2006 Hermitage Blanc Ex Voto Etienne Guigal

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Average critic rating : 93.0 points



The medium gold-colored 2006 Hermitage Ex-Voto Blanc (90% Marsanne and 10% Roussanne) exhibits pear and peach marmalade, honeysuckle and exotic Asian spice notes. It is a nearly over-the-top, intense, full-bodied white with an extravagant fruit character that conceals considerable acidity and structure. It will offer a mouthful of viscous, dry white wine over the next 10-15+ years. ||As I have written many times before, no one in the wine world is better at “raising” a wine (or as the French call it elevage) than Marcel Guigal, who learned the skills from his father, Etienne. Because everyone tends to focus on vintage conditions and terroir, the importance of a wine’s elevage is often overlooked, but Guigal’s unusually long tank, foudre and small barrel aging regime for all his red wines as well as several of his whites results in an array of remarkable wines time and time again. Even the most challenging vintages, which often taste under-nourished, vegetal and thin in their first year or two of life, tend to take on concentration and character, turning out to be some of the finest wines in many of the most difficult Rhone vintages. Moreover, Guigal’s wines always taste better out of bottle than from barrel, which speaks to his honesty and integrity as well as to his brilliance in deciding how long to age a wine in wood or tank as well as choosing the perfect moment to bottle it. None of this is as simple as it might sound, and that’s why Marcel Guigal gets my vote as the reigning genius in terms the upbringing his wines. For ten to twelve years after my first visit to this estate in the late 1970s, I tended to think of Guigal as primarily a red wine specialist. I still believe the red wines are the heart and soul of Maison Guigal, but the quality of the white wines has gone from strength to strength over the last few decades, and the Guigal family now routinely produces some of the finest dry whites of the entire Rhone Valley, including their humble Cotes du Rhone, and more particularly their white cuvees of Crozes-Hermitage, St.-Joseph, Hermitage and Condrieu. They produce more of the latter wine than any other proprietor of this tiny appellation. Guigal’s 2008 whites have turned out surprisingly strong. There is widespread agreement that the greatest terroir of the large appellation of St.-Joseph is the 8-acre parcel high on the steep hillsides above the city of Tournon. With a south/southeast facing exposition overlooking the Rhone River and Tain l’Hermitage, this 8-acre site is Guigal’s famous Vignes de l’Hospice St.-Joseph. This vineyard is composed of fragmented granite soils that are similar to the famed Les Bessards on the other side of the river in Hermitage. Unfortunately, only 500 or so cases of the Vignes de l’Hospice emerge from this vineyard. Along with Chapoutier’s St.-Joseph Les Granits, it is always one of the St.-Josephs of the appellation. The Vignes de l’Hospice spends 30 months in small new oak casks, but one would never know that when smelling or tasting it. I admire what Guigal is doing with his two white wines from St.-Joseph. The generic St.-Joseph is always 95% Marsanne and 5% Roussanne aged in stainless steel (50%), new oak (25%) and neutral oak (25%). The special 1,000 case cuvee of St.-Joseph Lieu-Dit St.-Joseph is composed of 93% Marsanne and 7% Roussanne from a 5-acre parcel, and is aged in 100% new oak. In top vintages, Guigal produces two cuvees of white Hermitage, the generic offering and the limited production Hermitage called Ex-Voto, a blend of 95% Marsanne and 5% Roussanne from two of the great sites for white Hermitage, Les Murets and l’Ermite. No Ex-Voto was made in 2008 as it was blended with the regular white Hermitage. These wines spend a number of years in small French oak. Guigal’s red wines possess some of the lowest sulphur dioxide levels of any finished wines I have ever tasted. Most of them are approximately 10 ppm (parts per million) total SO2, which is virtually nothing. That said, the wines always age incredibly well, which goes back to Guigal’s brilliant, patient, long-term barrel, tank and foudre aging. The current value picks in Guigal’s red wine portfolio are his Crozes-Hermitage (one offering made) and his three St.-Joseph cuvees. Readers looking for over-the-top richness and 40-50 years of aging potential should check out the special cuvee Ex-Voto. There are usually around 1,000 cases of this old vine blend from Les Bessards (40%), Les Greffieux (40%) and the balance primarily from Les Murets. Hermitage has been made by the Guigal firm for over 50 years. The quality of the wines has gotten dramatically better with the acquisition of top vineyard sites from producers such as Jean-Louis Grippat and the De Vallouit family. This has allowed Guigal to add holdings from such famed lieux-dits as Le Meal, Beaumes, Les Bessards and Dionnieres. In most vintages, the regular Hermitage is aged 3 years in cask of which 45% is new French oak. The special cuvee called Hermitage Ex-Voto is aged for 42 months in 100% new French oak. All of these offerings are aged in barrels that are specifically made at Guigal’s own cooper at Chateau d’Ampuis. Wine Advocate.February, 2011

Etienne Guigal, one of the most famous producers in the world, is regarded by Robert Parker as “the axis upon which the northern Rhône rests, a producer whose wines transcend all levels of the hierarchy. He is passionate about making single vineyard expressions using a non-interventionalist, distinctive approach. Best known for his ‘La Las’ (La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque), these “other-wordly” wines are often spoken about in the same breath as the greatest Grand Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy. However, due to Parker’s main focus being on the 'La Las' some other sensational wines from this magnificent producer slip under the radar. In particular, Guigal’s Lieu-Dit St Joseph offers terrific value. This tiny single vineyard, planted with old vines which range from 20 to 75 years of age, produces a very special wine.

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