I wanted to compare the wines of the Rhone just to the north of Châteauneuf to see how they compared in quality to the expensive wines we had tried in this famous wine village. We would only have time for a short trip and so we decided on a name that we were aware of – the village of Gigondas. When you arrive at wine villages like Gigondas the striking thing is that they are so small. They truly are little unspoilt villages despite the name being known throughout the world for the product bearing the name. Gigondas is a village that consists mainly of a central square that houses the Mairie of course but also a fine gastronomic restaurant L’Oustalet, 5 Place Gabrielle Andeol, 84190 Gigondas.
The overall effect of having such a lovely restaurant with the terrace spilling out into the square is very pleasing and a fine place for an artist to sit and paint in the shade of the trees. It is just the sort of village we envisioned finding in Southern France, it is the picture we carried with us in our imagination. Above the village there is an historic ruined Château that can be visited and this vantage point gives excellent views over the village to the Rhone plain. Looming behind that is the dramatic backdrop of the mountains – Dentelles de Montmirail. The jagged teeth of these peaks said to be named after the impression of fine lace structure are visible all around this region and are a natural barrier to the plains beyond. Going around these hills gives a wonderful driving (or cycling) experience. We would in years to come particularly be fond of the route taking you up to the even smaller village of Suzette that offers views to the peak of Mount Ventoux. Today we would at the end of our visit to Gigondas make that journey for the first time. As you get near to Suzette there is a fine wine producer on the left coming from Beaumes de Venise – Château Redortier. It is well worth a visit to this domaine set in a unique location in the shadow of the Dentelles de Montmirail as they have an excellent reputation. The vineyards are at a relatively high altitude and are exposed to the full southern sun.
Close to the château in Gigondas you will find the village church – Saint Catherine d’Alexandrie. No matter the size of the commune the churches in French villages will always be large enough to house at least three times the resident population. In the town around and just off the square there are a number of artisans, especially a first rate pottery – Artisans Potiers Element Terrre from whom we happily bought a couple of delightful pieces. There are a number of outlets in and around the village for some local wine producers and you could park in the village and happily walk to two or three for a degustation. Our destination of choice however is located just below the village.
The producer we wanted to find was Domaine de Font-Sane 84190 Gigondas as after a little research this seemed a good all round quality grower. It was not easy to find but eventually a small sign indicated that we take a narrow road that leads on to an even smaller track and the pretty domaine is to be found surrounded by the stunning vineyards. The domaine is about 16 hectares (40 or so acres) divided into red and rosé Gigondas, red and rosé Ventoux. From the Domaine itself, you can get an even better view of the tiny village protected and dominated by the majestic rock faces of the Dentelles. The domaine name comes from the area “Fontsaine” which is situated high above the village where Domaine Font-Sane has terraced vines (restanques). Something we would discover on later visits was that some of the vineyards are extremely high up in the hills and sometimes quite exposed to the famous mistral blowing down the Rhone valley.
The tasting room here at Font-Sane is quite small but once again we are welcomed as old friends just as we are emerging from our car. The lady invites us inside and we see that glasses bearing the domaine logo are already set out for a tasting. We explain that although we had come to taste the reds on offer we noticed that they produce rosé wine also and she is happy to give up a sample of that first. It is lovely and fresh but the wine that was intriguing us is the reds they produce. We tasted two versions of their red wines.
First was Gigondas Font-Sane Tradition, a blend of mainly Grenache and Syrah with a small amount of Mourvèdre and Cinsault. The vineyards that are cultivated have a soil of limestone and clay mixed with alluvium and loam but also containing many pebbles. The land is sandy and parched as you would expect in this sun baked region.
The second was Gigondas Font-Sane Terrasses des Dentelles and one that the lady was especially proud to let us try. This is almost entirely made with Grenache and Syrah and the soil is limestone and clay based. Both wines are aged in oak and will keep for many years as my wine supply at home still gives testament to. I must I suppose finally open the last couple of bottles from this first visit but I need a special occasion or maybe a visit from the best of friends.
Both wines are an incredible colour, almost of garnets. They are richly fruity as if made exclusively from red berries, blackcurrants and blackberries rather than grapes. It is though the spice that comes through that is so impressive and a feature of the wines of the south. If I have to be pushed on this I genuinely would say that I prefer these wines in the hills below the Dentelles to the exclusive and pricier wines of Châteauneuf. These wines here in Gigondas are superb and with red meat or cheese back home in the long English winter they are going to give great pleasure. They are quite complex wines really as they offer so much in characteristics but you certainly do not have to be a wine expert to enjoy them.
While we are having our tasting a young man, presumably the lady’s son comes into the room just in time to greet two visitors who seem to have an appointment. The smartly dressed lady and gentleman turn out to be representatives of a very famous Michelin starred restaurant in the centre of London. I will not give the name away but there is actually a clue in what I have just written. They are here to try the latest vintage that is now ready for storage in the restaurant cellars although the wines here can be drunk relatively young. Kept a few years they improve and no doubt will carry a heavy premium on the restaurant wine list. The young man takes them farther inside the domaine and we can no longer listen in to their conversation but it is an excellent indication that we have made an admirable choice in coming here.
A couple of cases are stowed away in the car and we are bid a cheery farewell but this thankfully will not be the only time we visit this producer and it is one of the best vineyard finds we have made on our journey through France. We return in future years every time we are in the region.
MY BOOK ON FRENCH WINE TOURING IS OUT NOW