Around 300 million years ago, two European geological titans, the Massif Central and the Alps clashed to create a rift valley in what is now modern-day France.
The tectonic battle was followed by vigorous volcanic activity that was subsequently flooded by the Mediterranean to produce the granitic soil of the Northern Rhone and the multi-layered marine deposit rich terroir of the Southern Rhone.
It is not just this ancient seismic activity that bears a relationship to the wines these areas produce; since the fourth century BC, wine has been cultivated in this region — initially by the colonising Greeks around what is known today as Marseille. The wines later became so highly prized by the occupying Romans that they made it to the highest tables in Rome itself.
Whilst wines from the Rhone may be robust and full-bodied, the clay, gravel and limestone of the Southern Rhone are what drive the flavours and structure so recognisable from this part of France.
A Syrah found in the northern Rhone village of St. Joseph may be a “desert island” wine for me, but it is the generosity, colour and aromatics that bring me back to the Grenache of Gigondas in the southern half, almost every time.
Like the rest of the Rhone, vines have been in Gigondas since the veterans of the second Roman legion were farming their plots post their service to the state.
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The oldest written evidence dates back to the 12th century, and city ordinance shows local producers were forbidden to trade their wines with “foreigners” — they knew how good the wine was even back then.
As with all wine, a defining factor is the location of the vine. To qualify for the Gigondas appellation the grapes must be sourced exclusively from the eponymous town which lies at the foot of the “Dentelle de Montmirail” a ridge of hard limestone in this sub-Alpine range.
This mixture of marl, a soil rich in ancient marine deposits and the limestone, creates the wine’s complexity, elegance, and subtle tannic structure.
Like its stratospherically famous neighbour Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas is a wine made by blending different grape varieties; in this case, wines are dominated by Grenache Noir, with an allowance of Syrah and Mourvedre.
The concoction of these Rhone stalwarts produces a brooding dark colour and wine with spiced aromas that have a silky texture and full body.
This bigger style of red might seem intimidating but the generous nature of the wines makes them an absolute dream to enjoy as much with a steak as with a cottage pie or lasagne. The wines from Gigondas really are worth the effort to seek out.