2011 Cotes du Rhone Blanc Etienne Guigal



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£67.00
£9.00

Average critic rating : 89.0 points

89

89

Bursting with honeysuckle and tropical fruit characteristics, the 2011 Cotes du Rhone Blanc offers terrific value. It is meant to be consumed during its first several years of life. ||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, if not empire. 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. I have said this many, many times, but it bears repeating – the magic of the Guigals is not only due to having some extraordinary vineyards in St.-Joseph, Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Condrieu, but also the ability to pay the highest price for purchased grapes and/or wine from which they fashion remarkable blends. The importance of a wine’s upbringing (or, as the French call it, elevage) is the key to understanding the entire Guigal locomotive. No one does it better; no one has done it longer; and no one seems to have the Midas touch for putting the wines in the bottle at precisely the right moment to capture the essence of a wine before it begins to fade or lose its vibrancy. This may sound easy, but to date, no one comes remotely close to what the Guigals consistently do across all fields of play. About a decade ago, Guigal’s white wines began to take on an amazing level of quality and the family continues to augment and increase that quality. Their Cotes du Rhone Blanc, usually a blend of two-thirds Viognier and the rest Clairette and Bourboulenc, has become a reference point for what amazing value and high quality can be achieved in a completely naked, expressive wine. Guigal produces approximately 40% of all the Condrieu made, and he continues to add some exquisite terroirs to his portfolio. For example, he recently bought the vineyard owned by Alain Parent and Gerard Depardieu, Lys de Volant. Guigal can produce two cuvees of white Hermitage, their regular blend of 90% Marsanne and 10% Roussanne, and, in exceptional vintages, a luxury cuvee called Ex-Voto, which is approximately 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. It spends more time in small new oak than the regular cuvee. From the Northern Rhone, Guigal’s finest values are his Crozes-Hermitage and his lower level cuvees of St.-Joseph, all of which are 100% Syrah. The Crozes-Hermitage comes from hillside vineyards and the St.-Joseph comes from hillsides with decomposed granite soils that are commonplace in the northern half of that sprawling appellation. With the purchase of the estates of Jean-Louis Grippat as well as the holdings of De Vallouit, Guigal increased his estate vineyards in Hermitage. A basic Hermitage cuvee is produced each year, and in the top vintages, a luxury cuvee called Ex-Voto is made. Guigal now owns vineyards in the famed lieux-dits of Les Bessards, Dionnieres, l’Ermite and Le Meal. The regular Hermitage is generally aged for up to three years in small oak casks, about 50% new. When declared, the Ex-Voto is given the same 42 months in 100% new French oak as his three single vineyard Cote Roties (La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque). The Ex-Voto is a blend of fruit from Les Bessards (40%), Les Greffieux (40%) and Les Murets (20%). Guigal produces approximately 300,000 bottles each year of his Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde. We started with the 2008, probably the second worst vintage in the Northern Rhone (2002 being the worst in the last decade). Not a single vineyard wine, but a prodigious Cote Rotie is Guigal’s Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis. Marcel Guigal’s son, Philippe, lives at this estate with his wife and children, and this is also where they cooper their wood barrels made from staves that are air-dried a minimum of three years. This cuvee is always a blend of some of the finest parcels on the hillsides of Cote Rotie, including La Garde, Le Clos, Grande-Plantee, Pommiere, Pavillon, Le Moulin and La Viria. It is aged 38 months in 100% new French oak, and around 2,000 cases are produced in most vintages. The three single vineyard Cote Roties are consistently among the world’s greatest wines. I often find La Mouline to be a so-called “desert island” wine as it was in vintages such as 1978, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2009. La Mouline is made from the oldest vines and is vinified differently than the other single vineyard cuvees, utilizing pump-over techniques as opposed to punching down (La Turque) or immersed cap (La Landonne). To reiterate, the Cote Rotie La Turque comes from the Cote Brune and its upbringing is the same as La Mouline’s, aged 42 months in 100% new French oak, co-fermented with 5-7% Viognier, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. It comes from younger vines as the first vintage was 1985 and that remarkable wine was made from 3-year-old vines (which puts a kink in the French myth that old vines are always the best). As I previously indicated, La Turque is vinified by punching down as opposed to pumping over or the immersed cap fermentation of La Landonne. The third of these prodigious Cote Roties, La Landonne, comes from the Cote Brune. Unlike its siblings, it is 100% Syrah that receives the same upbringing, 42 months in 100% new French oak and bottling with no fining or filtration. The other luxury cuvee, although not a single vineyard wine, is the Hermitage Ex-Voto, which is aged 42 months in 100% new oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered. It is always fashioned from Les Bessards (40%), Les Greffieux (40%), Les Murets (10%) and l’Ermite (10%). The Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape produced by Guigal are often excellent, even outstanding wines that sell for a fraction of the price asked for his luxury cuvees of Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu and St.-Joseph. Guigal’s Gigondas spends around 24-25 months in wood foudres, and includes a great deal of Mourvedre in the blend. The Chateauneuf du Pape, which comes from purchased wine, is aged two years in foudre prior to release. Guigal normally includes a minimum of 10% Mourvedre in the blend, with the balance old vine Grenache. As I have said many times, one of these days the Guigals will purchase a famous estate in Chateauneuf du Pape because Marcel’s father, Etienne, had always said the three greatest appellations of the Rhone Valley were Cote Rotie, Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape (few people would disagree). Wine Advocate.December, 2012

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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