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Savvy Southern Rhône: A Buying Guide for the Uninformed and Unsober

When I moved to New York, the first on my list of things to do was to go to an Acker BYOB wine auction. Working as an editor at a wine magazine, I obviously didn’t have the discretionary income to warrant a seat there. Nevertheless, I brought the nicest bottle of wine I owned and went to the Oak Room to participate in the excitement of a live auction.

When I arrived, I found that everyone in the room had to register for a bidding paddle. I didn’t think anything of it at the time – of course I’m not going to bid, I have no money. In an extremely unlucky twist of fate, the only seat left was at the table of the biggest spender of the night. In between bidding on cases of 1990 La Tâche, he scoffed at my bottle and opened Barolo and Bordeaux from the ’60s, which he was nice enough to share … frequently.

As each glass was filled, and subsequently emptied, the paddle in front of me began looking more and more tempting. In my increasingly inebriated state, I thought to myself “I want to play!” I waited for the least expensive auction item, a case of Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and – counting on being outbid – I raised my paddle triumphantly, savoring every second before the inevitable rival bidder would raise his. Sadly, that rival bidder never came. Going once; going twice; SOLD to the idiot that will be eating Top Ramen for the next six months!

Don’t get me wrong, Beaucastel is amazing and I love whipping a bottle out on a special occasion, but during the course of the months it took me to pay this case off, I had time to contemplate how else I could have spent my money had I not been so intoxicated.  The answer – for those looking for more bang for their buck – is Gigondas.

Though it has only had appellation status since 1971, wine production has been documented here since the late 14th century. Located about 7 miles northeast of Châteauneuf, Gigondas offers the same grapes, similar terroir and the same, if not more soul. Typically, wines are made more traditionally than some recently renovated and more modern Châteauneuf wineries; this juice just seems to be meatier, more intense and, frankly, less internationally styled than most new bottlings from it’s southwestern neighbor – all for about half the price. Good Gigondas takes about six years to really come into its own and then is best with hearty dishes. My favorite is short ribs braised with some of the Gigondas you’ll be opening.

So go on, learn from my mistake: If you love Châteauneuf, look just outside its borders. You’ll get the concentration and minerality of old vines, the verve of Grenache, the spiciness of Syrah, the meatiness of Mourvèdre you crave from Châteauneuf, as well as the gruff character of the invariably grizzly, no frills, all-about-terroir, hands-off winemaker that sells the wine without compensating for a marketing budget.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisHallowell