|Many of we self-described “terroirists” in the wine world thrill to recognize certain aromas, flavors or textures as expressions of one specific site and microclimate. This can be contentious. Can we really taste place? When the rockiness, pepper and garrigue seem to transport us to Chateauneuf du Pape, the tart apple, peach and slate of Graacher Himmelreich lead us to believe we’re slurping up the slate-rich soil of the site, the dark brambly fruits of Dry Creek Zinfandel cause us to gaze in our minds over the centennarian vines of the Lytton Springs Vineyard, what does it mean? Is it all in our heads? Maybe. After all, I have no doubt of the existence of various vinous neuroses. For instance, I am so sensitive to and fearful of cork taint that I think I might “psych” myself into thinking a wine is corked when maybe it’s not. But you’re not my shrink, so I’ll get back to the point, whatever it is. Seriously though, I do believe in wine’s ability to specifically evoke place in a manner that no other agricultural product can, and I simply can’t believe it’s coincidental that wines grown and vinified with utmost care and respect for their place can consistently and transparently express in smell, taste and texture a specific site.
So, we have this guy Yves Gras. He’s one of the most talented young winemakers in Gigondas. He owns one of the finest high-elevation vineyards in all of Gigondas, Les Hautes Garrigues, and one dare say his Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues demonstrates an immediately recognizable terroir as it positively reeks of garrigue, and the well-drained, perilously rocky soil of the site gives the texture a deep and unmistakable mineral backbone. There is no doubt that Monsieur Gras is deeply committed to letting this terroir speak.
But, then he goes and makes this Cotes du Rhone bottling “Les Quatre Terres” (The Four Lands). Yep, you guessed it, so called because it combines fruit from four different areas of the Southern Rhone! Seems like the antithesis of terroir expression, right? How will this jingle-jangle of fruit from Vacqueyras, Roaix, Seguret and Rasteau possibly speak with a clear, unified voice? Well, somehow, it does so admirably, and this highlights Gras’ crack skills as winemaker and blender, a bonus to his commitment and care in tending his vines.
I think what Gras does here, obviously rather than capture a specific site in aroma and flavor, is to create a colorful composite of the overall spirit of Southern Rhone wines – generous ripe fruit, that certain peppery je ne sais quoi, wild herbs baking in the sun, a certain heady generosity, and a pleasant rusticity appropriate to the region’s hearty cuisine (it certainly did the trick with some simply grilled lamb chops laced with rosemary last night). It also gives a clear representation of how the region’s primary grapes – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault alchemically combine to captivate many of us wine drinkers and keep us coming back for more. Now that our whacked out January summer has appeared to have come to an end, the palpable warm Rhone sunlight will warm your belly and soul to create a warm smile of satisfaction. And that it’s a steal at only $15.49 per bottle (that’s $13.17 by the case, folks!), you will have all the more reason to smile. – Patrick Mitten