winemaking is more proficient and quality more consistent from one year to the next
at Gigondas, the advantage of two decades more of outside scrutiny and higher public expectations.
Growers in Gigondas contend with some accuracy that their soils are more varied than those of Vacqueyras. The former is set against the flank of the limestone Dentelles de Montmirail ridge that runs parallel with the River Ouvèze in the Vaucluse département. Its vineyards are spread across three sectors, reflecting different heights.
There are the inclines west of the village, where soils are clay-chalk, with Saint-Damien, Pesquier and Santa Duc prominent domaines. Called Les Garrigues, this is poor terrain that gives spiced, robust wines. Nearer the village and a little higher, where the soils are richer, there are domaines like Clos du Joncuas, Font-Sane and Château St-Cosme. Wines from here are more refined, with a fruited roundness but still some final kick on the palate.
High up are many of the vineyards of domaines like Amadieu, Bouïssière, Cassan and Pourra, with Pallières and Trignon are also present at some elevation. Grapes here, often planted on chalky/sandy soils, ripen at least a week later than in Les Garrigues, and hold peppery, sinewed tannins.
Domaine plots tend to be spread far and wide across the 1,230ha (hectares) within these sectors of Gigondas. Michel Faraud’s traditional and successful Domaine du Cayron is typical in being composed of 22 plots for its 16ha. The very good and consistent Domaine du Grapillon d’Or has 25 plots for its 14ha – half on the mountain area, half on the slopes. There are few domaines that are purely based on one zone.
Vacqueyras’ 1,330ha, on the other hand, are dominated by the Plateau des Garrigues, which remained a mixed fruit-and-vegetable area at its southern end into the 1970s. Around 100ha of its vineyards date from the 1930s, largely those nearest the village.
Soil on the Vacqueyras garrigues is sandstone or grès, with an alluvial stone topping and a couch of clay 2–5m down. A fast-ripening vineyard, its wines are punchy and spiced. Sang des Cailloux and Amouriers are well- known names here.
Other areas of Vacqueyras are a small sandy zone just west of the village near Le Clos des Cazaux, and, to the north, the clay-chalk around La Ponche, where the soil is cooler and the wines upright with a little spice and clear fruit. Fourmone and La Garrigue both have vineyards here.
I have always considered Gigondas to be the prize fighter of the southern Rhône. It’s a wine steeped in oily, black stone fruits with potent doses of tannin and leathery, chewy finales. However, destemming and a more conscious search for refinement have prompted a revision of this view across a few domaines, with names like Pallières (since the Brunier of Vieux Télégraphe-Kermit Lynch purchase), Font-Sane,
St-Cosme, Roubine and Saint-Damien emerging as prominent in accentuating soft but wholesome charm in their wines.
Otherwise, the robust, keeping style is maintained by Santa Duc, Raspail-Ay, Cayron, Saint-Gayan, Clos du Joncuas, Piaugier, Cassan and Les Goubert. Domaine des Tourelles, Bouïssière and Pierre Amadieu sit somewhere in between the two styles.
Vacqueyras is led by a handful of domaines, with fewer names that spring to mind as lying in firm support of the front runners. Vacqueyras wines should be peppery and at times heady, with more upright tannins than those of the more oily, deeply filled Gigondas.
In shape, I think of Gigondas as more round and suave, Vacqueyras as more pointed and demanding. The best Vacqueyras wines age well – La Garrigue, Couroulu, Sang des Cailloux, La Monardière, Clos des Cazaux, Montirius, Arnoux’s Vieux Clocher and Clos de Caveau all have wines from the mid-1990s that are still in good shape now.
Domaine du Cayron, Gigondas
Michel Faraud’s Domaine du Cayron has remained a bastion of traditional winemaking and thinking. Its adherence to high amounts of Grenache (70%) is curiously complemented by 15% Cinsault that dates from the 1970s. Cayron’s wines are solid and long-lived – the 1995 is still pretty closed.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 87 46.
Domaine de Font-Sane, Gigondas
Véronique Cunty-Peyesson has steered this domaine towards extremely elegant fruit content, while adding a very successful Cuvée Fûtée exposed to new oak. The classic wine retains a genuine local herb and black-fruits feel. The Fûtée, like the classic 65% Grenache wine, is aged for 12 months in a mix of new, one- and two-year oak, and holds enough matter to gradually absorb this.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 86 36.
Domaine Raspail-Ay, Gigondas
Traditional to his fingertips, ex-aviator Dominique Ay handles his domaine with quiet precision. Raspail-Ay has long been a leader at Gigondas, and his 80% Grenache wines are slow to reveal their hand. They receive 12–18 months in the barrel, yields are low, and they are tinged with red fruits and evident tannins when young. They live for a good 15 years.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 83 01.
Domaine Saint Gayan, Gigondas
Jean-Pierre Meffre’s 16ha domaine is a typical size for Gigondas. He has softened the wines, which remain backward when young, but come round well after five years, with their black-fruit/spice content rendering them ideal for autumn/ winter drinking. The special cuvée, Fontmaria, receives 12 months’ age in new and one-year oak.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 86 33.
Domaine Santa Duc, Gigondas
Yves Gras has propelled his domaine into the front rank in Gigondas since the early 1990s, and also produces a good range of négoce wines from places like Rasteau. He is bold in approach, and revels in recounting that the 2002 vinification ran over several weeks, while the 2003 tannins meant the wines had to be taken out of oak early. His wines are punchy and potent, with young, new oak used on his top wine, Les Hautes Garrigues.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 84 49.
Domaine Le Couroulu, Vacqueyras
Quiet and unassuming, the large frame of Guy Ricard indicates a strong man of the soil, and his traditionally made wines prove the point. The 65% Grenache, 35% Syrah Vieilles Vignes contains some Grenache from vines dating back to 1911. It is one-quarter cask, three-quarters vat-aged, while the Cuvée Classique faithfully represents all the herbal, black-fruit, leathery features of this Ouvèze area of the southern Rhône. It evolves with great character.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 84 83.
Domaine La Monardiere, Vacqueyras
Christian Vache likes to experiment, ‘to see what the soil can give’, and likes to plant almond and peach trees around his vineyards. Minimal intervention is his credo, inside and outside the cellar. The 17ha of plantings provide two principal wines – the Réserve des Deux Monardes and the Vieilles Vignes – and come from three different sites. Les Calades is the easy-drinking wine (delicious in 2004); the 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah Monardes has a full, meaty side; and the Vieilles Vignes, half Mourvèdre-Syrah, is big and black-fruited, its tannins needing four to five years to settle.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 87 20.
Montirius, Gigondas & Vacqueyras
Christine and Eric Saurel are committed to biodynamic vineyard cultivation, and have established Montirius in the front rank at Vacqueyras since quitting the Cave Cooperative. They work 32ha of Vacqueyras and 16ha of Gigondas. The pair want harmony in their wines, and the fruit is frequently very pure and clearly lined. Le Clos is from the 8ha plot beside the cellars, and is the top Vacqueyras, while the Gigondas is more rumbustious. The Cadet de Montirius vin de pays is a winner on the price-quality front.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 38 28.
Sang des Cailloux, Vacqueyras
Serge Férigoule has all his vineyards on the Plateau des Garrigues, the stone-covered area between Vacqueyras and the southern village of Sarrians. As the ‘Blood of the Stones’ name implies, these are mighty, potent wines with great energy and drive. Black-robed and laced with herbs, liquorice and leather flavours, the Lopy is taken from old vines and receives 15 months in cask. The Azalaïs, 10 months in barrel, has a sprinkling of Mourvèdre and its fruit is robust but also approachable at a young stage.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 88 64.
Pierre Amadieu, Gigondas
Since starting a revival under Pierre Amadieu, grandson of the Pierre Amadieu who bought the domaine in 1950, things are better supervised, and cuvées like the Domaine Grande Romane now contain clear-cut fruit but also a meaty interior in big vintages like 2003. The length is furnished by 20% Mourvèdre. The Grande Réserve, 85% Grenache, 15% Syrah, has stylish fruit and regains a local stamp with age.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 84 08.
Arnoux & Fils, Vacqueyras
An old Vacqueyras house enjoying a renaissance under Marc Arnoux, the vinifier, and his brother, Jean-François, the commercial man, with their cousin Henri Bertrand running the 40ha vineyards. The Jean-Marie Arnoux cuvée is half old vines’ Grenache-Syrah (50 to 80 years), half Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and did well in 2001 and 2003. It gains a leathery, spiced side after five years and can live
for 15 years. Tel: +33 4 90 65 84 18.
Domaine la BouIssiEre, Gigondas & Vacqueyras
Thiérry Faravel and his brother Gilles work 9ha of vines in Gigondas and 2.5ha in Vacqueyras. The special new/ young oak-aged Gigondas, Font de Tonin, is rich and stylish, capable of absorbing its oak after 4–5 years. ‘I like to make full but not potent wines,’ says Thiérry.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 87 91.
Domaine La Garrigue, Vacqueyras & Gigondas
Run by the Bernard family of the Les Florets hotel fame. The classic cuvée is mainly Grenache, topped up with Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Led by 75% Grenache, the Cuvée de l’Hostellerie shows refined fruits, spice and tannins.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 84 60.
Domaine La Roubine, Gigondas & Vacqueyras
Eric Ughetto and Sophie Boulet made their first wine in 2000. Most of their Vacqueyras vines are in the northern area, where the wines are refined, while the Gigondas is half from the start of the mountain zone at 300m and half from the warmer garrigue soils of Santa Duc lower down. The expressive 2002 Gigondas boded well for the future, and the 2003 showed unusual finesse for that heated year.
Tel: +33 4 90 65 81 55.
The overlooked vintage in the Rhône is 2002, beset by tales of heavy rain and flooding. However, late-ripening Gigondas, with its higher vineyards, was better placed than most to handle the situation. The following are the most successful wines from that year, along with the best from Vacqueyras.
Domaine du Cayron, Gigondas 2002
Soft, scented touch of damp forest on bouquet. Spiced, sinewed wine with some end heat. Has character. Good with barbecues. Up to 4 years. £13; J&B
Domaine du Grapillon d’Or, Gigondas 2002
Restrained, gentle, black-fruit aroma. Variety to come. Tasty. Approachable. Has depth and integrity of texture.
Up to 3 years. £12.95; Nsn
Domaine La Bouïssière, Gigondas 2002
Reserved nose. Some herbs. Agreeable early fruit. Cool texture towards finish. Clean wine. Up to 2 years. £15.17; Ass
Domaine La Roubine, Gigondas 2002
Open, expressive, floral bouquet. Scented palate, charming and fine plum fruit.
Up to 2 years. N/A UK; +33 4 90 65 81 55
Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux, Cuvée des Templiers, Vacqueyras 2002
Black-jam underlay on nose. Well-worked prune/stone fruit. Tarry aftertaste. Up to 3 years. £9.95; Tan
Domaine Raspail-Ay, Gigondas 2002
Mid-weight, compact bouquet. Raspberry taste. Clear, sinewed palate. Up to 2 years. £12.50; VTr
Montirius, Gigondas 2002
Soft, scented bouquet. Fruit is rounded. Cocoa elements as the finish tightens. Up to 3 years. £13.71; Loe
Santa Duc, Gigondas 2002
Appealing smoky, plum aromas. Direct fruit. Clean lines. Nice weight. Good vigour. One of the best two wines of the year from this region.
Up to 4 years. £16.50; ACh
n Château St-Cosme, Hominis Fides, Gigondas 2003 HHHH
Inky, intense, meaty bouquet. Southern flavours, with olives and herbs. Baked fruit on end. Up to 11 years. £32.16; F&R
Domaine Boussïère, La Font de Tonin, Gigondas 2003 HHH
Big, ripe, rounded bouquet, with oak, black fruit and olives. To 2015. £17.50; CTW
Domaine Brusset, Les Hauts de Montmirail, Gigondas 2003 HHH
Deep, classy bouquet. Wholesome, then chunky. Rich and peppery with a beef-stock aftertaste. From 2007. £17.50; BRW
Domaine du Cayron, Gigondas 2003 HHH
Open, brewed red-fruit bouquet. Harmonious. Drinks nicely now but even better from 2007 onwards. £15.50; Adn
Domaine La Garrigue, Gigondas 2003 HHH
Southern, oily, deep, smoky bouquet with cherry and mint flavours. Full, ripe fruit develops leathery, damson side. Rich finale. Up to 11 years.
N/A UK; +33 4 90 65 84 60
Jérome Quiot Sélection, Gigondas 2003 HHH
Upright, scented-tea bouquet. Nicely potent. Thread of Grenache. Local feel. Autumn/winter drinking. 2007–2016.
N/A UK; +33 4 90 83 73 55
Louis Bernard 2003 HHH
Well-knit aromas. Baked, thyme and pepper flavours. Good, gutsy core. Tannins well set. Fruit clear. 2007–2014. N/A UK; +33 4 90 11 86 86
Pierre Amadieu, Grande Réserve, Gigondas 2003 HHH
Leathery, bacon aspects on reserved bouquet. Herbal aftertaste. Up to 9 years. N/A UK; +33 4 90 65 84 08
Santa Duc, Les Garancières, Gigondas 2001 HHH
Bouquet of damp woods/cold tea with a floral, elegant tone. Tasty, appealing richness. Classy and harmonious.
Up to 10 years. £10.75; ACh
n Arnoux et Fils, Jean-Marie Arnoux, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Pretty and elegant wine with tasty black-fruit and liquorice traces. Uncluttered with a distinct local feel.
Up to 9 years. £6.99; Whb
Château de Montmirail, Cuvée de l’Ermite, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Restrained bouquet, both oily and smoky. Tasty raspberry flavours come through. Supple texture. Local feel.
Up to 7 years. £9.50; BBS
Domaine des Amouriers, Genestes, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Upright bouquet with maraschino-cherry flavour. Herbal backdrop. Persists well. Tarry finish. 2007–2013.
N/A UK; +33 4 90 65 83 22
Domaine La Monardière, Réserve des Deux Monardes, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Full, meaty, baked-raisin aroma. Measured, cooked-plum taste. Tannic finish, but rich not dry. A warm, sophisticated wine. Clear-cut flavours. Up to 6 years. £11.95; Loe
Le Font de Papier, Vacqueyras 2001 HHH
Gourmand, open, earthy bouquet. Potent fruit attack. Genuine depth. Tannins need a little time, but the wine has a good grip. 2006–2013. £16.99; Thr
Le Sang des Cailloux, Azalaïs, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Blackberry flavour. Charming bouquet. Warm texture. Up to 5 years. £14.75; VTr
Le Sang des Cailloux, Lopy, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Black fruits and tannic streaks that need time. Some gras. Up to 7 years. £19.95; VTr
Montirius, Le Clos de Montirius, Vacqueyras 2003 HHH
Black fruits. A bit of game. Chunky through palate. Ripe tannins.
Best between 2006-16. £12.75; Loe
For UK stockists, see p168.