Wouldn’t you know it, the very week I wrote a post about how great it is to engage with winemakers through social media, I had the chance to spend some time with a vintner in person…and the evening reminded me that there’s nothing quite like getting to know winemakers face-to-face. The occasion was a dinner at Rouge Tomate devoted to the wines of Gigondas. I lucked into sitting right next to Louis Barruol, the winemaker of Château Saint-Cosme.
Barruol is a native of Gigondas, an appellation of the southern Rhône, and Saint-Cosme has been in his family since 1570. Credit his ancestry, his work ethic and the quality of his holdings — Barruol has somehow managed to thread the needle between mass appeal (his 2010 Gigondas was #2 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2012) and insider credibility. (At decent prices no less.)
As an icebreaker, I showed him a picture on my phone of his 2007 white Côte-du-Rhône, which I had drunk only a few weeks ago. “But no, it’s too old!” He exclaimed.
“Well, my friends and I really enjoyed it,” I said. (Thus marking the first time I’ve ever felt bad telling a winemaker I liked his wine.)
Fortunately, as the evening wore on — and the 12 different Gigondas cuvées began to flow — we overcame this rocky patch. Barruol comes from the plain-spoken but passionate school of winemaking, which always makes for entertaining company. A few highlights from our conversation:
On Gigondas’ second-fiddle status to Châteauneuf-du-Pape: “We want to be loved for what we are. Not because we are cheaper than Châteauneuf-du-Pape.“ He extolled the benefits of Gigondas’ higher altitude vineyards, which help to mitigate the hot Southern summers.
What Gigondas lacks in heft or depth, it makes up for in freshness. “Not acidity,” insisted Barruol. “Freshness.” He attributes this characteristic to the limestone soils prevalent in the region.
As the night wore on, our conversation turned to the northern Rhône. While Barruol is from Gigondas, it’s clear that Syrah has a special place in his heart. Saint-Cosme produces wines from Saint-Joseph, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. The latter appellation is clearly his favorite. When a tablemate asked him why, Barruol started talking about the terroir, his love of schist soils, the elevation…and then paused. He leaned in conspiratorially. “Really, because it’s a very sexy wine.”
Barruol also joked that he and his friends want to publish a book of all the “conneries” (bullshit) he’s overheard in cellars during his career. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for the lovely Gigondas: Its Wines, Its Lands, Its People, which you can buy here. (Note: I received a copy of the book for free.) The tome includes contributions from Barruol and Kermit Lynch, as well as Jonathan Livingstone-Learmonth and Andrew Jefford — two British wine writers whose works deserve a lot more play in the U.S. market.