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Average critic rating : 96.0 points
A wine I’ve been lucky enough to have numerous times recently, the 2003 Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis is an off-the-hook effort that gives up plenty of plum sauce, smoked duck, licorice, tar, vanilla bean and violet aromas and flavors. Never acidified, it has awesome freshness and focus to go with full-bodied richness, a hedonistic texture and a blockbuster-styled finish. While it’s not for those craving delicate-styled aromas and textures, I think it’s a gorgeous effort that will continue to drink nicely over the coming decade or more. ||One of the reference point estates for top quality wines in the world today, the family run Guigal operation was created in 1946 by Etienne Guigal. Today, Etienne’s son, Marcel, and his son Philippe, are firmly in control here, and are without a doubt producing some of the most singular, sought after wines in the world. Due to the size of this tasting, I’ll keep my comments short, but the incredible quality coming from this operation is astounding, and a tasting here is always one of the highlights of any trip through the region. Furthermore, while a lot is said about the extended oak aging regime here, I don’t know anyone who tastes mature examples of these wines on a regular basis that still has any doubts about the genius going on here. In short, these single vineyard (and their blends as well) Cote Roties are some of the greatest wines money can buy. For this tasting (which, with the Guigals, is always a large one!), we focused on their Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice release, and then three of their Cote Roties, starting with the classic Brune et Blonde, then the Chateau d’Ampuis, and finishing with their single vineyard La Mouline.||Looking first at their Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospices release, it comes all from the incredibly steep (and picturesque) vineyard perched just above the town of Tournon. The exposure here (which is critical for Saint Joseph as the more southern facing the plot, the warmer the site is) is mostly east facing and the soils are pure granite (identical to the decomposed granite found in the Les Bessards lieu-dit on Hermitage Hills). Compared to the Saint Joseph lieu-dit, which has a slightly more southern exposure, harvest here is always 5-7 days later.||Moving north to Côte Rôtie, the Guigal’s Brune et Blonde is their entry level release that comes from a mix of vineyards, most of which are estate. It drinks beautifully on release and has a solid 15-20 years of longevity in top vintages.||Stepping up over the Brune et Blonde, the Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis is named after the Chateau d’Ampuis estate (which lies in the town of Ampuis, right up along the Rhone River, and was purchased by the Guigal’s in 1995) and is a blend of their top estate vineyards. Coming from La Garde, Le Clos, Grande-Plantee, Pommiere, Pavillon, Le Moulin and La Viria, it spends close to four years in new French oak (handled just like the single vineyard releases) and there’s roughly 30,000 bottles produced in each vintage. While the single vineyard releases get all the buzz, this is isn’t far behind in quality, especially in recent vintages, and can represent an incredible value.||We finished the tasting with a vertical of La Mouline. One of the three single vineyard Cote Roties produced, this cuvee comes all from the La Mouline lieu-dit that’s located in the more western (close to the middle actually) side of appellation. For simplicities sake, you could say it’s in the Cote Blonde part of the region, but in reality, Cote Rotie is much more complex and diverse. Due to its exposure, this vineyard is always the first of the three single vineyards to be harvest, and also contains some of the oldest vines on the estate. Fermented using pump overs (as opposed to punch downs for the La Torque and submersion cap on the La Landonne), it’s cofermented with varying degrees of Viognier, which in most vintages, ends up being around 10% of the blend. Like the Chateau d’Ampuis and the other two single vineyard releases, it sees close to four years in 100% new French oak, of which every trace integrates after a few years in bottle. It’s always the most approachable of the single vineyard releases, and is ready to drink at an earlier stage. For example, the 1999 La Mouline is gloriously mature, while the 1989 La Torque is still an infant. Nevertheless, as the 1978 reviewed here attests to, it has no problem evolving for decades (although I don’t recommend holding bottles that long). In short, this was a flight of Côte Rôties I’ll not forget anytime soon! eRobertParker.com.August, 2014
Etienne Guigal: The Importance
Guigal is one of the most famous producers in the world and is regarded by Robert Parker as “the axis upon which the Northern Rhône rests.” Established in 1946 by Etienne Guigal, he passed it to his son Marcel and now, in turn, Marcel’s son Philippe is assuming the mantle. Parker describes this family business as “a qualitative locomotive that has brought attention to the Rhône Valley, raising the quality bar for the entire region.” And he has awarded their wines more perfect 100 point scores than any other producer on earth.
Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider says “the benchmark for quality in the Northern Rhône is set by Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie wines”, a view that Jancis Robinson shares. She says the importance of Guigal revolves largely around the “so-called Cru wines (La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque)”, also affectionately known as the La Las, which are “dark, dramatic mouth-fillingly rich and oaky expressions of the Syrah grape.” Find out more about these below…
Etienne Guigal: The Insight
As the largest producer in Côte-Rôtie, this is the place to start. In Robert Parker’s opinion Guigal “has largely defined that appellation with his three spectacular single-vineyard offerings: La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque. These immortal wines sell for a king’s ransom, but they are as good as anything produced anywhere in the world, and they age magnificently.” These wines are often talked about in the same breath as the First Growths in Bordeaux and the greatest Grands Crus of Burgundy. These three late-harvested Syrahs come from a positively miniscule yield of grapes and have received 27 perfect 100 point scores from Wine Advocate at time of writing; a figure that is sure to continue on its upward trajectory. The consistent quality of these wines make them a collectors dream; over the past twenty years they have received an average score of 96 points from Wine Advocate and, during this time, only a handful of the total 60 releases have ever slipped beneath 90 points. Jancis Robinson describes the purpose of these phenomenal wines to be “to knock the taster’s socks off” and their rarity, with only 400-700 cases of each being made each year, make them very precious commodities that are extremely hard to come by.
According to Jeff Leve La Mouline’s “texture in unlike any other wine in the world” and it is “one of the few phenomenally expensive wines that’s worth the money.” The Syrah and Viogner used to make it come from a single hectare plot of vines on Côte Blonde with an average age of 50 years (although many are approaching 100 years old).
La Landonne is 100% Syrah from slightly younger vines; it is the most robust and mineral of the three and longest ageing.
La Turque is the most recently created of the La Las and comes from an incredibly steep vineyard planted with Syrah and Viognier. Many consider it a midway point between the exotic La Mouline and the inky La Landonne.
As as many critics focus on the La Las, some of the other sensation wines from this magnificent producer slip under the radar. In particular Guigal’s lieu-dit St Joseph offers terrific value. This tiny single vineyard at the northern edge of the valley, planted with old vines ranging from 20 to 75 years of age, produces a very special wine that as Jeb Dunnuck attests “ages beautifully”. Alternatively, those wishing to sample Guigal’s Côte-Rôties without the price tag associated with the La Las, may wish to consider Château d’Ampuis or Brune et Blonde, which are some of the finest wines produced in the region.
Elsewhere, Guigal produces a rich and consistently highly-rated Condrieu called La Doriane, and according to John Livingstone-Learmonth of DrinkRhone.com they also offer “very reliable quality in the large production wines like the southern Rhône Côtes du Rhône.” Intelligent purchasing of property in Hermitage in the early 2000s has allowed Guigal to significantly increase the quality here too, producing limited numbers of cases from parcels in lieux-dits of Bessards, le Méal, Beaume, Pierrelle and les Murets. Ermitage Ex Voto was first released in 2001 and has shot to fame almost instantly.
Etienne Guigal: The Background
To get a steer on the style of Guigal, John Livingstone-Learmonth advises that: “Marcel Guigal has always followed a new oak, long ageing route for the red wines.” In fact the La Las spend around three and half years in oak, making barrels extremely important to Guigal, hence why they own their own cooperage and many thousand casks. This demonstrates the attention to detail of this producer, but if further affirmation is needed, Robert Parker says: “I have never seen a producer so fanatical about quality as Marcel Guigal.”
Etienne Guigal began working at Vidal Fleury in the late 1920s; he left just after World War II to set up his own company Establisments Guigal. He was joined by his son Marcel in 1961 and later the pair bought Vidal Fleury, where Etienne had cut his teeth. Although Vidal Fleury is run independently, the Guigal family still lend a hand. Since then Château d’Ampuis, Jean-Louis Grippat, Vallouit and Domaine de Bonserine have been added to the portfolio. Now Guigal owns property in Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel, Gigondas and Côtes-du-Rhône, producing incredible wines from predominantly Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
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