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2004 Domaine Gaillard "Le Secret Ivre" White Wine, Vin de Pays des Collines (Rhone), France

secret.ivre.jpgI'm on a kick. That's the opposite of a rut, I guess. I'm drinking a bunch of the same stuff and loving it. This month, despite the chilly weather in San Francisco, I'm all about white wines from the Southern Rhone. I've always enjoyed these in the past when I've had them (most often by the glass at French restaurants) but more and more I'm seeking them out as extremely food friendly alternatives to my usual white Burgundy and whites from the Loire.

So when I found myself and a couple of new friends recently in an LA restaurant (possibly to be reviewed later, but for now anonymous) with a great wine list, I couldn't help but pick out a wine from this region for pairing with some cheese, charcuterie, and other little bits of tapas. Of course, it helped that the wine's French name translated to "The Drunken Secret." How could I pass it up? The stuff is so good it's no wonder that it carries the name it does.

Domaine Pierre Gaillard is a relative newcomer to the Northern Rhone, but not a stranger to growing and making wine. His first experiences in the vineyard started as a teenager, tending and selling the Chardonnay grapes planted literally in the yard of his family's home. After many years of working as a winemaker for both Vidal-Fleury and Etienne Guigal, in 1987 Pierre Gaillard struck out on his own. This is something which seems to happen a lot in Napa and Sonoma, especially as winemakers make a name for themselves, but for some reason I don't hear a lot about it in France, though I'm sure it happens with the same frequency.

Gaillard began his own label after purchasing a vineyard parcel in Saint Joseph, a northern Rhone appellation that overlaps with the much more famous Condrieu, from which he made a single red wine in very small quantities for several years. This wine met with much acclaim, and as a result Gaillard has now expanded his operation to include about 30 acres of vineyards in Saint Joseph, Condrieu, Banyuls, Collioure, and Cote Rotie. He has also recently completed construction on a new winemaking facility in the medieval town of Malleval where he bases his winery, and has also embarked on a winemaking venture with some friends across the river which goes by the name of >Vins de Vienne. In the last 10 years Gaillard has cemented his reputation as one of the better vintners in the northern Rhone -- his name now being somewhat of a guarantor of quality wine in the bottle.

This particular wine in all its drunken secrecy, is a newer, small project of his on the fringes of the Condrieu appellation. It is made from 75% Roussanne and 25% Viognier, both of which grow on sloping hillsides of shattered, rocky schist. While I don't know anything about the winemaking for this wine, I'd imagine it spent its relatively short creation in a combination of steel and old, neutral oak before bottling. The grapes were likely picked fairly ripe as it has a touch more alcohol (14%) than some other whites I've had from the region.

Interestingly, it is bottled in an Alsatian style wine bottle. I don't know the purpose of this, but I was surprised when the waiter brought it to our table.

Tasting Notes:
Very light straw in color, this wine has a lovely nose of parchment, brown sugar, and flower nectar. In the mouth it is silky and rich, with fabulous texture carrying dry flavors of apricot, quince paste, honey, and flinty minerals. It has a nice finish and excellent balance between fruit and acidity.

Food Pairing:
What WON'T this wine go with? It was even great with some pork rillettes which we ate on toasted bread with cornichons. If I had to pick something, I'd say drink it with something like this swordfish with braised endive.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $20

This wine is available for purchase online. Imported by Langdon Shiverick.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud