The Gigou family still stand out amongst the very fine crop of talented winegrowers in Jasnières. Their 1990 Sélection Raisins Nobles was, and remains, a stunning tapestry, each vibrant flavour weaved seamlessly into a textured warp of acidity and minerality. Our first encounter with it was in 1998, and almost fifteen years later, it’s a wine which still astounds. It’s now just an occasional treat for us, but we are happy to have the recent wines, now made collaboratively by Joël, who started the domaine in 1974, and Ludovic, his son.
We think it’s apt that both father and son play volleyball (although Ludovic teases his father about creaky knees). Like the sport, Jasnières is a niche appellation that typically only true enthusiasts enjoy, and the father and son team are now making some fantastic wines in tandem – one setting the other up for a spike, as it were. They work by hand on their portion of the crescent-shaped slope which makes up the appellation. For the parcel which goes into their ‘Clos St. Jacques’, Joël wields the secateurs alone for the final pruning, picking which shoots to keep and which to trim back.
Both Pineau d’Aunis and Gamay thrive here, where the heat retained by the river Loir (a tributuary of the Loire) is essential for the even ripening of the grapes in a very northerly region. The Gigous make a particularly fine, dark and spicy Pineau d’Aunis, often needing a couple of years to settle fully. However, it is their Chenin Blancs which we love: the understated, minerally ‘Cuvée du Paradis’, meant for early drinking (i.e. within the first 10 years), the intense, concentrated ‘Clos St. Jacques’ from old vines (always better after at least a decade), and the fabulously elegant Sélection de Raisins Nobles, a botrytis-infused yet terroir-transparent sweet wine. In 2008, they even made a wine from a couple of barrels which had gone rogue (their words), which was almost denied AOC status. It’s called ‘Duo Majeur’, and is a very fine example of how powerful Chenin Blanc can be without ever losing its sense of grace.
A note on the 2007 vintage and difficult wines
The 2007 vintage, simply put, was not an easy one. Jasnières is a humid appellation, and it’s a constant battle to get canopy management just right over the crucial summer months. Too much foliage, and a wet spell leads to mildew and rot; too little, and sometimes the grapes just don’t get ripe enough (and yields fall as the vine concentrates on surviving rather than reproducing). Despite the summer rain and clouds, Joël and Ludovic made great wines, taking advantage of the (relatively) dry pre-harvest and harvest period to get in healthy, whole grapes with a lot of flavour. These are not wines we recommend or sell lightly – they are severe now, very high in acid (albeit tartaric rather than malic), low in pH, and need many more years to settle down. The Cuvée du Paradis (the Clos St. Jacques is being held back until it calms down) will benefit from extended aeration should you choose to open a bottle now; the oxidative flavours take, in our experience, 3-4 days in a half-full bottle to show. We also recommend drinking it at closer to 16°C, as with a young white Burgundy or an old Champagne. It reminds us of the 1994 vintage, but with more concentration, as well as the 2000 vintage.
Speaking of which, we also have the 2000 Clos St. Jacques, which even Joël thinks is a difficult wine. We try not to draw facile parallels, especially with art. but in its impenetrability the 2000 most closely resembles a late Mark Rothko. It is a wine which we are certain many will dislike, but we love it for exemplifying the tensile strength of the most memorable Chenin Blancs we’ve ever had. Similarly, the 2008 Duo Majeur is likely to be a limited, experimental run, but the indigenous yeasts in a particular corner of the Gigou cellar have made a wine so intense that it was only bottled after 30 months on its fine lees. It’s mildly oxidative and quite odd, but a wonderful wine nonetheless.