Throw a rock (or a riverbed stone) in the southern Rhône and chances are you’ll land on a bottle whose contents, for the price, wouldn’t hold a candle to Henri Leydier’s Gigondas from Domaine de Durban. Bottled in small quantities and retailing for under thirty dollars, it is ounce for ounce one of the best bargains in our book, and perhaps from the entire region. Squarely cut and sturdily built, Henri is a third-generation winegrower who inherited the hefty hands of someone destined for arduous vineyard and cellar work. A glass of wine in his grasp looks fragile, almost miniature. But like Henri, his 2019 Gigondas—densely concentrated and deeply opaque—is more refined than meets the eye. Grenache, and a generous dose of Syrah, are entirely de-stemmed, and never come in contact with oak during fermentation or ageing. The resulting wine is distinctly smooth and smoky, with brisk, puckery tannins, and a whiff of wild violet. It’s a striking wine whose Syrah qualities really shine. Last time I visited the estate with colleagues to taste with Henri, he served up heaping plates of black olive tapenade, slabs of chunky pâté, and perhaps the most versatile dish around—anchovy pizza! With an easy, gap-toothed smile and gentle gaze, Henri poured one vintage after another of cool Gigondas from his chilly stone cellar. He left us feeling charmed and welcome, and so did his wine.
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.
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