Guigal Spring Tasting
New York City
Etienne, the “E.” in E. Guigal, was the grandfather of the current head of the enterprise, Philippe Guigal. Etienne started Guigal in 1946 just after the Second World War. France was in tatters and the Northern Rhone was mostly an afterthought. Viognier in Condrieu was on the brink of extinction and the old guard of Rhone producers were making wine that few outside of France knew about. This was just part of the story, or rather legacy, that was told to us by Phillippe Guigal, who was in New York to present the wines to trade and consumers a few weeks ago.
Marcel, Etienne’s son, took over in 1971. Etienne, sadly, went blind and as you can imagine on those steep Cote-Rotie vineyards it is hard enough to navigate with good vision. Philippe then started to work with his father in the early 1990s and officially took over in 1997. The family has steadily grown production all the while increasing quality. Not surprising given their sometimes controversial predilection for oak, they have their own cooper and are considered masters of using new or seasoned French oak in their wine production. For the record, what I tasted was indeed noticeable with oak but rarely in an intrusive way that blocked other aspects of the wines. Rather, they enhanced or will prove to further enhance with years of integration, especially on the red wines and the whites made from Marsanne and Roussanne.
The reds were firm and very young with all of them from the 2013 vintage. Each showing a tightly knit personality that is fresh, dense and long, all with great potential for aging. These were gorgeous wines that given the vintage had a little extra lift in the aromatics and the palate. Classic Syrah (some with a classic Cote-Rotie dollop of Condrieu Viognier) notes of red fruits like raspberry and currants, smoked meats, spices like peppercorn and cedar rose from the glass with agitation from swirling. Florals from the Viognier of white flowers and honeysuckle, while in others lavender or violets with the influence from the Syrah were perceptible. Juicy and sappy fruits got more dense and powerful up the “La La” ladder, along with the structure. “La La” is a term that refers to the group of 4 different top wines from Cote-Rotie and Condrieu.
Chateau d’Ampuis is exactly that, a few selections of Cote Brune and Cote Blonde from the village of Ampuis which is the main village of Cote-Rotie. In fact, the property Chateau d’Ampuis was originally the site of a famous wine from centuries ago. The Guigal family spent 15 years restoring it to bring it back to life at the foot of the Cote-Rotie slopes of Ampuis. The La La’s as they are affectionately known, are the three single vineyard wines La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne. For those of you that don’t know Cote-Rotie is split into two sections, the Cote Blonde and the Cote Brune. La Mouline is in the Blonde, La Landonne is on the Brune, while La Turque straddles both. Full tasting notes on these and the other wines are below after the article.
In Hermitage, the Guigal family have prominent holdings across various parts of this great hill that derives its name from an old legend of a former soldier returning from the Crusades and became a lonely “hermit” that built a Chapel on the summit. Today it was the 2014 white and the 2013 Ex Voto white that we were tasting. The whites here lean heavily on Marsanne with Roussanne, if used at all, being a smaller portion of the blend. The Hermitage sites came later in the life of the Guigal enterprise, having started in Cote-Rotie, Philippe said it was always a special goal to attain some great vineyard property in Hermitage. While certainly a different take than more traditional Hermitage producers, regular Hermitage white and red I tend to find priced very well and offer a more traditional take on Hermitage than the Ex Voto. The Ex Voto are more specific in their expression, more site driven with good amounts of oak in their youth, these take an enormous amount of time in bottle to age into their mature best.
In Condrieu, the eternal home of Viognier, we have the Condrieu and Condrieu La Doriane. I have a special place in my heart for this grape, being the first one that captured the excitement of two young wine drinkers, Lisa and I, 10+ years ago trying as many kinds of Viognier we could after being smitten by our first taste of this magnificent grape. Etienne Guigal is credited with helping to resuscitate Viognier as it was on the verge of extinction and to this day in the Rhone there is no other producer that has more holdings or access to Viognier holdings across the Rhone. In fact, a hot tip is their Cotes du Rhone balance which can have in excess of 50%, typically in the 60-65% range. This gives the wine a “baby Condrieu” kind of feel and is very rare to see this much Viognier in a Cotes du Rhone. It is also a screaming value at about $15 (usually less) retail. Both Condrieu 2014s showed very well, showing the classic notes you expect with a spine of tension and minerality sometimes lost in this grape but comes through very well here in 2014, as it should, based on the vintage and careful growing. Even the oak comes across less intensely sweet, more aromatic, especially at 100% for the Doriane.
Should you find yourself in the Rhone, or looking to experiment with different appellations, you can do so here with most of the Guigal wines as they are reasonable at the top end for the appellation wines and a bargain for the more affordable lesser known appellation wines or the regional wines. People knock them for using a lot of oak and their production size, but I find that unreasonable as the quality is always high and from what I tasted the oak is an accouterment, enhancing the wine and helping the best wines to evolve over a long arching life to maturity.
Cotes-du-Rhone Rose 2016
Guigal changed the color to a light pink hue from Tavel-like deeper red-pink,
The rose wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. Classic red berries, medium bodied with great acidity. This is modeled in my opinion to be more like a Provence styled rose wine.
Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc 2015
Floral, waxy, lemon, honeysuckle, liquid mineral on the palate, bright and pure
Viognier Makes up 60-65% of the blend, while the rest is a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Grenache Blanc.
It is not typical of a CdR to have this high of a percentage of Viognier. More acidity is added by the other grapes.
Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2015
Hillsides for more elevation = freshness resulting in the wine
No malo, 8 months of elevage in steel and 25% in 2nd use oak, smallish production has increased since it started several years ago.
Apple, pear and almond, Meyer lemon rind (florals/herbs), some stone minerality, dry and fresh, with medium+ weight, medium persistence
95% Marsanne 5% Roussanne
St. Joseph Blanc 2015
The purchase of Domaine JL Grippat in 2001 allowed Guigal to get into not only Hermitage but also St. Joseph (known as the Rolls Royce of the Rhone in his day).
The St. Joseph lieu dit sees 50% new French oak.
Oak is apparent in the nose, with toasted caramel notes. Roasted almond, pear, green melon rind, honeydew, with a creamy and toasted note hanging in from the oak, longer citrusy finish. With time that oak blew right off and it should integrate well with time in the bottle.
Guigal own 19 hectares in Condrieu, one of the biggest and oldest landowners in Condrieu.
A floral and dense nose, slightly muted, with a waxy and tight nose. .3 g/L RS, wild yeast fermentation
Things open up on the palate so it may have been served to cold as the body is immediately noticed at medium+ with a really long and dense finish.
Condrieu is not a long ager, so this should only be kept for 2-3 years tops from the bottling date or be warned to expect some oxidation.
Condrieu “La Doriane” 2015
14 hectares of steep, terraced vineyards, mostly from Cotes Chatillon (shale-silicone-limestone), with about 1 hectare each of Coteaux de Chery (schiste-granite), Colombier (granite-sand) and Chateau Volan (granite-iron)
100% new French oak with a high degree of fine lees left in the wine that is thought to help better integrate all that oak in the wine. All grapes are de-stemmed and get 8 hours of skin contact with the must.
Richer nose, voluptuous but still tense with granite notes adding a spine of minerality, a touch of Asian spices and a deeper overall complexity than the AOC. The oak is less perceptible than the St. Joseph. La Dorian in certain vintages will go the distance for Viognier at the longer end of the 5-10 year range, the ones with more acid from cooler vintages.
Hermitage Blanc 2014
95% Marsanne 5% Roussanne
Vine age varies widely at 30-90 years from various plots in Hermitage.
Plenty of oak, with dense and driving Lemon, and lemon rind, toasted nuts, mineral, and excellent acidity. Long and persistent finish. Clean with more time needed to integrate the 2 years of oak elevage.
Ermitage Ex Voto Blanc 2013
Aged a whopping 30 months in new French oak.
Again, we have an intense and firm nose, but interestingly less oak is apparent. A dense and muscular body, nuts, savory, elegant white flowers, saline, loads of minerality, lime and more lemon citrus notes with a penetrating and persistent palate and finish. Dry and very pure. Insanely complex and intense with remarkable aging potential.
Cote-Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis 2013
38 months in new French oak, 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier
Pure red crushed juicy and sappy fruits, raspberry, currants, with smoke meats and peppercorn. Juicy acidity, with firm tannin and energy on the palate. The finish is a little muted from the youthful density and tight nature of this wine at this time.
Cote-Rotie La Mouline 2013
From the Cote Blonde section of Cote-Rotie, the soils are gneiss with lightly colored (thus the name Blonde) limestone loess.
90 y/o avg vines (1893 oldest)
89% Syrah 11% Viognier (all Cote-Rotie at Guigal are typically co-fermented), 42 months new French oak
Dense and very aromatic, but focused with deeper red fruit notes, cedar, tobacco, raspberry, creme de cassis, with a deeper sense of place here, more transparency. Firmly structured and intense finish, fresh with good acidity.
Cote-Rotie La Turque 2013
Limestone, schiste, and clay mixed with iron soils, La Turque sees the first rays of the sun during the day and get the last of them as the sun sets. It is situated as mentioned above, straddling the Brune and Blonde sections of Cote-Rotie.
93% Syrah and 7% Viognier, 42 months new French oak
Spicy and intense, with very firm tannin and very good acidity. Deeper red plum, and raspberry, violets, smoke, toast, and meat. Herbal and spice, peppercorn, garrigue. A total spice box of complexity! The palate is firm and fresh, with a medium+ body and fully grained tannin. My favorite wine of the reds on this day.
Cote-Rotie La Landonne 2013
100% Syrah, 42 months new French oak, grapes are never destemmed, soils are limestone clay rich in iron
Intense and pure Syrah, ripe and red sappy fruits, peppercorn spice and a deep sense of earth and minerality. Dense and deep, darker red fruits with a massive wall of tannin. A crazy long and intense finish is a bit tight right now (should be) but shows great acidity and weight. Pure Syrah essence from the Brune in Cote-Rotie.