1996 Domaine Santa Duc, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
What a treat to find a perfectly cellared bottle of Gigondas, especially Domaine Santa Duc, one of old world classics, an estate that was originally founded back in 1874, and still considered a vocal point of great southern Rhone wine, with this 1996 still full of life and freshness, remarkably so in fact, but with beautiful maturity and perfectly aged complexity. The fruit is vibrant and pure with macerated or balsamic dipped strawberry, raspberry preserves, plum and a touch of brandied cherry along with a faint sous bois and leathery note as well as earth and spices popping on the graceful medium bodied palate that has the poise of a Burgundy at this stage, what an exceptional bottle this is, except for the slightly crumbly cork that highlighted my mistake to not have an Ah So (pronged cork puller) handy. Once the cork and bits were dispatched the wine slowly opened up its aromatics with a hint of game and dried flowers which again reminded me of an aged Nuits-Saint-Georges before the Rhone warmth comes through with touches of lavender oil, anise and the echo of baked dusty red fruits. The color here is showing the decay of time with an almost Nebbiolo like hue with some bricky edges while through the middle there is still a nice crimson/garnet core, this 1996 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas vastly over performed my expectations and was holding strong and true throughout the Boxing Day eve and was delicious on its own and with a variety of leftovers. The Gigondas from Domaine Santa Duc is sourced from a selection of older parcels that are distinctly diverse with some in cooler zones and on hillsides with many complex soils including calcareous, stony red clay and alluvial soils that allows for good natural acidity and mineral tones to shine through even in hotter years.
The famous Domaine Santa Duc, located at the foot of the legendary Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range that is the spine of the region in the Gigondas zone with the sixth generation of winegrowers, Benjamin Gras, now carrying on the family’s history and tradition here. The wines here at Domaine Santa Duc are old school efforts coming from special massale selections of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault, farmed by hand and with biodynamic and true holistic methods. In the cellar the Gras team uses 100% whole cluster vinification with the Gigondas seeing fermentation with wild yeasts, minimum interventions, but with meticulous attention to detail and careful sorting at harvest ensuring only the best grapes make it into their offerings. The non-filtered wines show their sense of place and are proudly robust and transparently pure, somewhat gritty and raw when released they gain tremendous charm and character with mid term aging, and in this case after a quarter of a century in bottle, proving their quality. Domaine Santa Duc have two fabulous terroirs of the southern Rhone Valley from which to chose from – Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with both appellations being equally desirable, but I am more seriously drawn to the Gigondas and this one really excelled, fantastic stuff that captures the essence of this land, this wine made a huge impression on me and now I’m super excited to get some 2016 and later releases to enjoy and maybe patiently age a few! This bottling, like later versions comes from vines in eight different Lieux-Dits and was about 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre and 2% Cinsault that was aged 18 months in a combination of 18 months in foudres and terracotta jars. The whole bunch and stems are totally integrated in this wine, being of a certain age, where as the younger wines are rather more aggressive and punchy best enjoyed with hearty cuisine.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive