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1998 Gigondas

La Vigneronne Thursday 22nd June 2000

The 1998 Vintage in the Southern Rhône and Languedoc has been hyped as one of the best vintages of the decade, so I was interested to whether this range of 1998 Gigondas lived up to my expectations. First, some background. The wines of Gigondas resemble those Châteauneuf du Pape, but perhaps with a bit more rusticity. They are usually dominated by the Grenache grape (but no more than 80% of this varietal is allowed), and must contain at least 15% Syrah and Mourvèdre. An appelation since 1971, Gigondas is permitted a low maximum yield of 35 hl/ha and must have an alcoholic strength in excess of 12.5%. Overall, there are about 12 000 Ha under vine.

Grenache is a grape which is quite hard to characterise: it does not have the prominent varietal characteristics of Syrah or Cabernet, and often produces wines that, while concentrated, alcoholic and tannic, are surprisingly light in colour. However, given low yields and careful vinification, this grape is capable of producing serious, herby, spicy, earthy, cinnamon-laced wines with good ageing capacity.

The main difference between the wines in this tasting, as you might expect, lay in the winemaking practices, and most particularly in the use of new oak. Traditionally, wines will have not seen new oak barrels but will have been fermented in neutral, old oak casks. However, as with many French regions, ambitious vignerons have been using a proportion of new oak barrels to age their wines in, along with other winemaking practices that result in higher colour extraction and pronounced flavour characteristics. I don't see it as a matter of right or wrong, just as a matter of choice. The picks of the tasting were, in the low-oak, older style the Tourelles and the Espiers (both cuvées), and in the newer style Les Hauts de Montmirail was a real blockbuster. Overall, I think Gigondas represents a happy hunting ground for those looking for characterful, good value reds with plenty of character and Southern charm, and the 1998 vintage certainly seems to have produced good, ripe wines across the board.

1998 Château Trignon
60% Grenache/ 20% Syrah/ 10% Mourvèdre/ 8% Cinsaut. Quite light coloured. A fresh, spicy, peppery wine with good tannic structure and some rubbery notes. Has future potential. Good.

1998 Le Grand Montmirail, Domaine Brussett
75% Grenache/ 15% Syrah/ 10% Cinsaut. A warm Southern nose gives way to a medium bodied wine with firm tannins and a spicy, slightly baked quality. Good +

1998 Domaine de Piaugier
70% Grenache/ 20% Mourvèdre/ 10% Syrah; 40 year old vines. Deeper coloured but still medium bodied. Soft, slightly leafy fruit with a touch of smokiness. Ripe and quite tannic. Good.

1998 Domaine des Tourelles
80% Grenache/ 15% Syrah/ 5% Mourvèdre. Dense wine with an attractive nose of smoky, stony notes. Warm and ripe on the palate with firm tannins and ripe fruit. Dense, youthful stuff. Needs time. Very good.

1998 Domaine des Espiers
65% Grenache/ 35% Syrah; 40 year old vines. Dense wine. Ripe, soft and complex, with fine tannins and good intensity. Very good.

1998 Domaine des Espiers, Cuvée Blaches
Similar composition to the regular cuvée, but sees some new oak. Super wine. Lovely, open, herby, smoky nose. Good concentration. Dense and forward, this is a lovely, savoury wine with firm tannins and a touch of new oak. Very good/excellent.

1998 Domaine le Pallieres
65% Grenache/17% Syrah/15% Mourvèdre/3% Cinsaut. This property has recently been bought by Daniel Brunier of Vieux Telegraphe and Kermit Lynch, before the 1998 harvest but not in time to have any influence on the viticulture of that vintage. It is an open, herby wine with light, sweet fruit and some supporting tannins. Good but a lighter style.

1998 Domaine de la Daysse
An unusual nose. Open and tea-laced palate, with fleshy primary fruit. Ripe and attractive but lacks focus. Good.

1998 Les Hauts de Montmirail, Domaine Brusset
A real head turner. 60% Grenache/ 25% Mourvèdre/ 15% Syrah; 60% new oak, 40% 1-2 year old barrels. A sweet, oaky and exotic wine, with smoky, mineralic, spicy and herby notes, and firm tannins, all wrapped up in fleshy, dark fruit. Good balance between the components. A blockbuster style; very good/excellent if this is what you are looking for.

1998 Domaine Bourjassot
70% Grenache, matured in new oak barrels. Spicy fruit and new oak combine to make a medium bodied, forward wine. Tannic and savoury, but not a blockbuster. Very good.

1998 Domaine de la Tourade, Cuvée Morgan
40 year old vines, 80% Grenache/ 15% Syrah/ 5% Cinsaut. Dense wine with a cedary, oaky nose. Deep coloured and concentrated, it is sweetly fruited and tannic with a tawny-port like edge. There is a hint of a funky, caramel-like edge that may have come from the barrels used. Potentially very good, but odd.