Ladies to the Front—Two Stand-Out Southern Rhône Producers

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We’re still tasting our way through the bounty of Southern Rhône from the heralded 2016 vintage, and boy are the wines good. In Jeb Dunnuck’s words: “The 2016 vintage was truly extraordinary for the Southern Rhône and is a vintage that readers should buy with abandon. This is the greatest young vintage from the Southern Rhône Valley I’ve ever tasted, both in terms of quality as well as consistency… In fact, it’s difficult to find a truly bad wine in 2016.” From what I can tell so far, I can’t argue with him. And thanks to our Direct Import program, there are some great values on our shelves to boot.

The neighboring Vacqueyras and Gigondas regions are excellent places to start. There’s more distinction to these than your standard Côtes-du-Rhônes, and in fact these were the first two CdR villages to be awarded their own appellations (in 1971 and 1990). Two of our DIs—Domaine Cécile Chassagne from Gigondas and Domaine de la Ganse from Vacqueyras—have offerings that hover around the $20 mark, delivering a ton of wine for your buck. They also provide a perfect (and delicious) primer into the personalities of these two regions.

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Cécile Chassagne farms a terraced vineyard tucked into the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains at almost 1000 feet in altitude with calcareous soils. Her father planted the vines in 1970, and she took over in 1998. Her motto is carpe diem, and she says that drinking Gigondas is like touching the sky. Gigondas is a cooler appellation than Vacqueyras as it’s influenced by these dramatically jagged mountains. Some say, at its best, Gigondas can be similar to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, if more aromatic and slightly gentler.

 2016 Cécile Chassagne Gigondas $21.99

This Gigondas has a voluptuous charm, with deep dark notes of blackcurrants and cranberries and underlying hints of candied violets. It's sweet and broad on the palate, but not at all sappy. It exudes fresh, ripe plums and a supple texture but is still light on its feet.

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If you move down the mountain to the west, you’ll find Vacqueyras, sandwiched between Gigondas on one side and Châteauneuf-du-Pape on the other. It often has sandy soils, hot summers, and a fierce wind called the Mistral—all of which contribute to a reputation for being slightly more rustic, but approachable and loaded with character. Coralie Onde from Domaine de la Ganse was born to a family of winemakers but struck out on her own in 2008 to pursue her own vision. Her vines are organically farmed on chalky clay and river stones. The 2016 Vacqueyras is mostly Grenache with a third Syrah and a soupçon of Cinsault. She and her wines are both known for their spirited personalities.

Domaine de la Ganse Vacqueyras $18.99

This is a bright, juicy charmer, with lively acid and tons of personality—its energy is almost Richard Simmons level! On the nose there are notes of red berries that smell like they're fresh off the tree, leading to a sprightly, spicy palate and firm tannins. This would be lovely with sausages and cheese, or maybe even a gazpacho. What's even better is that winemaker Coralie Onde farms her estate organically and biodynamically. A super fun wine.

Stay tuned for more from Rhône 2016. We can’t get enough!

- Kate Soto