Monday, March 7, 2016

Featured Wines: The Hills Have Wines

If any of the wines in this week's Featured Wines column tickle your fancy, you can order them directly from Jordan by email ( or find him in the Vintage Room of Everything Wine's Morgan Crossing location in South Surrey.

The Hills Have Wines: Gigondas and White Hermitage

Hills are awesome. Not only do they break the monotony of flat landscapes (or “violently disturb the peace” if you’re from Saskatchewan), but they provide activities for many, like slinkys, self-aggrandizing snowballs, or little engines that could. Hills rock.
Wine geeks like hills too, but not for rolling down. Hills, depending on their aspect and slope, can provide the perfect conditions for vineyards, staging the vines to better capture the sun, and forcing the roots deeper into the earth by denying them the lazy, yummy topsoil that they would find further down on the valley floor. Hills make great wine, so in a country as wine-soaked as France, they’re celebrities (though admittedly so is David Hasselhoff, so that may be a low bar).
Gigondas, a 30 minute drive east of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (11 minutes if French) in the southern Rhone valley, is a hillside village with almost no flat parts, positioned partways up towards the Dentelles de Montmirail (the peaks of this range look like a vampire’s underbite). Beneath the village, rocky and sandy soils give fruit and body, while the vineyards around and above the town show typical limestone-y structure and minerality. Overwhelmingly Grenache, the wines are like CNDP’s less refined, rural cousin: similar in build, but they don’t know any jokes without bad words and they’re always kinda covered in dirt.
If you believe the legend, Crusader Gaspard de Sterimberg returned wounded to France in 1224 and built a chapel on top of a small hill overlooking the northern Rhone river (and what is now the town of Tain). He built a small chapel to honour Saint Christopher, and lived there as a hermit until he died, pausing in his prayer and repentance only to tend to his vineyards, planted to the way-cool new grape variety he brought back from the Holy Land: Syrah. Disappointingly, that Syrah Origin Story is false, but the chapel is real and the hill is now called Hermitage, one of the most Rockstar hills in all of winedom. Syrah is fittingly the only red grape planted here, but about 10% of this hill is planted to whites Marsanne and Rousanne, which brings me to:
E. Guigal 2011 Hermitage Blanc
Believe the hype. One hand slaps your face and one hand caresses it, with equal measures of creamy body and citrus/quince bracing acidity. Thick and layered with nuttiness and stone fruits, this is a white wine made for Red Wine Season, predominantly Marsanne (95%), and drinks well now but will develop into something profound. A future classic? 95 points Wine Spectator, $73.29 +tax

Ferraton Pere & Fils 2011 Ermitage Blanc “Le Reverdy”
A joint venture between the Ferraton Family and the Rhone icon Michel Chapoutier (more cool stuff from him coming soon), this equal blend of Marsanne and Rousanne (50/50) seeks to make friends rather than make a statement. Creamy, dry and rich (Rousanne brings the comfort food) showing ginger, peach, pear, honey and vanilla cookies. The spelling “Ermitage” is the traditional one, before French explorers discovered the letter H. 94 points Robert Parker, $116.99 +tax

Chateau de Saint Cosme 2013 Gigondas
The Barruol family have owned and operated this house since 1570, and they’re on their 14th generation farming this village-altitude vineyard Le Poste, which surrounds the family’s iconic chapel. They manage to attain a certain timeless, quiet power here, with super-concentrated, peppery fruit and a long, mineral finish, all of which is accomplished without the “big” glycerine of New World wines, or even of the wines from further down the hill. The perfumed, floral nose evolves pretty much in front of you, and as exciting as it drinks currently, I’m going to put some away until 2020. 96 points Wine Spectator, $141.99 +tax

E. Guigal 2011 Gigondas
Ok, here’s the delinquent in this group. As pretty and elegant as Le Poste is, it probably surrenders its lunch money to this bruiser from down the hill on the wrong side of the tracks. Deeper and more ragged, this Grenache has a core of chocolatey tar surrounded by black fruit and obvious wood. It drinks well now (with protein) but time may smooth the contours. 91 points Wine Spectator, $41.79 +tax

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