On tasting a full-bodied, gutsy, dark red Gigondas in Paris one summer, I developed romantic ideas of visiting the wine-making region of Gigondas in France’s Southern Rhône Valley.
A few years later, I made my first trip to Gigondas, where the sandstone village was as quaint as I imagined and where I tasted more Gigondas than I could’ve ever imagined thanks to Louis Barruol, the energetic 14th generation wine-maker and owner of Château de Saint Cosme.
On leaving Louis Barruol’s caveau, I confided in Christophe Tassan (award-winning sommelier and Rhône Wine Ambassador) that I thought I had romanticised Gigondas when in fact I had not. The reality of Gigondas is charming and seductive, a reality that extends to neighbouring cru Vacqueyras, which is also in the Vaucluse area.
Both Gigondas and Vacqueyras are appellations with ‘personality’ and a certain kind of rustic elegance that can put you under a spell. They are a melange of good quality wines, extraordinary natural scenery, picturesque stone buildings, a long history in wine-making, and larger-than-life wine-makers.
The jagged grey limestone peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail (literally, lace of Montmirail, of which Montmirail comes from the Latin mons mirabilis meaning ‘extraordinary mountain’) look down on the vines of Gigondas and Vacqueyras and the natural wonder of the area is enhanced by the majestic slopes of Mount Ventoux in the distance. The region’s olive groves yield a sense of calm contradicted by the current of the thyme-scented Mistral wind.
Although there are other theories, it is thought the name Gigondas comes from the name the Romans used for the village, Jucunditas, which in Latin means to surrender to joy; the wines of both Gigondas and Vacqueyras can help one do that—that is, surrender to joy.
Gigondas makes mostly red, powerful, mouth-filling wines from mostly Grenache Noir, but also from Syrah, Mourvèdre and other grape varieties, including Cinsault and Clairette. Red Gigondas can range in colour from ruby to dark garnet-red with red berry (e.g., Kirsch and strawberry) and ripe black berry (e.g., blackberry and blackcurrant) fruits as well as spice (e.g., white pepper and garrigue herbs) on the nose.
One of the best places to try Gigondas wines is the Caveau du Gigondas, which is open to the public and where I was lucky enough to taste a Gigondas rosé on my most recent visit (they make only 1% rosé in Gigondas). This 2016 rosé by Pierre and Claude Amadieu (Domaine Romane-Machotte) was a gorgeous deep pink colour typical of Southern Rhône rosés.
Vacqueyras also produces strong, deep-coloured reds, but in addition, they produce white wines (3%) as well as rosé (1%). The reds are made from mostly Grenache Noir, followed by Syrah and Mourvèdre and often have black cherry, anise and spice notes.
White Vacqueyras can be made from Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, and these white wines are perfect to enjoy in the Southern Rhône summer along with Vacqueyras rosé, which must be made from at least 60% Grenache and at least 15% Mourvèdre.
My favourite red Vacqueyras on my recent (and second) trip was Domaine de La Verde’s Alpha Omega, an equal blend of old-vine Grenache and old-vine Syrah, and my favourite white (Domaine Font Sarade’s 2016 Cuveé le Penchant) was enjoyed over a lunch at acclaimed Côteaux & Fourchettes with friends. I found that this white Vacqueyras paired well with tuna steak, grilled vegetables, and sauce vierge, though it would be great as an aperitif too.
The wines and the scenery of Gigondas and Vacqueyras are of course memorable, but it’s the people of these regions that made the greatest impression on me.
When I think of Gigondas, I think of Louis Barruol wearing sneakers as he charged to the vines near the Chapel of Saint Cosme with a group of wine enthusiasts lagging behind. And when I think of Vacqueyras, I think of the lively moustache of Serge Férigoule of Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux (if you’ve ever seen it you’ll know it).
But, my fondest memory yet in the broader region of Vaucluse is of sharing Vacqueyras wines over an outdoor dinner with a welcoming French family enjoying their summer holidays. The Gigondas appeal ripples through the surrounding areas and the Southern Rhône way of eating and drinking wine together is indeed a great joy.
Feature photo: The Dentelles de Montmirail
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