Dark ruby-purple color; spice, red berries, olive, chocolate, whiff of oak on the nose; raspberry, plum, blackberry, bacon, herbs, spice on the palate.
Dry; rounded tannins, smooth, delicious easy drinker that delivers complexity in the mid-palate, followed by peppery spice and chocolate mousse on the long finish. Richness and power interplay with finesse to deliver a wine of intriguing depth. This is caused by the interesting marriage of the the delicate, elegant qualities of grapes from the Côte Blonde and the power qualities of grapes from Côte Brune.
The predominant grape is syrah, but there also is 4% viognier. As is common in Côte-Rôtie, this is a field blend, meaning the grapes grow together and are harvested together. Grapes are not pressed and fermented separately, then blended. It also means the viognier is picked very ripe since viognier ripens a week or more earlier than syrah. Syrah brings body, dark fruits, savory notes, while viognier brings aromatics and a silky texture to the blend. There is oak influence—Guigal reds spend at least three years in barrel—but it is deftly done; there is no oak monster here.
Côte-Rôtie is located in the northern Rhône in eastern France; the entire appellation is less than 740 acres. Many of the vineyards are on slopes of up to 45 degrees—pushing the boundaries of where vines can be harvested. Erosion is a problem, so many rows are on terraces. Côte-Rôtie means “roasted slope” referring to the sunlight on the steep slopes. The second component in the equation is the strong (sometimes more than 50 mph), cold northwesterly Mistral winds that blow through the Rhône valley after coming off the Alps to the north. It affects vineyards because it usually is most intense around the end of winter and beginning of spring, influencing bud break. The funnel shape of the Rhône Valley also tends to accelerate the winds.
E. Guigal was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, the village in the heart of the Côte-Rôtie appellation in the northern Rhône, a place where wine grapes have been grown for some 2,400 years. Etienne’s son, Marcel, took over management of the operation in 1961 when Etienne suddenly was struck with blindness—although Etienne regained some sight and participated in the winery until his death in 1988. Marcel’s wife, Bernadette joined the team in 1973, and today their son, Philipe, is the winemaker working alongside his wife, Eve. Philipe speaks superb English and when interviewed provides precise and informative explanations of both Guigal, the northern Rhône, and wine in general. Worth a watch or listen—a Google search will give you numerous links.
In 1995, E. Guigal acquired the famed Château d’Ampuis, a landmark in the Côte-Rôtie. The château houses the business offices today while wine making and cellaring remain in the village of Ampuis where the company began.
E. Guigal put Côte-Rôtie on the wine map in the 1980s by delivering consistent-to-superior quality. Until then, the region was something of a wine backwater, particularly because the the prices needed to make winemaking pay in the testing, highly sloped region. E. Guigal deserves a lot of the credit for the Côte-Rôtie and adjacent Crozes-Hermitage quality ascendency. Three regions—Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage—are basically next to each other. In 2017, Drinks International named E. Guigal the most-admired French wine brand. The judging criteria included: consistently improving quality; reflection of regional terroir and country of origin; marketing and packaging and broad global brand appeal. No small thing. Guigal makes more than one-third of the wine in Côte-Rôtie using both estate grapes and those purchased from other growers.
E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde de Guigal 2012 is an outstanding expression of Côte-Rôtie syrah-viognier blend that pleasures your palate from initial attack through the lingering finish. If you get a chance to drink this, by all means take it. Pair with red meats, hard cheese, small game like rabbit and game birds, Cornish game hens, rattlesnake (yeah, really). $61-78