The Wine That’s Easy Like Sunday Morning
WINE DOESN’T have to be complicated. I sometimes think we are all a little guilty of overthinking our selections. I recently came back from an intense two days in Paris and what I loved about their wine bar scene was the unashamed, joyous celebration of the Southern Rhône wines.
These are the type of rich, ripe and warming wines that come into their own around this time of year, when in the northern hemisphere it’s cold, dark and probably damp. Meaty, spicy and full-bodied, they pair well with roast turkey, so are an obvious fit for the holiday season. But they’re also soft and low in acidity, which makes them gloriously easy to appreciate.
There are some good villages and appellations to look out for in the Rhône Valley; Beaumes-de-Venise, Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Lirac are all good sources of potent, fleshy, well-made reds. Lirac’s Domaine de la Mordorée, a superb-value Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend, is a case in point. But two of the region’s more well-known appellations, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, are worth a little more attention.
Gigondas, a beautiful little village perched in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail, has been described by American wine merchant and author Kermit Lynch as “Provence at its most idyllic.” Its winemakers will tell you it can rival the very best wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While it can certainly rival—and sometimes surpass—its neighbor in terms of value for money under £15 a bottle, in my mind it doesn’t quite match the greatness of Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the top end.
There are two factors that set Gigondas apart: its calcareous soil and its altitude. These factors give its wines an aromatic freshness that in the very best examples imparts seductive sweet fruit on the palate. Among the producers to look out for are Domaine du Grand Montmirail, Domaine Les Pallières, Château de St.-Cosme and Pierre Amadieu.
Good Châteauneuf-du-Pape, meanwhile, seriously benefits from aging and can be as long lasting as a bottle of fine red Bordeaux (15-25 years). This richly textured, full-bodied wine is actually made up of several different grape varieties, with the dominant ones being Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. Its fresh character, with an appealing mineral finish, makes for a wonderful aperitif or a good match for oily fish.
Winemaker Daniel Brunier, who has worked the vines in both villages, at Le Vieux-Télégraphe and Les Pallières, says he finds it difficult to achieve the velvetiness in Gigondas that he does at Le Vieux-Télégraphe. “Gigondas doesn’t have the finesse of Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” he told me at a recent tasting of his wines.
My advice when buying Châteauneuf-du-Pape is to stick to the top estates, by which I mean everything above £15 a bottle. Château de Beaucastel, Clos des Papes, Domaine de Vieux-Télégraphe and Château Mont-Redon are welcome in my cellar any day.
2013 Domaine du Vieux-Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc
For anyone who hasn’t tasted white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this is a real surprise. Bright and fresh, with taut acidity and lovely floral and white fruit notes, it has the two components I look for in white wine: vitality and freshness.
2011 Domaine du Vieux-Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge
This is drinking so well now it’s difficult to imagine it getting any better. It has wonderful, ebullient red fruit aromas. Ripe, but with supple, even tannins and a silky texture, this is both moreish and super indulgent. A real treat.