Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, my first experience with wine was in the Rancho Cucamonga Valley. This region is proud of their award-winning wines. Excelling in finely crafted Zinandel and Spainsh Sherry, such wineries as Galleano and J. Filippi became my frequent haunts. Growing up, I often enjoyed just a bit of Sherry with my mother. However, it was the Rhone varietals that particularly influenced my palate.
During my “college days,” my interest in Rhone varietals took me to California’s Santa Ynez Valley. The wines of Santa Barbara County so influenced my palate, I knew I would eventually make a career in the wine and spirits industry. This eventually led me to France, and of course, the Rhone Valley.
Today, I am once again joined by friend and fellow sommelier, Ivelisse Negroni. We are in the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills of southern France in the village of Gigondas. We are here to taste wines known to many as “the poor man’s Chateauneuf du Pape.” This is a red wine region and no white wines carry the Gigondas appellation.
Historically, the region was one of great importance and a recreational haven for Rome’s Second Legion. In Latin, “Jacunditas” translates as “great pleasure and enjoyment.” Seeing as the Gigondas appellation produces wines that are muscular and robust, they are a perfect match for the legionaries of the empire. These soulful wines are definitely rustic, edgy, and in your face. In short, Gigondas produces good, spicy, dry wines that can be cellared for 10 years or more.
For our first selection, Ivelisse chose a Guigal Gigondas Rouge 2009. On the eye, the wine is purple in color and striated with tinges of bright ruby. The intense nose is floral and dominated by peach, apricot, spice, and accented with licorice notes. This powerful and full-bodied wine is a blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah. It is an earthy wine filled with minerals and spices, and packed with fruit flavors of blueberries and blackberries. Low in acidity, the Rouge has a lively and expanding finish. The alcohol content is 124% with a price tag of $35.
“I like that the Rouge has an attractive lushness along with fine density,” Ivelisse smiled softly.
“Indeed a suave wine that beckons to be drunk now,” I affirmed with calm finality.
Our next selection, Tardieu-Laurent Gigondas Viles Vignes 2010 exemplifies the Dantelles terroir. It is a blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre. On the eye, it is opaque ruby. The nose is aromatically fresh and combines beautifully with concentrated dark fruit which eventually gives way to braised fig. On the palate, the wine is muscular, yet polished and caressing. Though fruit flavors abound, there are accents of spice and minerals with fine tannins. The finish is lively and persistent. The alcohol content is 14.5% with a price tag of $45.
“I particularly liked the nose on the Tardieu-Laurent,” Ivelisse gave a nod of approval.
“A spicy and well-delineated charmer that can be enjoyed over the next 10-15 years,” I added.
For our next selection, Ivelisse chose Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas Le Dieu Dit 2010. The wine is a blend of 95% Grenache and 5% Syrah an aged up to 5 years in small oak casks. On the eye, it is a vivid purple. While on the nose, it invigorates from the beginning. There are aromas of red currant, plum, raspberry, lavender, and incense. On the palate, the flavors are fleshy and vivacious. Filled with raspberry, cherry, and a trace of licorice, the wine is full-bodied and intense. The finish has excellent length with appealing sweetness and only a whisper of tannins. The alcohol content is 15% with a price tag of $50.
“The complex bouquet had me from the start,” Ivelisse giggled softly.
“This is one of the finest wines I’ve had since we have been traipsing about Dantelles de Montmirail,” I flashed her a quick grin along with a nod of approval.
Our last selection, Saint Cosme Gigondas Le Claux 2011 is a classic Gigondas. It is 100% Grenache grown in the limestone soils of Le Claux and display the most minerality of the four wines in our tasting. The grapes of Le Claux are true sun-worshippers and love the hot, dry weather. On the eye, the wine is saturated ruby. The bouquet is especially perfumed with a striking floral elegance. There are complex aromas of dark berries, and Asian spices. This charming wine shows Pinot-Noir-like vivacity with flavors of raspberry and boysenberry that are sharpened by juicy acidity. To add to the wine’s allure, fine-grained tannins fill the long floral finish. The alcohol content is 14.5% with a price tag of $90.
“Since you love Pinot Noir,” Ivelisse paused lightly. “I knew you would especially enjoy the Saint Cosme.”
“I definitely enjoyed this wine,” I paused to collect my thoughts. “The bouquet was exotic, displaying peaty qualities that I found enticing. Indeed a wine that will drink well over the years.”
“With what dishes would you serve these wines?” I queried.
“Beef Stroganoff, spare ribs, and most game.”
“Agreed,” I flashed her an even smile.
“We need a hearty lunch because our next stop, Chateauneuf du Papa is better than 10 miles away,” she said flatly.
“Surely you are not planning for us to hike that distance,” I playfully toyed. “But that my friends, is another story …”