Review of the Tasting:
This was a wonderful tasting. It attracted keen winemakers and viticulturists from both Hawkes Bay, and Martinborough, something which at the discussion stage makes a tasting special for Wellington-based people. In introducing the wines, I commented that over and over again, my experience had been that if you wanted to share a special bottle with people who liked wine but were not label-conscious wine aficionados, then Guigal bottlings gave extraordinary pleasure at table. And this tasting showed why: 12 wines spanning 27 years, yet all of them would be marvellous with a meal. And in a technical sense, in this report (but by a person who likes old wine, note), none of the 12 are marked at less than 17 points, or silver medal level.
Most people were there for the four Guigal grands crus wines from the 2003 vintage, each and every one of them a 100-point wine for Robert Parker. Tasters found this a real thrill, for it is pretty rare to have such a tasting opportunity. But the sequence of five Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde wines from 2010 back to 1983 also created much interest. As did the three Gigondas spanning the same time frame: the 1983 was simply delicious. Yet wine know-alls do not even allow that such a wine could be even drinkable: wine-searcher.com simply does not list it – nor any Guigal Gigondas from the 1980s. Interesting, unbelievable to me, and sad.
Some of the most exciting bottles from this exhilarating Guigal tasting in Wellington, which attracted keen winemakers from Hawkes Bay and Martinborough. From the left: 2003 Hermitage Ex Voto, young, bit oaky, 18 +; 1983 Gigondas, sublimely gentle, fragrant and velvety, 18.5; 1998 Cote Rote Brune et Blonde, definitive syrah florals, 18.5; 2003 Cote Rotie La Mouline, soft and rich, 19 +; 2003 Cote Rotie La Turque, gentle cassis; 19.5; 2003 Cote Rotie La Landonne, benchmark cassis, 19.5 +.
Invitation – The Wines:
1983 Guigal Gigondas, Southern Rhone Valley, France
1998 Guigal Gigondas, Southern Rhone Valley, France
2010 Guigal Gigondas, Southern Rhone Valley, France
1983 Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde, Northern Rhone Valley, France
1985 Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde, Northern Rhone Valley, France
1998 Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde, Northern Rhone Valley, France
2003 Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde, Northern Rhone Valley, France
2010 Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde, Northern Rhone Valley, France
2003 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Landonne, Northern Rhone Valley, France
2003 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Mouline, Northern Rhone Valley, France
2003 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Turque, Northern Rhone Valley, France
2003 Guigal Hermitage Ex Voto, Northern Rhone Valley, France
Our tasting offers three Guigal Gigondas spanning 27 years, to show both the Guigal style with Southern Rhone blends, and the fact they age exquisitely. Then turning to the Northern Rhone, there will be five examples of Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde, the wine that sets the standard for the appellation, and amounts to c.30% of the entire appellation's production. They also will span 27 years. These eight wines are all from good to very good years. Then there will be the four grands crus, all 2003, all four rated 100 points by Robert Parker, a highly-rated Northern Rhone vintage: Cote-Rotie La Mouline first made in 1966, and the most burgundy-like of the three, Cote-Rotie La Landonne (the all-syrah one) first made in 1978, and Cote-Rotie La Turque, first made in 1985. In discussing the grands crus, Parker, 2011 says: The three single vineyard Cote-Roties are among the world's top fifty wines ever made. Their differences become apparent around age 8-10 and are dramatically different by age 15. So ours at 14 years old should be good. They will be joined by Hermitage Ex Voto, all syrah, first made in 2001. These four wines are virtually never offered for tasting all together, in New Zealand.
The reputation of the Guigals, late grandfather Etienne, father Marcel, and son Philippe grows year on year. Rather like J L Chave, you get the impression this is because the same two or three sets of taste-buds have assessed every wine, over the last 70 years. Robert Parker first came to recognise the extraordinary skills of the Guigals, and thus has a clearer view of their achievements than anybody. In his pioneering Rhone book of 198... has emerged as the dominant producer of outstanding Rhone wines ... both a negociant and a significant vineyard owner. It was founded only in 1946 [by Etienne]. Since the early seventies, his son, the bespectacled, bereted, birdlike Marcel, has taken charge. The result has been the transformation of very good wines to not only spectacular wines, but some of the finest in the world ...
Guigal's style of winemaking is unique not only in Cote-Rotie, but in all of the Rhone Valley. First, he is the Rhone's greatest exponent of the judicious use of new oak barrels for aging his wines ... his single-vineyard Cote-Roties sojourn 30 – 36 months in new oak [42 months now]. Second, because ... Guigal's red wines spend such a long time in both small oak and large oval foudres, his wines rarely have to be fined or filtered ... The results are wines that have ... impeccable balance and aging potential.
At the close of 2012, Parker's view had not changed much:
... The three single vineyard Cote-Roties are consistently among the world's greatest wines. ... The Guigal family may be the modern world's greatest testament to a family-run winery with impeccably high standards, integrity and an uncompromising vision of the future. They continue to push the envelope of quality to greater and greater heights. Marcel Guigal learned it all from his father, Etienne, a legend in the Northern Rhone. Over my three decade plus career, it has been a noteworthy story to watch Marcel's son, Philippe, take full responsibility for the future direction of this incredible enterprise. I have almost unlimited admiration for the Guigals and their ability to produce millions of bottles of inexpensive Cotes du Rhones that are among the finest of the entire Rhone Valley, as well as their portfolio of exquisite whites, reds and roses from the most prestigious appellations in the Rhone. After more than three decades of tasting here, I never cease to be amazed by what they accomplish.
Pricing for the Tasting: The Guigal grands crus are rare in the world, and even rarer in New Zealand, their production being less than a tenth of any of the Bordeaux First Growths (Petrus excepted). They are allocated / rationed at release in New Zealand. At one point they moved almost to parity in price with the Bordeaux First Growths. They have not fallen, but the latter have departed to a new level. Please check the wine-searcher.com values for the four 2003 Guigal grands crus (a great vintage in the Northern Rhone Valley) this hard-to-match tasting offers. You will find their value alone divided by the number of tasters is significantly greater than the fee asked to share our 12 bottles.
Introduction to Maison Guigal
Maison Guigal is based in the village of Ampuis, the cradle of Cote-Rotie. Grandfather Etienne started his winemaking career there with the then-famous winemaking firm Vidal-Fleury in 1924. Vidal-Fleury continued to be one of the leading producers in Cote-Rotie. Etienne finally left to found his own winemaking company, Maison Guigal, in 1946. He continued till 1961 when blindness struck. Son Marcel took over and increasingly moved the firm towards the visionary path that characterises them today. In 1973 his wife joined him, and the house of Guigal became the complete family business. Current chief winemaker and son Philippe was born in 1975. Throughout the years the firm has increasingly been characterised by careful and perceptive acquisitions and expansion, yet it remains totally family owned and controlled.
First there were key vineyard acquisitions in Cote-Rotie, enabling the introduction of the single vineyard and monopole wine La Mouline in 1966, then progressively the acquisition of small parcels of the famous La Landonne vineyard as opportunity offered, leading to the second 'grand cru' wine La Landonne in 1978. The purchase of the Vidal-Fleury establishment in 1985 augmented the La Landonne holdings, and gave Guigal total control of the La Turque vineyard, to become the third of the great Cote-Rotie wines which have made Guigal famous the world over.
In 1995 the famous Chateau d'Ampuis in the heart of Ampuis village was acquired: it now serves as the prestige headquarters for the firm, and houses the Guigal cooperage. It has a Cote-Rotie named after it, assembled since 1995 from several well-regarded vineyards. The Cote-Rotie Chateau d'Ampuis sits between the 'grand cru' wines and Guigal's Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde. However there is much more to the Guigal headquarters than this historic building, their extensive underground cellars and buildings in Ampuis now spread over and under about three hectares.
Robert Parker has long forecast that since Marcel Guigal holds that there are three pre-eminent wine regions in the Rhone Valley, namely Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that he would be seeking to acquire vineyards in the latter two places. Part of this goal was achieved in 2001, with the purchase of Domaine Jean-Louis Grippat, giving vineyards in Saint-Joseph and notably Hermitage. The key holding here was the small vineyard plots allowing the creation of a 'grand cru' Hermitage, Ex Voto, the same year. This wine is intended to complement and match the three 'grand cru' Cote-Roties, even though it is assembled from several parcels of land in named Hermitage vineyards. The same year Guigal acquired de Vallouit, providing further holdings in Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. These acquisitions also allowed the introduction of the premium Saint-Joseph wines Saint-Joseph Vignes de l'Hospice and Saint-Joseph Lieu dit, but they do not enjoy quite the reputation of the now-four grands crus. Interest now turns to when Maison Guigal will be able to acquire premium vineyards in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the introduction of a prestige wine from that appellation.
The mastery of Guigal father and son however extends well beyond their own vineyard holdings. To again quote Robert Parker, 1997:
What is the key to Guigal's success? For Guigal's own vineyards, which are cultivated organically with no chemical fertilisers or treatments, there is a notoriously late harvest aimed at picking grapes that are nearly bursting because of their supermaturity. The late harvest, plus extremely low yields, minimal intervention in the wine cellar (minimal rackings and absolutely no filtration), all combine to produce spectacularly fragrant, rich, profound wines. The same prerequisites are applicable to the juice that Guigal purchases to fashion his blends of Cotes du Rhone, Hermitage, Condrieu, and Chateauneuf du Pape. He buys only from producers who have old vines and low yields and who harvest late.
An indication of the scope of the Guigal enterprise can be extracted (in part) from their website, plus Wine Spectator info. Though the crop may vary by 50% or more depending on the season, these are the approximate annual average production totals, reds only (but not forgetting Guigal is the leading producer, some 45%, of all Condrieu). The numbers for the premium wines show why they are rationed / allocated throughout the world. Our year, 2003, production was half normal, so it astonishing that New Zealand secured any at all:
| Cotes du Rhone:|
Cote-Rotie Brune & Blonde:
Saint-Joseph Lieu Dit:
Saint-Joseph Vignes de l'Hospice:
Cote-Rotie Chateau d'Ampuis:
Cote-Rotie La Mouline:
Cote-Rotie La Landonne:
Cote-Rotie La Turque:
Hermitage Ex Voto:
23,350 cases (approx 30% of the entire appellation)
Livingstone-Learmonth, John, 2005: The Wines of the Northern Rhone. University of California Press, 704 p.
Parker, Robert, 1987: Wines of the Rhone Valley and Provence. Simon & Schuster, 456 p.
Parker, Robert, 1997: Wines of the Rhone Valley. Simon & Schuster, 685 p.
www.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth (subscription needed) NB: J. L-L uses SIX stars.
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson MW mainly for this tasting (subscription needed)
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck for this tasting (subscription needed)
www.winespectator.com = James Molesworth for this tasting (subscription needed)
THE WINES REVIEWED:
# The first price given below is the current wine-searcher value, which gives an indication of the broader market estimation of the wine now. Occasionally, where available, the original purchase price is given in the text following. Where specific wine info is not easily available, I mostly give the recent cepage and elevation, even though this may be misleading for earlier vintages.
Ruby and velvet, amazingly fresh, the deepest colour of the 12 wines. The bouquet is simply astonishing. If cassis character represents the absolute peak of perfection for syrah in its ripening curve, I have never smelt a syrah so vibrantly aromatic and cassisy. The bouquet is mouthwatering, with dusky rose florals as well. It would contrast with a highly cassisy cabernet due to its faint undertone of sweet black pepper. There is a suggestion of new oak in the aromatics, but the bouquet is sensationally grape-dominant, extraordinary. Palate follows perfectly, a glorious depth of cassis flavour, fresh, vibrant, wonderful concentration which seems almost fat in mouth, yet not at all heavy. The flavour seems lengthened almost for ever on exquisite tannins and cedary oak. There is scarcely any hint of the hot summer in this wine. In one sense the wine is still youthful, but there is just a little mellowing, as it embarks on its plateau of maturity. Five people rated this their top wine of the evening, two their second. Cellar 10 30 years. Glorious wine, it is hard to imagine how it could be better. Just a trace more florality, maybe. GK 05/17
Ruby and velvet, nearly as fresh as La Landonne, but not quite the depth, the third deepest wine. Bouquet here is nearly as glorious as the La Landonne, the same fresh aromatic cassis but a little more dusky-rose floral, and not quite the depth. Once one knows the identity, you try to see how to recognise the viognier component, but it is near impossible. Palate is a little softer than the La Landonne, not showing the extraordinary depth of aromatic cassis that wine has, but the level of fruit and richness is comparable. Oak is detectable, lengthening the flavour wonderfully, but again not dominating. This is beautiful wine too, which could easily be marked as highly as La Landonne. Cellar 10 25 years. GK 05/17
Ruby and velvet, clearly older in appearance than La Landonne and La Turque, and a little deeper than the latter, the second deepest wine. There is something of the chameleon in this wine, each time you smell it, it seems different. Initially opened, it shows just a hint hint of the baked character betraying a hotter vintage, as in 2003 Brune & Blonde, and the 1998 Gigondas. With air however, the bouquet expanded, presenting a dusky floral dimension, dark red roses and deepest violets maybe, smelling very smooth. As with La Turque, but moreso with the very high level of viognier (11%) in this wine, you search for descriptors. It is totally different from La Landonne, not the vibrant cassis, yet there is a plushness of fruit on bouquet that becomes seductive. You end up wanting to think there are yellow flowers and stonefruit characters in the cassisy and plummy fruit, but only because you know about the viognier. Palate is certainly very different: there is no doubt this wine is fatter and much fleshier, the latter perhaps the key to detecting a viognier component. It seeme a little more tannic as well. Again there is just a suggestion of the year being too hot for grape-derived aromatics, but it is still a wonderful mouthful of wine. As Helen Masters (Ata Rangi) said, you wish you could compare it with a cooler / more perfect year, in the way that the Brune & Blonde sequence illustrates. La Mouline was the clear favourite on the night, maybe because of the enhanced textural viscosity, with six marking it the top wine of the night, five their second. Cellar 5 25 years. GK 05/17
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. The three Gigondas were placed as wines six to eight in the sequence, and sequenced simply in vintage order, so tasters could concentrate on the difference in style of a grenache-led wine vs the syrahs, and then see how they varied with the vintage, and age. The bouquet on number six, this wine, was therefore a dramatic contrast to the five syrahs Brune & Blonde which preceded it. It was more red fruits, more cinnamon spicy, suggestions of thyme and rosemary garrigue character adding a quite different aromatic quality, compared with the cassis of the best syrahs, just lovely. Palate is in one sense rich and flavoursome, furry-tannins of youth, yet in another sense it is light and refreshing. This is the great thing about good Gigondas: it has not put on weight with the clumsy alcohol too many modern Chateauneuf-du-Papes now display. Yes, the alcohol may be a little more than the given 14%, but nowhere near the 15 + % increasingly the norm in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is uncannily fresh, the raspberry fruit still somewhat separate from the oak, but you feel it will marry up wonderfully, with its gorgeous freshness pointing to a lovely fragrant wine many years down the track. Two people had this as their second favourite wine of the evening, even up against the grands crus. Cellar 10 25 years. GK 05/17
Garnet and ruby, the third lightest wine. 1983 was a magic year for Guigal, and right from first opening this wine shows all the gentle complexity of great Chateauneuf-du-Pape at full maturity, wonderfully fragrant on its red fruits browning now, beautiful cinnamon and a hint of manool / silver-pine spicey character, and obvious garrigue complexity. The oak is nearly invisible and importantly, the alcohol is down where it used to be, when Chateauneuf-du-Pape was more subtle and beautiful than it is now. Palate is simply velvet, light in one sense, and ethereal, yet still heaps of fruit in a light yet mouth-filling way. There is trace brett, absolutely at the positive complexity level. One person rated it the most enjoyable wine of the entire set, and another second, a pleasing result. Fully mature, but no hurry at all the wine was better still the next day. This wine is now sensational with food, being so soft, aromatic and complex. GK 05/17
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, absolutely in the middle for depth of colour. In presenting this tasting, with five vintages of Brune & Blonde spanning 2010 to 1983, it seemed more important for tasters to focus on the way syrah ages, and the way its character varies with the warmth of summer, rather than trying to work out blind which wines were syrah dominant, and which were grenache. Accordingly the five Brune & Blonde wines were presented first, from 2010 back to 1983, in simple vintage sequence. This format also allowed tasters to focus on the differences in the three grenache-led wines, wines 6 to 8, which followed. Bouquet on this 2010 syrah epitomises the pinot noir-like beauty that syrah can show when not over-ripe. It is not a big wine, but it illustrates pinpoint varietal character, near-carnations / dianthus florals, a hint of black rather than white pepper, red and black fruits including blackcurrant / cassis and some plum, beautifully fragrant, subtle oak. Palate follows perfectly, showing the freshness of the 2010 year, not quite as fat and ripe as the 2009s. This is more the weight of wine the Redman Shiraz used to be at Coonawarra in the 1970s, before Australians became obsessed with oak and size (sadly). Since Guigal’s Brune & Blonde is the benchmark Cote Rotie, against which all other Cote Roties are measured, this is an important wine. It shows dramatically just how good Te Mata Syrah Bullnose is nowadays, in its Cote Rotie styling. Cellar 10 – 30 years. GK 05/17
Ruby with a little garnet creeping in. Bouquet is clearly floral, fragrant, fresh, wonderful, no hint of the 1998 heat some Rhone wines show. In the introduction I had described the key character of perfectly ripe syrah as carnations / dianthus / pinks / sweet william florality married to cassis-led fruit. I could not have asked for a better example than this wine, which shows to perfection the essence of syrah varietal florality. The cassis character is browning a little now. Total bouquet is wonderfully fragrant, berry dominant, oak subsidiary. Palate shows a little more maturity than the bouquet suggests, flavour perfectly summing up the bouquet, extended on fragrant cedary oak which is beautifully in the background. At 19 years of age this wine is at a peak of perfection. It will cellar another 10 years or so. It shows why Guigal’s Brune & Blonde is the reference wine for the Cote Rotie appellation. If a wine is better than Brune & Blonde in any given year, the winemaker has a winner. Tasters did not react as warmly to this wine as I did, it not being a favourite for anybody. This may be because I mark up florality, especially of this quality. GK 05/17
Ruby and velvet, clearly not as fresh as 2003 La Landonne, though both are straight syrah. With wines at this price level ($575 at purchase) one is looking for perfection. Thus to first sniff, a slight unease, is there a hint of baked character, and there do not seem to be the florals. A cassis berry character is apparent, but when you compare it with the La Landonne, it is browning a little, lacking the dramatic fresh blackcurrant aromatics. And the oak is much more obvious, almost to a fault. Guigal say this wine receives the same 42 months in 100% new oak as the other three grand crus, but I simply don't believe them. Perhaps it sees two lots of new barrels, to make it more manly as Saintsbury would have said. Flavours and textures are every bit as rich as La Landonne, with cassis more prominent now, all just a bit browner. Unlike La Landonne, it finishes on oak, not berry. It is still however much more subtle in this respect than Penfolds Grange, recently reported on. A hard wine to score: it may look much more harmonious in 10 years. Cellar 10 30 years. Three people rated this their top wine in the set, two their second. GK 05/17
Garnet and ruby, the second lightest wine, but clearly redder than the 1985. This wine benefits from a splashy decanting, to reveal a fragrant bouquet which is still nearly floral like the 1998, but there is just a hint of tannin creeping in too, betraying its age. You can see it was cassisy, but the berry is browning now. Palate is markedly fresher and better than the bouquet, the berry clearly related to the 1998, just appropriately older. As is his wont, Gordon Russell (Esk Valley) made the most perceptive comment on this wine: yes it is old, but it's not drying, it still has fruit. You can't help feeling sad that so few people see these wines in full maturity. This example is at the far edge of its plateau of maturity. One person had it as their second favourite, in the entire set. GK 05/17
Garnet more than ruby, the lightest wine. Bouquet in this wine is as fragrant as the 1983, but slightly different, just a hint more phenolic, less berryfruit, as if older. Again there is clear browning cassis, and subtle oak. Palate is intriguing, clearly more tannic than the 1983, still tannins to lose as Harry Waugh used to say. This correlates with the slight phenolics on bouquet. Hard to say if this wine will age as gracefully as the 1983, but I have a doubt. Curious, when 1983 is by reputation the hotter year. Relative to the 1983, tasters liked this more than I did, perhaps because it was fractionally richer than the 1983. One rated it their top wine of the evening, and five their second. This clearly has some time ahead of it, hopefully to lose some tannin, cellar 3 10 years. GK 05/17
Garnet more than ruby, clearly browner than the 1983 Gigondas. And one sniff of the bouquet shows why: this wine does reveal the heat of some 2003s and 1998s, the bouquet just a little baked (as in overcooked plum jam tart), with the key descriptors mentioned being prune and soy sauce so apt. Palate is fresher than the bouquet, a fat wine showing rich fruit in which browning raspberry, plum and cinnamon show. One taster wondered if there might be trace oxidation, raising the possibility another bottle might be quite different. Even so, the palate richness means this will still be a satisfying wine with (for example) a roast beef dinner. One person rated it their favourite wine of the evening, one their second. The wine still has quite a tannin grip, and is rich, so it can be cellared another 5 15 years. It was much better the next day. Eight tasters rated this their least wine of the evening. GK 05/17
Ruby and some garnet, in the middle for depth. This was the other wine to clearly reveal that 2003 was a hot year, requiring care with the point of picking, if freshness were to be maintained. The contrast with 2003 La Landonne could not be more vital, this wine like the 1998 Gigondas showing baked plum tart qualities, with suggestions of prunes and soy sauce again. Like all these wines though, it is wonderfully pure. The over-ripeness flows through to the palate, more obviously than in the 1998 Gigondas. But within the browning there is good richness, subtle oak, and great length. Again, this would be good with a roast dinner. It shared least place with the 1998 Gigondas, eight tasters ranking this their least-favoured wine of the evening. The standard of the wines was so high, however, that to be least in this company was not too much of a let-down. Cellar 5 – 20 years, in its style. GK 05/17