Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Night of Pierre Gonon

The other night my friend Adam invited a couple of people to his place for a night of wines from Pierre Gonon, the decidedly old school producer from St. Joseph. I don't drink a lot of northern Rhône wine because there are so few that I can afford that are also appealing to me. So many of them are simply way too big - high alcohol, overripe wines with Sour Patch Kid type acidity, wines that I have a hard time enjoying with food. Gonon is a producer whose wines are delicious, true to the place they come from, and entirely affordable. Cheap, I would venture to say, especially considering the quality they offer.

The Pierre Gonon estate, now run by Pierre's sons Jean and Pierre, is a small estate with plots in several villages, but perhaps the most important plot is in Les Oliviers, a steep vineyard with southern exposition. Pierre Gonon planted his family's white grape vines there in the late '50s. And with the exception of wines that are literally 4 or 5 times the price, Gonon's white is the best white Rhône wine I've had (relatively small sample size, but work with me, people).

I've had two vintages of the St. Joseph rouge (2006, 2007) and the thing that always strikes me when I drink these wines is the absolute clarity of their expression. It's like smelling and drinking a textbook definition of Rhône Syrah: meaty, olive-y, deeply fruited, and peppery, floral hints in the background. These are wines of great intensity and depth, but not of great weight. They are bold wines that show the gamy richness and full texture one expects from Syrah, but in an unadorned and elegant style. From what I understand, they age gracefully, too, something that I will test out myself, quite eagerly. And this wine costs about $28 before case discounts.

We began our evening with the 2007 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph Blanc Les Oliviers, Fruit of the Vines Imports, $32. I love this wine - I LOVE it. A typical blend at 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, but atypical in its freshness, elegance, and energetic character. The aromatics are just beautiful, with fresh pears, orange peel, honeycomb and a touch of something like nutmeg. It is an enticing nose that mellows and becomes more and more clear as the wine warms up. There is not a lot of acidity here, but the wine feels energetic and fresh on the palate, and the finish is long with pears and spiced honey. The wine is bone dry at 13.8 % alcohol. I would gladly drink this wine with roast pork or chicken, with rich shellfish like lobster, with almost enything you might throw at it. We came back to it at the end of the evening over a plate of cheeses, and it was particularly great with a washed rind goat cheese called Le Petit Fiancé des Pyrénées. The wine was at room temperature, and its mellow pear fruit and waxy honeyed richness complemented the grassy pungency of this delicious cheese. I love the way this wine interacts with cheese, and I've served it before with good effect.
A reader who goes by 'michelecolline' recently left a comment saying "You keep eating Italian dishes with French wine....you making me crazy!" Well Michele, I've done it again. Adam cooked his version of sausage and peppers, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and gremolata, and we opened three of Gonon's reds. The 2007 Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche Les Iles Feray, $17, comes from young vines in St. Joseph and older vines just outside the AOC. The aromatics are bright with red fruit and flowers, and the sauvage notes that were so pungent about 6 months ago are less pronounced now. This wine showed so well the other night, balanced, juicy, and just delicious, and at 12.5% alcohol.

The 2007 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph, $28, is just a great wine. It was at its best after a few hours of air, at the very last sip. Perfectly harmonious, and that's saying something because this is a brawny wine. The fruit is dark blue and bright red and feels like it came from tiny berries. At first the acidity was a bit rough, but when the wine comes together the fruit mingles with lavendar and bloody meat in a deeply satisfying way, and the acidity is more of a support than a major player. This is a wine that deserves to survive the next decade in the cellar so it can reveal all of its charms.
We saved the best for last. Adam opened a bottle of 20 year old wine, the 1989 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph. I was so excited to drink this - anticipating it all day. And so of course it was viciously corked. Another time, 1989, you and I will meet again.


Zachary Sussman said...

Thanks for a great post. I was very thrilled to read about this Gonon lineup, since I haven't tasted any of the '07s yet. Sorry to hear the '89 was a bust, but on the subject of these wines possessing the potential to age gracefully, I wanted to share that I recently (and miraculously) stumbled across a bottle of '98 Gonon St. Joseph in the "last remaining" bin at Burgundy Wine Company. It was selling for $32. I must say, the decade of bottle age did absolute wonders: this was truly one of the most pure, delicious, and gorgeously evolved bottles I've tasted all year; I could've sworn it was a 1er cru Gevrey-Chambertin, given its seamlessness and focus, except for the fact that it was so classically Northern Rhone at the same time. Just a beautiful showing, one that makes me eager to cellar some of the current vintages now available at retail.

michelecolline said...

A spicy red with spicy food deserves a bit of leeway, wouldn't you say?

Asher said...

Sounds like a terrific night of good wine in Brooklyn Heights. I like Gonon a lot. His wines are great expressions of N. Rhone Syrah. And unlike many wines from Cote Rotie and Hermitage, Gonon is affordable. I'm sitting on a case of his '05s; having only opened a couple of bottles since release, each experience has taught me that these wines need a lot of cellar time.

Brooklynguy said...

Zachary - i love that bin at BWC. I haven't been there in a while, but i always go there immediately upon entering the store, before looking at anything else. and it's because sometimes there are amazing finds like a random 98 Gonon. Lucky you.

thanks for the pass Michele, and I promise to open an Italian red tonight with spaghetti and meatballs.

wow Asher, a case of 05. that would be fund to taste. i wonder if they are affected by 05-itus, like the rest of France, or was rhone spared this ripe ripe ripe weather?

Michael Weiss said...

Shawn's in Park Slope had Gonon's 2006 St. Joseph red for only $25 last week. Don't know if there's any left.