Louis Barruol remains the acknowledged leader of the Gigondas AOC. The vigneron keeps Château de St.-Cosme operating on the highest level, as well as his Northern Rhône–centric négociant lineup. For background, reference my most recent visit here.
"It's been a tough year," says Barruol, who lost his father, a Gigondas pioneer, in January. But Barruol isn't lacking for motivation, and he sits on a pair of superb vintages here in 2015 and '16.
"The gap between Châteauneuf from '15 to '16 is big," says Barruol, about the nearby appellation with which he has a spirited and friendly competition. "The gap between '15 and '16 in Gigondas is not as big. And for me, I think Gigondas is a bit better than Châteauneuf in '15, but in '16, Châteauneuf is a bit better."
While we tasted through the full lineup of Barruol's wines, I am focusing on the Southern Rhône bottlings here.
Among the changes for Barruol are a new planting of 25 acres. Located near Violès, directly across the Ouvèze River from Gigondas, Barruol blows off the lowly Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange designation. "The level of limestone here is, I think, the highest in the region," he says. "I think it has some excellent potential."
The plantings include Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Viognier, Picpoul, Clairette and Ugni Blanc, with the fruit going into an estate bottling of 2016 Côtes du Rhône White Les Deux Albion, the first vintage for the wine (the négociant white Côtes du Rhône is being phased out). This vintage includes just equal parts Picpoul and Viognier, as all the plantings are not yet online, but the wine shows tantalizing potential, with bright melon, pear, fennel and verbena notes backed by salty freshness.
As usual, the 2016 Côtes du Rhône White Le Poste, made from Clairette within the Le Poste vineyard in Gigondas (but there is no Gigondas AOC for white) is a crystalline pure wine, with beautiful verbena, chamomile and white peach notes and a long, gorgeous, mineral-edged finish.
For the reds, Barruol sees 2016 much as the other vignerons I have visited on this trip—with bold ripeness reminiscent of vintages like 2009 and '10, but with a level of freshness that sets it apart.
"The pHs are low here too. But not as obviously different from the normal as in Châteauneuf '16," he says, comparing it to his own Gigondas. "The quality and style of the vintage is very consistent all over though. The impression of freshness is in all the wines."
The 2016 Gigondas (typical 70/15/15 Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend) shows intense blackberry and fig fruit, lots of brambly grip and a licorice root and a charcoal-studded finish. It's easily the best version here since the 2010, a pattern that established itself as we tasted up through the series of Gigondas bottlings here. The 2016 Gigondas Valbelle (90/10 Grenache and Syrah) is a racy, detailed wine loaded with pastis, plum and boysenberry notes, ample grip but velvety in feel, with a ganache-coated finish that just sails through.
The 2016 Gigondas Hominis Fides takes its typically more muscular approach, showing intense licorice snap, Turkish coffee, ganache and tar notes swirling around a core of warm black currant and fig fruit. The 2016 Gigondas Le Claux is particularly muscular today, with intense fig, and black currant fruit that is tightly closed, while charcoal, ganache and tobacco bounce off each other. There's a beautiful juniper echo through the finish, but this is a wine that needs some serious taming via the élevage.
Topping them all is the 2016 Gigondas Le Poste, already stunning despite its nascent state, with light ganache and pastis notes along the edges while violet, black currant and plum notes form the core. There's a gorgeous chalky minerality stretching throughout, emerging steadily through the finish. This wine always walks a knife's edge of power and finesse thanks to its well of fruit and precise structure. It's among the elite wines in the entire Rhône Valley.