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June 25, 2022

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Vibrant and spirited reds can be fun for the season of heat

Week two in our sensational summer wine series features one of my favorite red varieties. While I’ll be the first to admit that a plurality of the best wines for summer are white or rose, a select number of reds also feature an abundance of summer-friendly qualities. Before revealing our next summer beauty, let’s first take a quick look at what makes a wine suitable for the season of heat.

First and foremost all great summer wines have an abundance of freshness, technically speaking this means good acidity. Other desirable attributes are vibrancy, fruitiness and purity. All these qualities help assuage the heat and make wines good companions to popular seasonal foods like salads, seafood pastas and pizzas, cheese-centric dishes and grilled meats. One increasingly popular variety fits perfectly in this realm.

Grenache is one of several popular grapes with a disputed origin. The Spanish, who refer to this grape as Garnacha and several other names, claim it as their own with most Spanish ampelographers believing the grape originated in or around the region of Aragon in the northeast of Spain. Others are not so sure. The Mediterranean island of Sardinia that was part of Spain and now is part of Italy also claims to be the land of origin for the grape. On the island the grape is widely planted and called Cannonau.

By the 19th century the variety was well-established in Southern France and plantings in New World regions like Australia and California were growing. Regardless of its origin and many names, the grape has been a resounding success and today is one of the most planted varieties in the world.

One factor in the success of Grenache is the celebrated ability of this grape to blend with other grapes and make delicious wines. It’s fair to say that Grenache is one of the most accommodating and friendly grapes you’ll find anywhere. The variety is prized for adding both fruitiness and alcohol to blends along with some spice and zestiness. Some of the most popular grapes to blend with Grenache include Syrah, Mourvendre, Carignan, Tempranillo and in some cases Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Another positive quality of Grenache is the ease and consistency of cultivation. Year in and year out the hearty vines ripen evenly more often than not producing quality fruit. This contrasts sharply with more finicky varietals like Pinot Noir where each new vintage is an adventure.

Earlier this year I write about Cotes du Rhone, the most prolific and affordable of southern Rhone red wines. Therefore, this week I’ll delve into a lesser-known but more substantial Southern Rhone manifestation of the Grenache grape.

Gigondas AC

Neatly perched in the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains in the Southern Rhone Valley, Gigondas is both a village and wine appellation. The name derives from the Latin Jocunditas, which means “great pleasure;” and the region was a popular refuge and vacation spot for Roman soldiers. Wines obviously added to the attractiveness of Gigondas and production continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance.

In 1800s and the first half of the 20th century, the reputation of Gigondas waned as the heady wines of the region were frequently serendipitously used to bulk up less ripe wines from the better-known cooler climate French regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. After World War II, slowly but surely quality improved as Gigondas became an official Cotes du Rhone Villages AC wine and then gained its own Gigondas AC status in 1971.

According to AC regulations, Gigondas may comprise up to 80 percent Grenache with a minimum 15 percent of Syrah and Mourvedre. A maximum 10 percent of other Southern Rhone grapes like Rousanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Cinsault are allowed and the only major regional grape not permitted is Carignan.

The best vineyards are situated on the elevated Montmirail slopes, with limestone soils in some parts and sandier, more free-draining soils in others. The growing season has sunshine but there’s a slightly cooler climate than nearby highly-regarded Chateauneuf-du-Pape regions. Because of similar blends and the close proximity, some drinkers refer to Gigondas wines as a poor man’s Chateauneuf. Personally, I consider this a misnomer as Gigondas wines have their own unique style and over the past three or four decades have become an increasingly sought-after and acclaimed wine. Fortunately they remain relatively affordable.

As a rule, Gigondas wines are big, bold and fruit-forward wines with relatively high alcohol content that feature aromatic and taste sensations of black cherry, blueberries and cassis with pleasant notes of spice. All these qualities endear them to summer’s most savory dishes like BBQ and grilled meats, cheeses of many kinds and gourmet sandwiches.

The healthy dose of acidity in these wines means they also pair nicely with grilled or deep-fried seafood. The spicy nature of Gigondas wines makes them fine companions to many Hunan, Sichuan and even Thai meat and seafood dishes. Because of the relatively high alcohol content, the wines are best served about 16 degrees Celsius.

Recommended Gigondas producers with wines available in Shanghai include Gabriel Meffre, Guigal, Chapoutier and Santa Duc. Most the recent vintages in Gigondas AC have been good to excellent but avoid the subpar 2014 and 2013 vintages.

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