Gigondas Wine: The Rhone Valley's Value Alternative to Chateauneuf du Pape

The Rhone valley produces many great wines such as Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape.  It also produces great value wines such as Cotes du Rhone.  Straddling both categories are some very good wines at reasonable prices including wines from the region of Gigondas (pronounced “zhi-gon-dahs”).  Often referred to as the poor man’s Chateauneuf du Pape, these wines are very similar to the style of wines of Chateauneuf albeit slightly lesser in quality.  The quality on many Gigondas wines has, however, greatly increased over the last decade.

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The village of Gigondas, in the Rhone River valley, is in the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountains.  The village traces its roots back to the Romans.  Its original name was Jocunditas meaning great pleasure in Latin as the town was founded as a place of respite for the Roman Legion.  There is no doubt that wine has been produced there since Roman times.  In due course the vineyards outside of the town were ceded to the Church.  Later the vineyards became a part of the Principality of Orange under the control of the Rhénane de Nassau family. 

Eventually the area was annexed by Louis XIV.  Records mention a white wine being made there in 1594.  Interestingly, no white wine is made in the area today.  In 1894, wine from this region won a gold medal at an agricultural fair in Paris.  Like many Rhone wines, in the later part of the 1800’s and the first part of the 1900’s, the wines from Gigondas were often used to enhance Burgundies.  The Gigondas wines added color and body, especially in weak Burgundy vintages.   In the early 1950’s the area was granted Cotes du Rhone Villages status by the Appellation d’Originie Controlèe (AOC).  In 1971 Gigondas was given its own AOC designation. 

AOC rules dictate that the vineyards must be a mixture of the same grapes from which Cotes du Rhone are made.  It is important to note that this is not a requirement on which grapes are utilized in any particular bottling. A maximum of 80% of a vineyard may be Grenache with a minimum of 15% each of Syrah and Mourvedre required.  In addition, with the exception of Carignan (which is prohibited), a maximum of 10% of all other southern Rhone permitted grape varieties may be grown.  Traditionally wines were fermented in cement tanks, but these days, many wineries have switched to oak barrels.  Gigondas produces about 5.5 million bottles each vintage.  While most of the wine produced is red, there is also a bit or Rosè made (which also must be 80% Grenache). 

The soil in Gigondas is mostly limestone and clay.  Many of the vineyards are dug out on steep terraces cut into the mountain sides.  The vineyards are as high as 600 meters.  Between the higher altitude and the ever present Mistral winds (which blow down the Rhone valley), Gigondas is a cooler microclimate than its nearby neighbor Chateauneuf.  In fact, harvest is usually a couple of weeks later as the grapes take a bit longer to ripen. 

The finished wines still provide a similar experience to Chateauneuf’s at an often, less expensive price.  Gigondas wines are more rustic and powerful.  Elegance is not a term usually associated with these wines.  The Grenache grape produces wines that are higher in alcohol than most grapes and offer cherry, raspberry and plum flavors.  Syrah and Mourvedre in the mix provide some meaty and spice notes.  Many of them have a black licorice quality as well.