After getting schooled on the dirt in Gigondas, it was time to turn my attention back to tasting at some of the domaines in town.
Gabriel Meffre is a big player in the Rhône Valley and Languedoc. With an annual production of 1.25 million cases, it's likely you've had one of their wines and not know it was Meffre's—labels such as Fat Bastard and Wild Pig form the base of the pyramid, with other brands such as Louis Bernard well-distributed.
There are some jewels at the top of the production pyramid here, namely the 1,250 cases of Gigondas produced by the Domaine de Longue Toque estate. The Longue Toque estate totals 54 acres of vines (out of Meffre's 185 total), with one quarter of them located at elevation along the limestone terraces in the Dentelles; the rest are on sand and red clay soils on the plateau below.
Winemaking here is straightforward, with fermentation in cement vat or stainless-steel tanks, and then aged in a mix of cement and demi-muid (large 600-liter barrels). The winemaking team has focused on small-parcel selections and vinifies lots based on soil types prior to blending.
I tasted through a run of 2017s still sitting in their demi-muids in the cellars, starting with a supple, perfumy mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from vines planted on sandy soils. A second sample of just Grenache and Syrah from vines on limestone showed a brighter violet note, vivid black cherry fruit and a long, tannic spine. Tasting a pure Grenache lot, also from vines on limestone, shows the essence of Gigondas, with black tea and black cherry notes carried by a light chalky thread.
The top cuvée is the Hommage à Gabriel Meffre, produced from the estate's oldest vines, planted in 1920. This pure Grenache is fermented with 50 percent whole clusters; the result is a brisk, racy wine rippling with dark cherry and pomegranate notes that are tightly focused, backed by refined and mouthwatering acidity on the finish.
Located at the top of the village is the cellar of Domaine La Bouïssiere, where vigneron Thierry Faravel quietly fashions some of the best wines in Gigondas. At 55, Faravel has seen his share of vintages. He took over from his father in 1989; his father was a legend in Gigondas, working over 40 years at Pierre Amadieu, the largest producer in town, while planting and building his own domaine along the way.
The talk among vignerons so far this year is the mildew pressure brought by a very rainy May and June.
"Very difficult," says Faravel with a light sigh. "And if you lose control of your vineyard in May, you're going to be crying all season long. It was a tropical climate, with rain almost every day and humid conditions. I'd rather have a storm and then the mistral the day after, than constant rain. It was difficult to get into the vineyard because they were so muddy, so it was a real struggle."
The weather has turned bright and dry now, though, so the mildew had dried up, but it's left a trail of brown leaves and reduced grape clusters along the way. Faravel showed me how the leaf-pulling would have to be done to remove the non-functioning leaves while keeping the healthy first-generation leaves for shade and spurring growth of newer leaves for better sugar production and ripening.
Faravel's vines are some of the most dramatically situated I've seen, tucked in the northern end of the appellation, bordering Beaumes-de-Venise and skirting along the base of the Dentelles. He's planted Syrah on echalas (the vertical post trellis favored by Northern Rhône vignerons) alongside his gobelet-trained Grenache, many of which were planted by his father in the early 1960s.
Some of the fruit from the old vines goes into his Font du Tonin cuvée, an 80/20 Grenache and Mourvèdre blend fermented in cement and aged entirely in barrel (no new oak however). The 2016 Gigondas La Font du Tonin wine is awash in dark, seductive fruit, with waves of gently mulled blackberry, plum and boysenberry spilling forth, laced with subtle lavender, bay and mineral notes. Set to be bottled this month and sent to the U.S. in the fall, it's a stunning wine.
The regular 2016 Gigondas is a 70/30 Blend of Grenache and Syrah, typically destemmed about 50 percent and aged in a combination of foudre and cement vat. Already bottled, it's also lush and inviting in feel, with a racy minerality that steadily asserts itself, giving the alluring raspberry and blackberry fruit tension and spine.