Wines from the 2016 vintage in southern France generated plenty of excitement from growers and critics alike, so I carried correspondingly high expectations upon arriving at Domaine Les Pallières in the summer of 2017 for our annual blending session. Before a mesmerizing backdrop of stubby old Grenache vines, dense pine forest, and dramatic limestone outcrops, the Bruniers—brothers Daniel and Frédéric, along with sons Edouard and Nicolas—recounted the vintage over a raucous chorus of cicadas. In many ways, they explained, 2016 presented the same challenges—hot, dry summer weather—that have become the norm as of late. The drought especially took its toll at Les Pallières, where the extremely old vines already eke out a bare minimum of juice each year. The vintage’s strong point, then, is certainly not its yields. Rather, cool nights throughout the growing season ensured superb balance, color, and aromatic complexity in the resulting wines. The high-elevation, north-facing terroir at Pallières accentuated this effect, giving wines defined more by a salivating freshness than by exaggerated ripeness or heat. By the time we had perfected the final blends, we all bore purple-toothed smiles and were ready to raise a cool glass of Gigondas rosé to a successful millésime 2016. In bottle, the two cuvées of rouge confirm my initial impression—one of purity, completeness, and, most of all, great balance. Both feature the succulent perfume we love in Gigondas: black cherries picked ripe off the tree, fragrant herbes de Provence oils liberated by the pulsating summer sun, earthy licorice root... Each terroir leaves its stamp on the palate. Supple and elegant, Racines conveys the generosity and velvety depth of ancient vines deeply rooted in clay-dominant soils. Terrasse du Diable, in contrast, relays its rocky environment with shameless audacity. Perched above the rest of the domaine on crunchy limestone rubble, it brings a chewy touch of rusticity and a saline finale. You may find you have a taste for one cuvée over the other, or perhaps, like me, your preference will oscillate between the two with every sip. One thing is certain: each bottle I uncork leaves me more convinced that 2016 ranks among the top vintages ever produced at Les Pallières.
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