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Domaine Giraud, the Quiet Elite
Marie Giraud has steadily piloted her family domaine to the top
Posted: Jun 27, 2014 1:50pm ET
Marie Giraud, along with her brother François, has steadily put this family domaine among the elite of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The pair is hands-on, managing their 62 acres (spread over a staggering 64 parcels) and produce on average 5,000 cases annually.
The young vines provide the fruit for the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Prémices, which debuted in the previous vintage. It has a lightly dusty feel, with taut cherry fruit flecked with sandalwood and rooibos tea notes. A majority of the bottling is aged in cement vat, as is most of the red wine here, with a third aged in used 350-liter barrels.
The 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends 60 percent Grenache with 35 percent Syrah and the rest Mourvèdre (the Girauds call this the ‘tradition’ cuvée). It shows what is becoming the distinctively racy, tightly coiled yet pure and fresh profile of the vintage, with mouthwatering licorice snap and pain d’épices notes that have serious length.
« It’s a vintage of tannins, but also very fresh at the same time, » said Marie. « It’s dynamic. A vintage of tension. It has the lines of 2005 and 2010 but the fruit is fresher and the finish not so tannic. »
Due to the coulure and lowered yields on the Grenache in 2012, there is no red Gallimardes cuvée—what fruit there was from those parcels went into the « tradition » bottling above. The 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Grenaches de Pierre, which pulls fruit from just the La Crau and Pignan parcels, was aged primarily in cement vat. It’s intense, as usual, with a beam of kirsch, pepper, anise and plum sauce flavors that drive nicely through the very focused, racy finish.
Once again, the white here is but a blip on the production radar—just 166 cases—but it is one of the most gorgeous whites made in the appellation today. The 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Les Gallimardes blends equal parts Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne (the latter vinified in new oak, the others in stainless steel). It’s crunchy in feel for now, but that texture should settle in and round off with modest cellaring, allowing the core of green almond, macadamia nut, verbena, crème fraîche and green and yellow apple fruit to glide seamlessly.
Little has changed in the winemaking here (the Girauds work with consultant Philippe Cambie); instead, the focus has been in the vineyards, which the Girauds have converted to organics starting in 2008. We head out to the family’s vines in the sandy portion of the famed La Crau parcel, where vines are replaced one by one via sélection massale as needed.
« It wasn’t easy, » said Marie, frankly, about the shift to organic viticulture. « It’s also more expensive and the yields have been lower since we changed. But it was the way we had to go, for quality, » she said. « It took a few years to show up in the wine, but I think we are seeing the results now. »
Nicolas Boiron is the fifth generation of his family to tend vines. After his predecessors started the estate and cobbled together various parcels, his grandfather began planting vines, and his father eventually bottled the domaine’s first commercial production in 1966. Nicolas, 43, took over in 2004, and today he oversees the winemaking from the family’s 79 acres of vines (covering 42 parcels), the majority in the northern end of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in top lieux-dits such as Pignan, Gardioles, Gardine and Mont-Redon. The majority of the domaine’s vines are on clay, with some galets and sand and a very small amount on limestone. Total annual production stands at about 7,000 cases.
As I entered the cellar, I was greeted by the always jovial Philippe Cambie, who more often than not will be sitting in on a tasting when I make a visit in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as the influential consultant has dozens of clients in town.
« I love the 2012s, » Cambie warmly grinned. « The fruit is so pure, so fresh. »
Boiron, who you would definitely want on your rugby team, as he stands rather tall and broad, said the biggest changes over the past 10 vintages working with Cambie have been a pursuit of freshness and elegance in the fruit, while looking to get away from « the big tannins » that marked these wines in the past, giving them a decidedly rugged, old-school feel.
« I want phenolic ripeness, but elegance. I want to protect the fruit, » said Boiron. « We still do pigéage by hand as well as remontage anddélestage, but a little less of it. Fermentation temperatures are cooler and more controlled. The idea is extraction is longer but easier. »
The old-school feel can still be found in the reds: They have notes of tobacco, chestnut, bay and tar that lurk, albeit more in the background now. The trio of 2012 reds here displays succulent, intense black cherry and sappy kirsch fruit though, more prominently than in earlier vintages. I like the updated feel of the wines, without sacrificing their mouthfilling tarry, smoldering personas.
All the reds are partially destemmed, fermented in concrete vats and then moved to foudres and demi-muidsfor aging—as simple and traditional as it gets. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2012 blends Grenache with Mourvèdre, Syrah, Vaccarese, Counoise and Cinsault to deliver the signature tobacco, licorice snap and plum fruit profile of these wines. It’s juicy, and almost chewy, but stays fresh in the end.
The Chateauneuf-du-Pape A La Gloire de Mon Grand-Père 2012 is predominantly Grenache with some coplanted Clairette and Cinsault. The 60- to 70-year-old vines deliver intense black cherry confiture, tar and tobacco notes with a long, grippy, but integrated finish.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chante Le Merle Vieilles Vignes 2012 is an 80/10/10 Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend from the estate’s oldest vines (80 to 90 years old). It’s dense and smoky, with lots of pastis, steeped plum and charcoal notes, but remarkably supple, fine-grained tannins through the finish.
Don’t overlook the white here, either, as Bosquet’s bottling is yet another of the best white wines you’re not drinking. Made from a majority of Clairette (white and rosé) along with Grenache Blanc (and Gris) and Bourboulenc, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Tradition 2012 delivers bracing green almond and green fig fruit, with verbena, pear peel and talc notes as well, all backed by a long, mouthwatering minerality.
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