Fri 20 Mar 2015
Even for France, home of many venerable wine properties and vineyards, the domaine of Les Pallières qualifies as ancient, having been farmed by the same family since sometime in the 15th Century. Located in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail outside the village of Gigondas in the Southern Rhone valley, the estate endured hard times in the 20th Century, and in 1998, faced with extensive repairs to the property and vineyards, the Roux brothers decided to sell. Fortunately, another pair of brothers, Daniel and Frédéric Brunier, owners of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, learned about the situation and, with Kermit Lynch, their American importer, purchased the old estate and instituted a series of improvements and innovations. Particularly important was the separation, beginning in 2007, of the various lieux-dits, previously blended into one cuvée, into two distinct wines to emphasize the attributes of the terroir. Cuvée “Terrasse du Diable,” encompasses the low-yielding vines from the higher altitudes, up to 400 meters, that express great structure and intense minerality. Cuvée “Les Racines” showcases the vineyard parcels surrounding the winery—the origin of the domaine with the oldest vines—with the emphasis on freshness and an abundance of fruit. This division does not imply that Terrasse du Diable does not possess delicious fruit nor that Les Racines lacks structure.
These two wines, in their manifestations from 2010, are what I consider today. I encountered the pair at a trade tasting for Kermit Lynch products mounted by a local wholesale house. Now the current vintage on the market apparently is 2012, but distributors often showcase older wines they still have in stock at these events, hoping to interest retail stores that may have suitable costumers.
Until 1966, the wines from Gigondas were bottled as simple Côtes du Rhône; that year, they were elevated to Côtes du Rhône-Villages, and in 1971 Gigondas was awarded its own appellation. The reds must contain up to 80 percent grenache grapes, with syrah and/or mourvèdre accounting for 15 percent (though these two wines do not have that 15 percent). The other wine is rosé; whites are not produced.
Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable 2010, Gigondas, is a blend of 90 percent grenache grapes, and five percent each mourvèdre and clairette, the latter a white grape, one of those allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The vines average 45 years old and are planted on steep one-row terraces in poor soil partly covered with rocky scree, in the northernmost area of the Gigondas appellation. The grapes were fermented in concrete and wooden vats, and the wine aged 10 months in vats and another 12 months in foudres, which is to say that these are large oak barrels; no small barriques were employed. The wine was bottled unfiltered. The color is medium ruby permeated with a mulberry hue; the first impression is of a wine that lives where the Wild Things are; it feels feral, fleshy and meaty, rich, ripe and spicy, bursting with notes of red and black currants and cherries with undertones of wild plum, graphite and lightly roasted fennel; a few moments in the glass bring up traces of violets, cloves, lavender and leather. This is weighty but not heavy on the palate, quite dry and framed by a wealth of slightly sanded and dusty tannins, as if the wine had been lightly burnished and delicately brushed with sage and thyme. Though well furnished with fresh and dried red and black fruit flavors, from mid-palate through the finish, Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable 2010 builds granitic austerity, dictating a few years aging to find poise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2016 or ’17 to 2025 or ’26. Excellent. About $45.
Les Pallières Les Racines 2010, Gigondas, does not receive as much cement and wood aging as its stablemate mentioned above does. A blend of 80 percent grenache, eight percent syrah, seven percent cinsault and five percent clairette, Les Racines — “the roots” — ferments in cement cuves and large oaken foudres and then ages 10 months in cement and seven to nine months in foudres. Perhaps for that reason and a slightly lower altitude,, Les Racines ’10 feels a bit more generous and less extracted than Terrasse du Diable ’10, though no less rich in detail and dimension. This is all about ripe black fruit — blackberries, cherries and plums — supported by finely milled tannins, bright acidity and a polished graphite presence; aromas of cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender sift from the glass in an exotic stream, while the wine flows through the mouth in a texture that’s spare and lithe. It’s very dry but flavorful and woodsy, infused with clean notes of loam, moss and forest floor, and the finish brings all elements together is a well-knit amalgam. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.