The sister-and-brother team of Marie and François Giraud continue to have their family estate operating at a high level. For background on this still relatively young domaine (grapes were sold off by their father before they started bottling their own wine in the 1998 vintage), reference my 2014 visit.
Following the shift to organic growing in 2008, yields here crashed in the first few years. Averaging around 1 to 1.25 tons per acre doesn't make for an easy bottom line. Then came the short crops caused by the weather in 2013 and '14. Finally, in 2015 and '16, the vineyards are not only healthy, but Mother Nature gave them a bountiful crop of 2 tons per acre.
"Now the vineyards have acclimated, the roots are deeper, and the vines are healthier," says Marie. "So [2 tons] is excellent for us. If we could do that every year, we would be very happy."
The domaine now totals 86 acres of vines (42 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), spread over nearly as many parcels. Vines in Lirac have recently been added, with the fruit going into the 2016 Côtes du Rhone (just bottled). This 80/10/10 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre offers supple kirsch and pomegranate fruit, with juicy acidity and lovely silky feel. There's also a light shiso hint throughout keeping it fresh and pure.
"2016 is the first time I see a vintage like this," says Marie. "Very warm days, but very cold nights. So, you have maturity, color and freshness. You taste the wines and you think the domaine must be at elevation, the wines are so fresh. All the cépages did well and a good yield. For me, it is the best since we started in '98."
The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (not yet bottled) totals approximately 2,000 cases. The 80/15/5 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre is all destemmed (all the reds here are), resulting in a beautifully silky, supple mouthfeel that lets enticing kirsch and cherry preserve flavors glide through with fresh acidity driving them along. Light tea, spice and anise aromas skitter throughout. It's sneaky long too, with nice tension that lets it flesh out steadily as it airs.
One of the single-vineyard bottlings, the 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Gallimardes is made entirely of Grenache, including some vines planted in 1901 by Marie's great-grandfather and situated on the famous galets, or large rolled stones. There will be only around 400 cases to be had of the wine, which is showing a hint of reduction today, though it dissipates with air, revealing ample dark cherry and blackberry fruit allied to a velvety frame. A long, graphite spine and gorgeous anise and black tea notes stream through the finish, which has drive and precision.
Ever wonder how (or even if) vineyards on galets are plowed? Well, it helps to have a 1960s Saint-Charmond tractor at your disposal. Check it out in the video below.
Matching the Gallimardes in depth and range is the 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Grenache de Pierres, another all-Grenache cuvée with some 1901 plantings in the mix, though sourced from the clay/sand portion of La Crau and sandy soils in Pignan. The profile is a shade darker though, with intense plum and blackberry puree flavors inlaid with dark graphite and warm fruitcake accents. Dark tea lines the finish while the fruit drips on and on. It has ample grip, but stays succulent and alluring throughout. Have fun hunting down the approximately 250 cases that will wind up being released.
For me, the trio of 2016s here bests the '15s by a step. But serious Châteauneuf lovers will want both for the contrast in styles ('16 is more refined, '15 shows a bit more tannic edge).