Tour De L'Isle
France's Age-Old Dedication to Defining Quality and Expressing Terroir Continues to Establish the Country as an Industry Leader
This month’s International Series selections come from the two premier growing areas of the Southern Rhône Valley. While Châteauneuf du Pape is remarkably familiar to American consumers, the wines of Gigondas have never received a great deal of attention from either the American wine press or the American consumer.
For the record, Gigondas (Zjee-gawn-DAHS) is a red and rose wine appellation (no whites produced) whose maximum yields are restricted and the minimum alcoholic strength must be 12.5%. For red wines, the Grenache grape must account for no more than 80% of the blend. Syrah and/or Mourvedre make up the remainder of the wine. The wines of Gigondas are considered by many experts to be the musclemen of the Southern Rhône for their sheer strength and full texture. The tiny village of Gigondas is situated right under the rugged, rocky range of the Dentelles de Montmirail, at the eastern escarpment of the flat Rhône plain; a sign of the rustic, edgy flavor found in wines from the area. The region, once a Côtes-du-Rhône village, earned its own appellation in 1971.
The steep hills of the appellation provide the opportunity for lower sugars and high acidity which allow for the production of hearty, robust, almost chewy wines that are enjoyed by lovers of forceful wine styles. There are a variety of fanciful flavors to be had: blackberries, raspberries, black pepper, gingerbread, coffee, cassis and even leather for the cultured palate.
Gigondas vineyards have undoubtedly been producing wine at least since Roman times; according to some, the name of the village in Roman times was "Jocunditas", Latin for "happy town" - surely an accolade to those early winemakers!
In general, a Gigondas should be consumed within 4 to 8 years, though the best will improve for 10 to 12+ years -- the finest, over 20 years--- a lasting tribute to the quality of winemaking found throughout the region.
The wines of Gigondas have slowly risen in popularity and status and today rival their next door neighbor Châteauneuf du Pape in many ways.
Châteauneuf du Pape
Châteauneuf du Pape (Sha-toe-noof doo POP) is one of the favorite wines of American consumers who find the name quite easy to remember and pronounce. Chateauneuf du Pape was the first region to gain AC status in France. That was in 1923– its history goes much further back than that. As the name suggests, the wine region was named after the ‘new papal home,’ referring to the period of time in the 1300's when the popes resided in Avignon instead of Rome. Such papal figures as Clement V and John XXII were both growers and devotees of the area and for that reason the wines of the region always achieved unusual exposure and reception, even finding themselves in the courts of many noble kings and queens throughout Europe.
The vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape are something for the eyes to behold. Many vineyards are situated in areas where smooth shaped rocks called galets (rolled quarts pebbles, some orange and grapefruit size) cover the ground and make the vines appear to be growing out of solid masses of stone. It is truly a feat of nature and a tribute to the vines themselves to be able to mature and flourish in such seemingly inopportune surroundings.
There are three main grapes utilized in Châteauneuf du Pape, the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, but another ten varietals are allowed to be blended under the appellation’s relatively broad set of wines produced laws. The greater portion (around 97%) is red but a few prized whites are also made yet are decidedly hard to come by. Wines generally feature great spice and currant flavors as numerous types of spices are also grown throughout the area.
Depending on the producer, Châteauneuf du Pape’s wines can range from extremely hearty to surprisingly mild and sophisticated, as each winemaker puts his own special touch on the finished product. Most wines also bear some depiction of the papal insignia on either bottle or label as a tribute to the region’s storied past.
This part of Southeastern France is a must see for any visitors to the area. Many old castles that date back to Roman times are still open to the public including the papal residency that gives the area its unique name. The locale also contains a large number of top regional restaurants that feature local cuisine in wonderful outdoor settings that add to the incredible existing ambience. This sensation is particularly evident during the vendage or harvest, when the odorous scents of ripened fruit float gently on the afternoon breezes.
It is safe to say that most meals are accompanied by one of Châteauneuf du Pape’s marvelous wines, a fact that makes the entire dining experience more than complete.
Châteauneuf du Pape’s reds are best matched with steaks, beef stews, game stews or roasts, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, aged Cheddar, Emmenthal and aged hard cheeses like Appenzeller. The whites should be consumed within a few years of harvest and go best with deeply flavored dark fleshed fish, seafood pastas, cream cheeses, seafood pizzas and marinated seafood.
Since his inception of the Tour d’Isle collection of fine wines, owner Robert Rocchi has eventually taken over the winemaking responsibilities for his end products. Early in his career, Rocchi learned under his uncle who produced wines in the Côtes du Rhône Appellation. He developed a deep appreciation of terroir and its ultimate importance to the grape. Rocchi also benefited from his time as a wine merchant in being able to identify and satisfy the individual tastes of his customers.
Tour de L'Isle
As French wine personalities go, the Tour de l’Isle’s exuberant owner Robert Rocchi must be considered among the real entrepreneurs of the modern French wine business. For hundreds of years, wines in the Rhône Valley and practically every growing area in France were sold by individual appellations with little thought given to the marketing possibilities of grouping together a number of wines under a single brand name. To a certain extent, wine negotiants in Burgundy do sell multiple wines (and appellations) under their firm’s names, but rarely are wines grouped together as Robert Rocchi has done with his Tour d’Isle collection.
It is Rocchi’s intention to feature each part of the Southern Rhône region with his wines, thereby showing distinguishing features in terroir and the subtle differences in making wines from the diversified areas of the region. To accomplish his aim, Rocchi selected a distinguished grower from each of the Southern Rhône’s main producing areas to work with. He also decided to make the each of his wines on the individual property of each grower rather than in a central production facility, thus assuring minimum movement of the grapes and near perfect quality control of the barrels and finished wines.
Robert Rocchi draws heavily from his over thirty years in the French wine business, first as a grower, later as a producer and finally as a fine wine retailer. He feels that he has a keen insight into the taste and preferences of the consumer, a detail that few winemakers have actually had the opportunity to develop.
While he holds a business degree from the nearby University of Aix-en-Province, he considers himself a consumer first and a businessman next. He takes great satisfaction in matching the finest meal with the near perfect wines, particularly when the wine is from his Tour de l’Isle collection and he is among his legions of friends and customers.
He has devoted himself for the past decade in establishing the Tour de l’Isle collection on a worldwide basis. His wines have won numerous international medals and awards that have certainly helped his cause to no end.
While his place in French wine history will be determined in the future, Robert Rocchi’s new approach is a giant step forward in the average consumer’s understanding and appreciation of French wines and the Southern Rhône Valley in particular.