2016 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis (750ml)15 7 0 0
95-97 points Jeb Dunnuck
Not yet bottled, the 2016 Côte Rôtie Château D'Ampuis offers a more seamless, elegant style as well as powerful notes of cassis, licorice, smoked meats, and game. It’s deep, rich, has fine yet building tannins, and a great finish. This reference point estate was created in 1946 by Etienne Guigal and has been one of the world’s greatest wine estates for over seven decades now. Today, it’s Etienne’s son, Marcel Guigal, and his son Philippe, who continue to keep Domaine Guigal at the leading edge of the appellation. As I’ve written in the past, one of my highlights tasting each year is with this team, which now also includes Jacques Desvernois, who was previously at Paul Jaboulet Aîné. As normal, due to the long élevage of most cuvées, we taste through four vintages of each of the main releases. The top Côte Rôties see (and have always seen) a full four years in new French oak, and even their larger production Southern Rhônes see extended time in oak. While a lot is said about the extended élevage in new oak, I don’t know anyone who tastes mature examples of these wines regularly who has any doubts about the genius here. In short, these single vineyard Côte Rôties and Hermitages are some of the greatest wines money can buy. Quickly looking at the releases here, there are two main Saint Josephs, the Vignes des Hospice and the Lieu-dit Saint Joseph. The Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospices comes all from the incredibly steep (and picturesque) vineyard perched just above the town of Tournon. This is a cooler, mostly east-facing vineyard of pure granite soils (it shows similarities with the Les Bessards lieu-dit just across the river) and harvest here always lags other nearby sites by 5-7 days. I always find a Hermitage-like character in this wine and it ages beautifully. The Saint Joseph Lieu-Dit Saint Joseph comes from a warmer, south-facing vineyard that the appellation takes its name. This is one of the top terroirs in the region and this cuvée is always a more broad, opulent wine that doesn’t have the tannic backbone of the Vignes des Hospice yet offers more upfront appeal. As to the Côte Rôtie, there are five releases. The Brune et Blonde can be thought of as the entry-level cuvée and comes from a mix of vineyards, most of which are estate, yet there is some purchased fruit. It drinks well on release and has a solid 15-20 years of longevity in top vintages. A smaller production release, the Côte Rôtie Château d’Ampuis is named after the Château d’Ampuis estate (which lies in the town of Ampuis, right up along the Rhône River, and was purchased by the Guigals in 1995) and is a blend of their top seven estate vineyards, including the La Garde, Le Clos, Grande-Plantee, Pommiere, Pavillon, Le Moulin, and La Viria lieux-dits. It sees a full four years in new French oak and is handled exactly like the single vineyard releases. There are roughly 2,500 cases of this produced, and in top years, it’s quality can be just as high as the single vineyard releases, making it a terrific value. There are only three (now anyways) single vineyards that are affectionally labeled “La Las,” the La Mouline, La Turque, and La Landonne. First made in 1966, the La Mouline comes from a parcel in the Côte Blonde and is the warmest, earliest site of the single vineyards. It includes some of the oldest vines of the estate, sees upwards of 10% co-fermented Viognier, see only pump-overs during fermentation, and has always spent four years in new French oak. The La Mouline is always the most approachable of the single vineyard releases and is also the earliest maturing. Nevertheless, top vintages can easily keep for 30 years. The Côte Rotie La Turque was first made in 1985 and comes from a steep parcel in the Côte Brune. It sees slightly less Viognier than the La Mouline and is a co-fermented blend of 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier. It sees a more aggressive punch-down regime during fermentation and spends 48 months in new French oak. The La Turque always splits the difference between the La Mouline and La Landonne stylistically and shows slightly more minerality and structure than the La Mouline, yet not quite the austerity and structure found in the La Landonne. It normally needs 10-15 years of bottle age to show its true self. Lastly, the Côte Rotie La Landonne comes from a great lieu-dit in the Côte Brune side of the appellation. It is always 100% Syrah and is made using a cap immersion technique for fermentation. This cuvée was first made in 1978 and for each vintage has spent 48 months in new French oak. The La Landonne is always the most backward, structured, age-worthy of the lineup, and needs the most bottle age to hit maturity. It is also, however, the most consistent in terms of quality of the three single vineyards. As to the Hermitage releases, there are three cuvées, a base Hermitage and a Hermitage Ex-Voto in both red and white. Guigals purchased their primary holdings in Hermitage from Jean-Louis Grippat (now 90-year-old Marsanne vines in the Les Murets lieu-dit) and Domaine De Vallouit (mostly in the Greffieux lieu-dit) in 2001. They also gained parcels in the lieu-dit Saint Joseph and Vignes de Hospice with the Grippat purchase. Today, they have parcels in Le Méal, Beaumes, Dionnieres, and Les Bessards. The entry-level Hermitage sees three years in 50% new French oak. They release a tiny production cuvée called Ex-Voto only in top vintages, and the red sees the same four years in French oak as the single vineyard Côte Rôties. The Ex-Voto Blanc is primarily Marsanne blended with 10% Roussanne, from Les Murets (90%) and l’Hermite (10%) lieux-dits, aged 30 months in new French oak. It sees primary and malolactic fermentation in barrel and is bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is a rich, powerful Hermitage Blanc that has plenty of toastiness in its youth and starts to drink brilliantly with 4-5 years of bottle age. This was a massive tasting, as usual, and I’ve listed the wines in the order we went through them. (12/2019)
95 points Vinous
Extremely dark ruby. Powerful, mineral-accented cherry and dark fruit preserve, exotic spice, licorice and incense aromas show sharp delineation and pick up hints of candied flowers and olive with aeration. Sweet, seamless and broad on the palate, offering intense boysenberry, cherry liqueur, fruitcake and floral pastille flavors that slowly tighten up on the back half. Repeats the blue fruit note on an impressively persistent, spice-tinged finish that features sneaky tannins and an appealingly sweet cola flourish. (Drink between 2025-2035) JR (4/2020)
92-94 points Wine Advocate
The 2016 Cote Rotie Chateau d'Ampuis was slated to be bottled after the 2019 harvest. It's much more open than the 2015 and lighter in weight as well. It's medium to full-bodied, with cedary accents to the crisp red-berry fruit flavors and ripe, silky tannins on the long finish. It should be approachable relatively young and drink well for 10-15 years or more.
Tasting at Guigal is always one of the highlights of my Northern Rhône trip. Because of the family's breadth of production and hallmark long élevage, it provides a chance to look at several vintages together, along with commentary from the knowledgeable patriarch, Marcel Guigal. This year, I was joined by Marcel, his son Philippe and Jacques Desvernois, hired away from Jaboulet in the summer of 2018, for a five-hour marathon in the chilly cellar beneath the company's headquarters in Ampuis. Despite the cool temperatures, there were smiles all around at the quality of the samples on the table. "Global warming has been fabulous for the Northern Rhône," said Marcel at one point.
It would be easy to overlook some of the lesser wines in the cellar and zoom straight to the single-vineyard Côte Rôties, but for readers on a budget, the company has plenty of good wine to offer, starting with the mammoth quantities produced of the basic Côtes du Rhône (4.5 million bottles of the 2016 rouge). From the north, the closest equivalent is the Crozes-Hermitage, but I favor the Saint-Joseph in most vintages for its more granitic expression of Syrah. The whites here (outside of Condrieu, where they are the largest producer) are often overlooked, but I believe the quality is improving. Philippe Guigal said they worked the lees of the whites sparingly in 2018 to avoid any heaviness. While the focus of my visit is on the north, Guigal produces several wines from the Southern Rhône, which were included in the tasting. Indeed, for a négociant, Guigal does a terrific job maintaining consistency in their Southern Rhône bottlings. Interestingly, although they now own a large property in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Château de Nalys), sourcing for the négociant CdP remains completely separate. "We have two hemispheres in our brains," said Philippe. "Guigal and Nalys." The latest Nalys wines were reviewed previously, as part of my Châteauneuf-du-Pape coverage. JC (12/2019)