Old-Vine Game-Changers

The southern Rhône Valley has enjoyed some remarkable vintages in recent years. But in Gigondas, 2016 takes the cake.
Josh Raynolds, who’s been drinking Gigondas for about as many decades as we have, describes it as “producing expressive, intense, fruit-driven wines of often profound depth as well as energy … one of the most consistently outstanding vintages for Gigondas I have ever tasted.” The much younger Jeb Dunnuck calls it “truly extraordinary.”
Long obscured by its more famous neighbor, Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas needed a vintage (and a set of wines) to finally come out of its shadow. If 2016 is the vintage, then Saint Damien’s surreal Les Souteyrades, La Louisiane and Gigondas Vieilles Vignes are the wines.
Steeped in Tradition
Seven generations of the Saurel family have tended vines at Saint Damien since 1821, and have long enjoyed a reputation as one of the appellation’s top growers. Yet, quality has surged since the arrival in 2013 of 8th-generation vigneron Romain Saurel.
And he’s done it the old-fashioned way, finding greater depth and expressiveness with each vintage while sacrificing none of the domaine’s traditional character. The 40- to 70-year-old vines have long been cultivated naturally, and Saint-Damien has been certified organic since 2012.
In the cellar, Romain continues with the methods handed down from his ancestors. The different varieties are co-fermented and macerated—including whole-cluster fruit—in concrete tank for a classically long five to seven weeks, followed by a year’s aging in neutral foudre.
Through these time-honored methods and an innate feel for farming and winemaking, Romaine captures the characters of his varied terroirs with startling clarity. All three of his old-vine cuvées are composed of 80% Grenache—the southern Rhône’s signature variety—and the balance Mourvèdre, with small amounts of Syrah and Cinsault as well in La Louisiane.
Studies in Site
With such consistency of vine age, varietal proportion and winemaking, the differences between them come down to site expression, and Romain’s wines have this in spades. Les Souteyrades, a north-facing slope of grey clay is rich and highly perfumed. Yet just a short distance away and similarly exposed, the red clay and alluvial stone soil of La Louisiane produces a very different wine, elegantly garrigue and mineral scented.
And the balance and complexity of the Vieilles Vignes—an assemblage of five different lieux-dits, all whole-cluster fermented and aged in concrete as well as wood—shows that Romain is as skilled in blending as he is with pure terroir expression.
These 2016s express the full potential of Gigondas: spicy and wild-herb scented, with great richness and depth. And our price is as compelling as the purity and character of its three cuvées. If you love great southern Rhône wines, be sure to grab a six-pack or two.

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