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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: 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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