Gigondas boasts a wide range of terroirs that give birth to a surprising diversity of styles. Durban’s vineyard on the limestone upper slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail tends toward a high-flying, pure style. Inspired by Jim Harrison’s writing on the subject in 2002, I offer this “tasting note”: a young man that is of lean build but has a certain warmness to his face and demeanor, round, jolly cheeks, a ready smile, and a slight hint of insecurity, as if what he offered wasn’t quite good enough, which of course makes it even better. I think I just described proprietor Henri Leydier, one of the pleasantest people I could ever hope to meet.
To walk through the high-altitude vineyards at Domaine de Durban is to walk through history, a handful of the soil reveals ancient Roman roof tiles and medieval pot shards. The scenic views put one at pause considering the timelessness—wine has been a part of the culture here for millennia. Jacques Leydier bought the property in the 1960s when the farm had fallen into disrepair. Today, Henri and Philippe Leydier run the domaine and this magical spot has assumed a higher purpose, producing some of the most memorable wines of the Southern Rhône. The Leydiers farm fifty-five hectares, producing a powerful Gigondas, a velvety Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge, and undeniably the most celebrated Muscat in the entire appellation.
The southern Rhône valley is Grenache country. It’s also known for its stones. With a viticulture history dating back well before the Popes arrived in the 12th century and one of France’s oldest appellations d'origine contrôlée, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, the southern Rhône is unquestionably one of France’s best known and premier winegrowing regions. The wines have the pedigree and age-worthiness of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but with a rustic, Mediterranean character. Like most wines from southern France, the reds, whites, and rosés are blends. Filling out the Grenache for the reds and rosés, you’ll often find Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. The common white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne among others. From the alluvial riverbed stones found in Lirac, Tavel, and Châteauneuf to the limestone cliffs of the Dentelles de Montmirail that influence Beaumes-de-Venise (where you’ll find excellent Muscat), Vacqueyras, and Gigondas, great terroir abounds.
Kermit’s entrance in the region came in the mid 1970s on his first trip with Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters. On that trip, Richard introduced Kermit to the Brunier family of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Soon after, Kermit began importing the Brunier’s wines—their Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” bottling remains a staple of our portfolio today. In the late 1990s Kermit teamed up with the Brunier family to purchase the famed Gigondas estate, Domaine Les Pallières. More than 40 years later, we now import wines from fifteen southern Rhône domaines spanning the entire area of the region.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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