My second day in the beautiful wine country of Southern Rhone was spent in Gigondas and in Chateauneuf du Pape.  Both were amazing and truly memorable experiences.  

We kicked off the sunny day in Gigondas where we had a wonderful tour and tasting at the Longue Toque Estate - part of Gabriel Meffre.  Gabriel Meffre is the single largest private AOC vineyard owner in the south of France, owning over 2,000 acres mostly in Provence, Vacqueyras, Cote du Rhone, Gigondas, and Condrieu.  Gabriel Meffre purchased the Longue Toque Estate in 1999 and it was completely gutted, cleaned up, and transformed for all natural and organic farming.  We received our tour and tasting by Anthony Taylor, Wine Director and Global Ambassador for Gabriel Meffre.  

He first took us through their tank room.  Originally, the winery used old, very large cement tanks for complete temperature protection (temps can't necessarily be controlled with the new thin stainless steel tanks).  They have purchased new large cement tanks now, but there is still a corridor of the old.  It was amazing to see the differences of the two - the gleaming, uber clean, perfect tanks vs. the very, very old, rusty, dank, unused tanks from decades ago.  

Anthony continued to share some of their vinification methods, explaining how they use modern technology to chill down the musts to help control the rate of fermentation, b/c as similar to South America/Australia/California, the climate in Southern Rhone tends to be hot, and dry, allowing for lots of sun exposure, which means more sugar and as a result higher alcohol levels.  And the warm musts evolve much more quickly, sometimes too quickly.  A colder must slows down the fermentation process, lengthening it, and allowing the grape to evolve.  Cooling the musts early on allowed for a huge advancement in wine making.  At the top of these mega tanks, they punch down the musts using tubes. Each tank can hold 1,000 litres (14,000 bottles).  

He then took us to their barrel room.  The smell was intoxicating.  Some use the oak barrels in addition to the tanks, some do not, and some only use the barrels for aging.  Every vintage and varietal is different.  It's very rare in S.Rhone for the entire process to be done through 100% french oak.  For example, Grenache evolves very quickly, so little oak is used to prevent oxidation.  Syrah is much tougher.  Anthony continued to explain how picking the grapes is critical and that it must be as clean as possible, especially if they experienced a poor year, weather wise, crop wise etc.  Each vintage is different and they will alter their steps/plans accordingly year by year.  It's a science and further proves the tender loving care and patience needed to make, in the end, incredible wine!

And then we got to taste directly from the barrel!  First up, the Vacqueyras 2010, a blend of Grenache and Syrah.  Tasted roses, violet, red fruit.  I definitely could see its potential but it was a bit difficult b/c it was still very acidic.  That was tasted from a 2008 French oak barrel.  We then tasted another Vacqueyras 2010, but this time from a 2009 French oak barrel.  There was noticeably more Syrah to this blend, a darker fruit, and I experienced more jam and spice.  We learned that the newer the barrel, the more oak extraction, and the more influence the oak will have on the wine.  As the barrels age, they become simply thermal insulators for the wine, and less porous.

The third barrel tasted was a Cote du Rhone Village Plan de Dieu - "Plan of God."  This wine had more Grenache to the blend.  It had an awesome nose filled with blackberries, black cherry.  The oak was more noticeable as it was aging in a 2010 barrel.  And then on the palate I experienced the stringent acid, tight tannins.  Again, hard for me to envision what it will turn out to be, but I am sure stellar.  They will bottle this Oct/Nov, releasing Spring 2011.  2010 will be their first vintage; therefore, a special treat to taste this new project with him!

And the last barrel we tasted was a 2010 Gigondas from this Longue Toque Estate.  The wine had earthy, smoky aromas, and the palate was juicier, offering a combination of red and dark fruits.  This, I could tell immediately was going to be awesome.  And 2010 was a powerful year for them in Gigondas!

From there, Anthony gave us a tasting in a gorgeous tasting room at the top of their winery overlooking the rolling vineyards.  And in the distance, the little town of Gigondas.  It was a magnificent view.  We proceeded to enjoy some lovely wines.  

Feel free to view the wines we tasted here:

We ended our time with Anthony by having lunch in down town Gigondas at Restaurant L'Oustalet -  The restaurant is owned by the famous Beaucastel (from Chateauneuf du Pape) and was one of the best meals I had on my trip.  The town was all charm, tucked into the hillsides of Gigondas.  We enjoyed our meal outside on the terrace paired with the Longue Toque Vacqueryas 2008 -  It was nice to enjoy a bottle after having tasted it in the barrel!  

It was a great educational, and inspiring first half of our day in S. Rhone.  Anthony gave us an unforgettable experience.

Next up, Chateauneuf du Pape.  Stay tuned :)