Log In / Join Now

stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Mini-Guigal Vertical Shows an Evolving Style

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 31, 2008 4:02pm ET

E. Guigal doesn’t need an introduction—anyone who follows wines even casually knows that this is the dominant négociant house in the France's Northern Rhône Valley. In particular, E. Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie bottlings, led by it’s famed "La La" trio, have brought the house its greatest recognition.

But while Guigal stands among the wine world's leaders, it didn’t get there overnight. Guigal's distinctive house style, brought about by long aging in barrel, is something that has evolved over time. That evolution was demonstrated in a tasting of five different vintages of the winery’s workhorse Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde bottling.

Guigal began to age its red wines in barrels, as opposed to foudres, beginning with the 1976 La Mouline (La Mouline itself was created in the 1966 vintage). The move to barrels continued with the creation of the La Landonne cuvée in 1978 and then La Turque in 1985. During this time, Guigal began to experiment with aging the Brune et Blonde in barrel as well—it was partially done so through the early 1980s, and then began 100 percent with the 1988 vintage.

Other aspects of the evolution at Guigal include the use of temperature-controlled fermentation in 1982 (shifting away from fermentation in enamel-lined metal vats) and an upgrade of facilities in 1993 (one of the vintages included in the tasting below), which included Brix measurement for arriving grapes, more stringent selection processes and modernized press and bottling equipment.

All of these changes were carried out behind the scenes, so to speak: The regular consumer never saw them firsthand. Furthermore, the results of any changes a winery makes in its vineyard management or vinification practices typically don’t make it into the bottle for a few years. That makes a critical mass of vintages (and each vintage is different) necessary before evaluating such changes. Now you probably see why running a winery is a lifelong endeavor, and family-run wineries, where one generation learns from another, can be crucial for quality.

In addition, while better technology helps to make better wines, it’s also important to consider that today’s vintages, from warmer conditions due to global warming and using grapes harvested later than a generation ago (which results in darker flavors but less acidity), wind up producing wines that are richer and fleshier, but also evolve faster than their older counterparts.

Following are my notes on the wines I tasted this morning. The older vintages showed a more acid-driven profile, with tauter structures, but still had good life to their fruit and aromas. The '85 and '89 on the other hand, showed darker notes and more forward personalities. This isn't to say that Guigal's's older wines were better, not by any stretch. This is only a very small sampling, and the quality of the '69 and '78 vintages is far superior to '85 and '89, so it's not a perfect cross section. But it does show the evolution of both nature and house style.

Samples were provided by Guigal’s U.S. importer, ensuring good provenance. The wines were not tasted blind.

1993 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde: Mature garnet/brick color. Subtle sandalwood and tea aromas. Light, dried cherry and cedar notes. A touch trim, but still hanging on. From a less than stellar vintage, this proves how technology can help make a better wine in a difficult year. 87 points, non-blind.

1989 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde: Deeper garnet color with more dried cherry and cocoa powder notes. Mature and supple, with currant and spice notes lingering on the elegant finish. Still has life, with a note of coffee at the very end, but clearly time to drink. 89 points, non-blind.

1985 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde: Mature but ripe, with plum, dried currant and coffee aromas followed by a supple, medium-weight palate that shows black tea, shaved vanilla, dried fruit and date hints and a still-juicy finish. The core is dark and still plump too. 90 points, non-blind.

1978 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde: Brick/rust color, with lovely aromas of fresh mushroom, cedar and tea. Very mature but still balanced and refined, with dried cherry and currant fruit, date, incense and mineral notes. Long, elegant finish lets a hint of musk linger. 92 points, non-blind.

1969 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde: Brick/garnet color is mature, but belies this wine’s 39 years of age. Still taut, with dried currant and fig notes stretched over mineral, cedar and coffee hints. Lovely sandalwood and roasted vanilla notes chime in on the tangy finish. Clearly mature but still quite lively. Delicious. 93 points, non-blind.

Errol R Kovitch
Michigan —  August 1, 2008 7:37am ET
The Brune et Blonde has been a favorite of mine, since I live in a wine wasteland and this is the only Cote Rotie that tends to be available herabouts at retail with regularity. It is a shame that the more recent vintages don't have the quality and aging potential of the older vintages. I wonder if the Chateau D'Ampuis bottling has syphoned off the better grapes, or perhaps volume has grown to the point where Guigal has had to make sacrifices. In any case, too bad you now need to spend $100+ for a good Cote Rotie.
James Molesworth
August 1, 2008 9:39am ET
Errol: I think you missed the last graph of my blog. I'm not saying the older vintages are better - just different in style. 1969 and 1978 are far superior vintages in terms of quality to 1989 and 1985.

Only 1990, 1999 and 2005 would compete with '78 and '69...I've tasted the '99 a few times recently, both as part of a tasting of '99s that I'll report on later, and from magnum in my own cellar, and it's easily outstanding with plenty of life ahead of it.

Yes, the Chateau d'Ampuis bottling has taken some lots away from the Brune et Blonde, but they are minimal in terms of the total production. A bigger factor is the competition Guigal now faces for grapes in the appellation, as more new domaines begin bottling their own wine and other negociants come in and buy more. The fact that Guigal has maintained the quality of the Brune et Blonde bottling through the years despite these pressures, is testament to how committed the winery is...
Michael Mohammadi
Baltimore, MD —  August 1, 2008 10:10am ET
Over the last year, the Rhone has stepped it up to my favorite wine region (for the time being). The diversity in wines from north to south and in between is to die for. We had a 1998 E.Guigal C¿te-R¿tie Brune et Blonde recently that was explosive with red fruit and showed exceptional balance. I absolutely love Cote-Rotie, though as Errol alluded, pricing really plays a role in how often I get to pull the cork on one of these- especially the caliber of Guigal. I find quite a bit of satisfaction from St. Joseph- though they generally have less fruit and complexity, I get my fill of dried herbs and miscellaneous pepper notes that keep me coming back!
James Molesworth
August 1, 2008 10:17am ET
Michael: Pricing is, alas, always going to be an issue as worldwide competition for the best wines continues to grow. There are still plenty of tasty Cote-Roties for under $100 though - Gaillard, Burgaud, Duclaux, Jasmin, Rostaing, St-Cosme, Cuilleron, Vins de Vienne, Chapoutier, Villard, etc...

As for St.-Joseph, it's a big, sprawling appellation. For me, the sweet spot is the granite slopes around Mauves, Lemps and St.-Jean-de-Muzols. Looks for bottlings from Chapoutier, Gripa, Coursodon, Chave (negoce and estate), Gilles Robin and Courbis. Some producers in the northern end of the appellation are also superb, such as Louis Cheze and Yves Cuilleron....
Michael H Cramer
August 2, 2008 2:00pm ET
I am very curious with regard to the rating variations of the 1969 Brune et Blonde. The wine was rated 93 in 1990, 78 in 1995 and again a 93 in your most recent tasting. Is this simply a case of a bad bottle in 1995? Taster preference? Etc... Hoping you can shed some light on this for me.
James Molesworth
August 4, 2008 9:55am ET
Michael: Those are different reviews penned by different editors over the years. They represent the impression of that editor at that time...Also, the review from '95 notes that the bottle was probably off...
Peter Chang
Hong Kong —  August 5, 2008 5:29am ET
I had the pleasure of drinking a bottle of '85 B&B a few months ago, and the wine drank beautifully. Sadly my supplier friend has run out of the stock.I also drank a bottle of the '70 La Mouline last night...what a wine! In a blind tasting most people thought it was between '79 and '83... A classic La Mouline. Guigal is THE producer for me.
Michael Kwok
Vancouver, BC —  August 10, 2008 12:52am ET
Unfortunately the La-La wines are not something I get to try very often but I do get to try his more standard bottles. I recently had a bottle of the '85 and the '90 hermitage and I much prefer the '90 right now even though the 85 is more evolved. There is just a bit something extra in the '90 . I agree with your opinion on the '99's. I've just started to tuck into some of his lower end products and the '99 Hermitage is a really great value right now at around $55-$60 retail.
Todd Mcgowan
North Carolina —  August 11, 2008 9:48pm ET
I've had the 69 Brune a few times in the last year as it is my birth year and a favorite producer. Also, it's a touch cheaper than buying a 1969 La Mouline :). Well stored examples are quite pleasant and fun to drink. They've held up well.
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  August 19, 2008 2:43pm ET
James, any thoughts or recent tastings of the Guigal Hermitage from the 2000 or 2001 vintages?
James Molesworth
August 19, 2008 3:31pm ET
Jason: Haven't had either the '00 or '01 Hermitage red recently, and the official review on the '00 was penned by my predecessor...what I have liked about Guigal Hermitages though are the whites, which are really coming on strong in recent years. In addition, the Ex Voto cuv¿ the Guigal's have waiting in the wings (both red and white) are some tremendous wines...
Federico Rossi
rome italy —  June 11, 2009 3:18am ET
Hi James, when do you think you will be able to spost the review of Vieux telegraphe 2007 CdP? Do you think, according to your experience, that the 2007 for them will be better than 2005? Thanks, Federico
James Molesworth
June 11, 2009 9:01am ET
Federico: I formally review only finished, bottled wines that have been submitted to my office for my always-ongoing blind tastings. Vieux Tele tends to release late as well - so that won't probably won't come in until the Fall.

To augment that tasting methodology however, I visit and taste with producers in the region twice a year. I typically blog during these visits and provide general commentary on the unfinished wines (but no scores, as they are not tasted blind). My last visit at Vieux Tele, which includes the '07s, can be referenced here:

http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Blogs/Blog_Detail/0,4211,1936,00.html

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.