Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wine of the Week - Syrah from Pierre Gonon

2007 Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche Les Iles Feray, $17, Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc. Jean and Pierre Gonon are among the remaining handful of truly old-school producers in the northern Rhône Valley. Gonon's red wines bear little resemblance to those massive Syrah's that ooze with concentrated gobs of fruit. It's not that the wines are light - they are not. They are concentrated and intense, but they are also balanced and fresh, and I have yet to drink one that feels heavy. Gonon's St. Joseph is really is a wonderful wine, showcasing the nobility of the Syrah grape and the St. Joseph terroir in their meaty and mineral glory. The whites can be utterly incredible too, by the way, but this is a red wine post.

Although Gonon's St. Joseph is quite reasonable in price at about $30, for me it is too expensive to be an everyday wine. Gonon's Vin de Pays, or country wine retails for about $17, which becomes about $15 with a mixed case discount - that's a pretty mellow everyday wine price, and especially if the wine is distinctive. And it is truly excellent wine. This is a Syrah from the hills of Ardèche right near St. Joseph, but it also includes grapes from young vines within St. Joseph.

I had low expectations for this wine. The first bottle I opened was tremendously corked, and a friend whose palate I trust drank the wine and gave it a poor review. And I will say this - upon opening this wine is pretty tough - off putting really, with resin and highway tar dominating the nose, totally unappealing. Bad enough to consider pouring down the sink. Perhaps another flawed bottle?

We left it sitting there open for an hour while cooking and when we returned it became really lovely. It is about meat and blood, pepper and tar, and wild animals, much more so than it is about fruit. A savage nose, quite pungent, but also exceptionally pure and pretty in its wildness. With another hour open floral aromas emerges, some bergamot even. Vibrant acids keep the wine juicy and fresh. The finish is deeply mineral and here the dark blue fruit emerges. Such a disjointed start, but this is excellent wine, and a fantastic value in old world old-school Syrah.
It paired perfectly with a blood-rich cut of beef, a skirt steak. But it was not so intense as to overpower our early summer salad of candy-striped beets, young carrots, and ricotta salata. It is not a casual sipping wine, food is a must, and preferably something meaty. I could see this wine turning into pork broth after 10 years in a cold cellar. While it's young, I suggest opening it at least an hour in advance of drinking.


Jack Everitt said...

"Bad enough to consider pouring down the sink."

I know people who so judge a wine on that first 15 minutes...and pour it down the drain if they don't like it.

Perhaps wines need to come with labels stating, "Wine changes over time; if you don't love it, give it some time!" But, this is only the law on Europa...and there's no winebars their, yet.

Zach said...

I'm relieved to hear that my experience with this wine exactly mirrored yours! During the first fifteen to thirty minutes after opening, I vainly tried to convince myself that the bottle wasn't flawed. "Tough" is certainly a euphemism for this wine's harsh initial approach on the palate. We were at a local BYO restaurant (just a casual Middle Eastern joint) and therefore lacked the luxury of waiting for the bottle to shed its initial unpleasantness and coax itself into life. Once the food came out, I just gave up hope and moved onto the next bottle. But reading your post makes me want to revisit this bottle, especially since I do love the St. Joseph. Thanks for the valuable perspective.

Weston said...

why would you dump a bottle of wine down the drain? Whats there to lose to let it air for an hour, or decant or run some saran wrap through it. I mean come on. At least use it for cooking unless its really corked then well...make vinegar out of it or something

Unknown said...

Brooklynguy - the 2007 St Joseph is not an everyday wine - it is something rather special... Give it a try... Glad to hear that the VdP is very good as well - looking forward to trying it...

Anonymous said...

Your blog is so nicely put together and I love this skirt steak pairing - good thing I'm eating now since my mouth is watering!