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.
The pitch-perfect 2016 Southern Rhône vintage does not require much more explanation, and today's duo embodies the regions' 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.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable and Gour de Chaulé Cuvée Tradition.
2016 is a replay of the 2010 vintage in Southern Rhône—high ripeness, and superior finesse, cut, and definition. A perfect storm for classic-leaning palates, one that we're only rewarded with a couple of times each decade.
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 extremely high percentages of Grenache in their blend, not relying on the dark and muscular tones of Syrah and Mourvèdre to impress. (Both domaines are over 85% for these two cuvées). While Pallières partially de-stems, GdC always sees 100% whole cluster fermentation. Here, there's an extra element of tension and a more reserved fruit profile that always reminds me that this gives one of the most disciplined frames of any southern Rhône red. Josh Raynolds of Vinous captures why this more reticent personality is greatly rewarding:
"In great vintages like 2016, this 15-hectare (10 of them in Gigondas and mostly composed of very old, low-yielding vines) domaine’s wines have proven that they can age remarkably well and better than most others from the region. Twenty years is usually the outer limit for cellaring Gigondas, to my taste, but plenty of two-decade-old (and even older) bottles of Gour de Chaulé over the last three decades have proven themselves worthy. [...] and the wines here, which have long been among the standouts of the appellation (especially for those whose tastes run to the traditional and unadorned), have never been better."