Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The wines of Domaine Gigou

A good many years ago, one of the members of Nottingham Wine Circle (a big fan of Bordeaux wines and an even bigger fan of the Loire) presented a selection of wines from Le Loir. No, not "La Loire" (the big river) but "Le Loir", one of its tributaries slightly to the north. And I have to admit that, whilst I found the white wines (based on Chenin Blanc) rather delicious, I hated the reds. Or at least I thought I did.

Fast forward a few years and the same person presented a similar tasting and I loved them all. I suspect that, having cut my wine-drinking teeth on the likes of Aussie Shiraz, Cali Cabs, rich southern Rhone blends and, latterly, wines from the sunny south of France, my palate had been incapable of appreciating (or simply too inexperienced to appreciate) the nuances and subtleties of wines grown in the relatively cool north/central part of France where the Loire Valley is situated. Indeed, Le Loir is even further north, being situated midway between Le Mans and Tours.

A couple of years ago, whilst on the way down south, we visited a couple of growers in Le Loir and I tentatively thought about importing some of the wines. It didn't happen - one of the main reasons being that I still had almost a pallet's-worth of German wines sitting in the bonded warehouse that nobody seemed to want to buy. And if I couldn't sell top-notch German Rieslings, how the hell would I sell wines from unknown growers in the least-known part of the Loire Valley, (no matter how much I myself loved them)?!

Anyway, fast forward yet another couple of years to June 2015, and TLD and I found ourselves making an overnight stop at the very splendid Hotel de France in La Chartre sur Le Loir...... which just happens to be situated on the banks of Le Loir, smack dab in the middle of the Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières appellations. Indeed, one the very best growers was less than a mile down the road. And so we found ourselves next morning visiting Domaine Gigou for a tasting of some truly excellent wines - and resolving once again to import them. After all, our mantra (a rather important one, in the fickle world of selling wine) has always been "if we can't sell it, at least we will enjoy drinking it"!

The Jasnières white wines of Le Loir are - like Touraine to the south - based on Chenin Blanc (sometimes known locally as Pineau Blanc de La Loire). The Coteaux du Loir reds are based on a fairly obscure variety called Pineau d'Aunis - which is rather confusingly also known locally as Chenin Noir! Gamay also gets a look in, either as part of the blend of Coteaux du Loir or as simple Vin de France. I'm not sure of its origins (and I have yet to look it up) but Pineau d'Aunis actually has more in common with Pinot Noir than anything else, both aromatically and in flavour/structure - lighter in body, and invariably with a peppery bite, but still with a profile that every Burgundy aficionado would recognise. It certainly won't appeal to everyone, but it certainly puts a smile on my face these days.

The Gigou family (image courtesy of the Gigou website)

The Gigou family have been making wine in the region for over 40 years - Joel and his wife Sylvie created the estate in 1974, with son Ludovic becoming part of the team in 1998 and daughter Dorothy joining a few years ago. Domaine Gigou is without doubt one of the most respected and traditional growers in Le Loir, producing a range of dry and semi-sweet Chenin Blanc white wines and some deliciously quirky, fruity, spicy, sappy wines from both Pinot d'Aunis and Gamay. They farm a dozen or so hectares of vines, from various vineyards dotted around the region, on a variety of soils/terroirs. They farm organically (indeed, they also employ various biodynamic principles) and use only the natural yeasts on the grapes for fermentation. The wines are aged in vaulted troglodyte caves (typical of the Loire valley) in a mix of stainless steel vats and very old oak and chestnut barrels, and are bottled and released only when they are ready to drink - or at least approachable, for they will age for a good few years, especially the whites.

The vaulted cellars (image courtesy of the Gigou website)
According to Richard Kelley MW (undoubtedly one of the most respected authorities on the wines of Le Loir and La Loire) "The Gigou’s wines are the epitome of the old, traditional style of Jasnières, and they are justifiably proud of the fact. They are the reference point for this style of wine in the region and ........... are great ambassadors for these two appellations."

And if you would like to read more about Domaine Gigou, together with numerous tasting notes which testify to both the high quality and ageing ability of their wines, see Richard Kelley's full grower profile

Meanwhile, here are my notes on a selection of Gigou wines, which are now available for you to buy, via the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines online shop;

Not for lovers of big, rich, jammy wines, this is light, sappy and ethereal, with oodles of tart wild strawberry, raspberry, red cherry and rhubarb aromas and flavours. Beautifully dry and peppery, with lemony hints - really mouth-watering and more-ish, with a long, tangy/spicy finish. Think of a village Burgundy from a cool(ish) year, but with a little less tannin and more fruit, and you're there. Many inexperienced drinkers would find it rather thin and acidic - as indeed I did, a few years ago - but this is a style of wine I have grown to love. It really is deliciously yummy and saliva-inducing stuff! 12.0% abv. £11.40

Although this is 100% Gamay, the resemblance to a minor Burgundy Pinot Noir is uncanny. I guess that has something to do with the traditional maceration (rather than carbonic) and the more northerly climate in which this is grown. Quite a deep colour, with a nose of raspberry and soused black cherry and hints of black pepper and undergrowth. The palate is superficially light and airy, with abundant red and black fruit flavours, plenty of tangy, cherry kernel acidity, just the right level of rustic tannic grip and a gentle peppery, stoney/mineral bite. It isn't a particularly serious wine, but it hit all the right notes when tasted on a pleasant late summer's evening - and was a great match for a barbecued steak and new potatoes with a tomato and green salad. A deliciously light, airy, food-friendly wine. 13.0% abv. £11.95

Medium yellow/gold colour with a slight orange hue. A nose of apple and citrus, with hints of honey and nuts, intense slatey minerality, wet straw and perhaps even the merest suggestion of botrytis - a classic Chenin Blanc nose, full of complexity. There is real ripeness here, but the palate is pretty much bone dry, with citrus and apple fruit flavours countered again by intense minerality and deliciously searing acidity. And that slight hint of botrytis adds a touch of contrariness to the proceedings, whilst the finish is long and tangy. A lovely, classic, old-style Chenin Blanc. 12.2% abv. £12.50

Bright, medium-deep orange/gold colour. The nose offers complex white fruit, citrus, honey and floral aromas, with a pronounced herbaceousness and hints of lanolin and emulsion paint. The palate is beautifully clean, tight and focused, almost bone dry, with intense, juicy, lemon, lime and gooseberry fruit and equally intense, steely minerality. It really is a most wonderfully mouth(and eye!)-watering wine, certainly not lacking in ripeness, but made in a traditional, bone-dry style. The faint-hearted may find it somewhat austere, but I find it dangerously drinkable (with or without food), although it certainly has the structure to age for years, if not decades. The more I sip it, the more I love it! Long too. Another brilliant, old-style Chenin Blanc. 12.0% abv. £14.30

A glorious medium-deep amber/gold colour. The nose is equally glorious - classic late-harvest Chenin Blanc aromas of lime oil, bruised apple, raisin and orange peel, accompanied by pronounced wet stone/flint and wet wool notes and subtle hints of preserved root ginger and beeswax. I'm not sure how much botrytis the 2010 vintage enjoyed, but I suspect this is more in the way of passerillé (grapes dried on the vine) because, whilst the texture is rich and gently honeyed, it is tremendously focused and tightly-structured. With a fair amount of residual sugar, the palate falls somewhere between demi-sec and moelleux. Layer upon layer of preserved white fruits, honey, lime oil and mandarin orange coat the tongue, with the oily/honeyed texture offset by a massive layer of stoney minerality and fantastically eye-watering apple/citrus-tinged acidity. The combination of - or perhaps the contrast between - lush, sweet, raisined fruit, mineral tang and elevated acidity really is something to behold, and makes for a wonderfully contrary wine, with a long, lingering, spicy, bitter-sweet finish. An outstandingly brilliant wine, which will probably be even greater in another 10-20 years - and certainly a match for the very best sweet wines of La Loire. 12.5% abv. £19.99

Incidentally, the delightful Hotel de France (mentioned above) in La Chartre sur Le Loir makes for a perfect stopover, if you are ever on your way to/from the south of France. It is a beautiful Logis de France hotel, with an excellent restaurant, situated in the heart of the town. And since it is only around 20km from the famous Le Mans circuit, it also happens to be a favourite haunt of many race fans and teams, during the week leading up to the 24 Hour race. Which means that you have a chance of bumping into some rather legendary names from the racing world.........

Yours truly, with a certain Derek Bell, 4-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hour race, outside Hotel de France.
Nice chap, though he seemed to question my taste in shirts! ;-)

More soon. A bientot!


AlanM said...

Hooray he's back :)
Like you I used to think those light, dry wines were rubbish but now I really like them. Must investigate, and Jasnieres is one of the unsung areas of France, way underrated. I feel an unnecessary purchase coming on (in November / December)!

Leon Stolarski said...

And you expect me to feed your habit of making unnecessary purchases?! Oh, go on then...... ;-)

Bob Rossi said...

I wish you luck selling these wines in England. There aren't many wines from Le Loir available in the US, but I have occasionally found some very good ones. About 20 years ago we spent a week in the Loir area, and I was very unfamiliar with the wines. But even then I recognized the Jasnieres as outstanding. And others, including Pineau d'Aunis, were at least very interesting. I've since come to appreciate some of the Pineau d' Aunis reds I've had, and also some roses.

Leon Stolarski said...

The rosés are really lovely, Bob - I much prefer them to most Languedoc and Provence rosés, actually! An idea for your 2016 jaunt to France, perhaps? :-)