Les Pallières and and Gour de Chaulé embody Southern Rhône's best overachieving appellation, Gigondas. Commonly known as Baby Châteauneuf, Gigondas has the elevation and steep slope grade to induce a seriousness to these Grenache-dominant blends that are in another league of terroir from neighboring zones.
Terraces cut into the Dentelles de Montmirail hillsides give us Gigondas from the 15th century-founded Domaine Les Pallières. Of the two cuvées produced by the Brunier brothers (also owners of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf du Pape), it is the Terrasse du Diable (Devil's Terraces) that has always struck a chord for me. These are the highest elevation plantings on the estate, bringing the essential brisk structure to balance Grenache's forward-baked strawberry and white pepper profile.
Gour de Chaulé, like Pallières, focuses on high percentages of Grenache in their blend, not relying on the dark and muscular tones of Syrah and Mourvèdre to impress. (Both domaines use over 85% for these two cuvées). While Pallières partially de-stems, Gour de Chaulé always sees 100% whole cluster fermentation. Here, an extra element of tension and a more reserved fruit profile gives one of the most disciplined frames of a Southern Rhône red.
In Châteauneuf du Pape, walking the fine line between elegance and rusticity is difficult, but Domaine Pégau embodies the precision of this balance like none other. Their progression over the last ten years to highlight a more lifted style while maintaining a sense of opulence is a hot topic for lovers of the Southern Rhône Valley. While the estate produces several cuvées, their Cuvée Réservée fulfills the best value and sharpest focus on this fabled terroir.
The Reservée has always been the prime CdP for value, but Laurence's recent move to raise the Grenache and lower the Syrah percentage in the blend has done wonders for its clarity and persistence. Licorice, dark fruits, woodsmoke, game, and wild garrigue are hallmarks of every bottle of CdP. Pégau captures these notes with an impressive mineral streak and fine-grained tannins that stand out from the pack. A rack of lamb alongside Pégau has become one of my ultimate pleasures.
Laurence Féraud works with her father, Paul, in carrying on a steep tradition started by their ancestors in 1607. The backbone of the estate is their old Grenache plantings dating back to 1907 in the famed La Crau vineyard, where limestone mother rock sits below the iconic, round galet river stones. They use whole clusters for vinification, and the wines age in large foudres crafted nearly a century ago. Both elements are crucial in preserving a sense of vibrancy in their Grenache-dominant blends.
Truth be told, the Southern Rhône pulled me into France way back when I was finishing college. Today, I pull bottles from this region with much less regularity—much of that has to do with producers chasing after power and points. However, Pégau never succumbed to altering their methods. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to have a select few producers that still makes wines that they love to drink and their ancestors would be proud of today. Pégau is everything sacred about tradition and should be celebrated as often as possible.
Charvin makes only one red Châteauneuf-du-Pape... this is consistently one of the purest and most perfumed expressions of the appellation. — Josh Raynolds, Vinous
Southern Rhone is home to Grenache-dominant blends, and it's Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CdP) where these wild strawberry, white pepper-spiced, and gamey reds reach their apex. The style here has been one of ever-growing power and ripeness, as hot temperatures tend to give these blends roasted fruit notes. But Domaine Charvin's wines take on a different quality than is the norm.
Domaine Charvin is northwest of the appellation, sitting on sandy soils, and northern exposure mitigates the sun's influence. The area's prominent Gallet river stones absorb the daytime heat and reverberate it upward to the hanging grape clusters well after sunset. However, wines from these rare sand-dominant parcels have elegance, racy structure, and a quiet purity void of any stewed or baked fruits.
Laurent took over the family domaine in 1990, and that's when the magic truly started. Unlike most producers, he ferments with whole clusters and has stuck with bottling one Châteauneuf-du-Pape. No reserve, spéciale cuvée, or old-vine bottling. Why should an estate's hallmark wine suffer by taking the best components out and bottling them separately? The single CdP bottling here is a perennial winner year in, year out.
Farming of these 60-year-old average vines is organic, with a blend usually of 85% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Syrah, and 5% Vaccarèse. The wines are fermented with stems and aged in concrete tanks. This approach to elévage works well to preserve brightness and verve in the wines that otherwise may fall by the wayside.
Laurent's wines are seamless, spicy, and possess an elusive purity not often found in CdP. They always show dark raspberry and Asian spices, with smokey and wild floral notes. These are singular expressions Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and each release quickly sells out from importer Weygandt-Metzler.
Domaine Gramenon's brilliance comes in harnessing sun-baked Southern Rhône and producing fleshy wines with a level of briskness and refreshment that's simply unrivaled. If Southern Rhône has pulled you toward Châteauneuf du Pape, or even quaffable Côtes du Rhône, you must try Gramenon.
Drinkability isn't the sexiest descriptor, but damn, Gramenon epitomizes a quenching trait more than any other name in this region. They're often the first wines emptied on a crowded dinner table, showing soft tannins, seamless texture, and fruit so fresh as if just plucked from their gnarled gobelet vines.
Michèle Aubèry-Laurent and her husband Philippe founded Gramenon in 1978, and 11 years later, the couple bottled their first wine. Their grand vision was to create an estate where organic farming and biodynamic principles extended beyond wine, growing their own produce and raising animals too. I suggest you use the modest pricing below to reacquaint yourself with the alternative and natural side of the Süd.