Guigal – the agony, the ecstasy, the prices
|The best in Guigal|
When I think of Guigal, one of the things that comes to mind is Penfolds.
That connection may sounds odd, particularly as they are quite different operations, yet I think that if you’re looking for an example of wineries that produce large volumes of wine whilst still maintaining a reputation for ‘icons’ (particularly for Shiraz/Syrah), then these two are it.
Another thing that Guigal and Penfolds have in common is their most popular wines. In the case of Guigal, that’s the Cotes du Rhone rouge, whilst for Penfolds it’s the Bin 28 Shiraz. What both wines share is a solid, well earned reputation for good drinking (and cellar worthiness) at a very fair price.
Given this consistency, it was something of a surprise to taste through the Guigal range this week and uncover so many wine faults in so many wines.. Not just the odd off-smell either, but brett and sulphide issues a go-go (and well beyond the excusable point). Obviously it’s the Rhone, so higher pH’s, high sugar and low sulphur tends to encourage the odd stinky wine, but I was amazed at the variability of these current release wines.
In the same breath however – and here comes the ectasy – the highlights really are pretty damn high. You have to pay dearly for said highlights, though anything that gets you this high is bound to cost a bit really…
(All were tasted non-blind in the company of Guigal Global Ambassador Brett Crittenden at Porter’s Chatswood [here in Sydney]. All prices are as stated on the night [and look competitive for Australia]. Notes in italics are from the winery).
Guigal Cote du Rhone Blanc 2009 $19.99
Primarily Viognier and Rousanne. Fermented in tank.
Quintessentially a broad wine, yet also with some sharp edges. Carries a tinny, sweet, slightly volatile nose with a dash of Viognier apricot richness for good measure. It’s a nose you almost love, if only it was more focused. The palate follows this with a warm, lightly viscous and quite generous expression of simple fruit. Quaffable enough. 15.8/87
Guigal Condrieu 2009 $79
What a lovely nose this has, with real vibrant florals and varietal purity all signalling that this is a very correct Condrieu. That ‘correctness’ here translates as nectarines, peach nectar and fleshy Viognier varietal opulence, which is all very nice indeed. Nice nose. The palate is actually (surprisingly) tight after the open nose, sitting lightly peachy and still quite restrained through it’s length, with everything all set in place for future joy.
All good so far! It all goes awry however through the finish, which is – to put it simply – seriously warm and spirituous, leaving a strong alcohol burn that lingers far too long.
Still, there is so much that I like about this wine that I’m still finding firmly in it’s favour, even if I wish that it was less boozy (and would have scored it even higher if it was). 17.8/92
|Guigal La Doriane 2009|
Guigal Condrieu ‘La Doriane’ 2009 $149
8 months in 100% new French oak barriques.
On the label this wine has a stated alcohol level of 13.5% ABV. Now, technically at least, Guigal are only allowed +/- 0.5% variation on this stated mark. If this is actually 13.5% however then you can call me Ned Kelly. As someone chimed in with on twitter (I think it was that troublemaker from Cogito :0) this ‘tastes like burning’.
Putting the alcohol aside for a minute, the rest of the wine is pretty sexy, if ridiculously overt. Colourwise it’s quite yellow with golden edges, just hinting at the fully ripe golden grapes it came from. The nose is a big and bold thing too, with loads of floral-ish, sweet caramel oak and creamy, ‘let’s stir these barrels once more for good luck’, leesy richness. In many ways all that artifice obscures the fruit underneath actually, though the pineapple and apricot bits that do poke through look properly concentrated and juicy, and as the oak and such settles down it should no doubt improve. From the nose to the palate that line follows straight through, the flavours cast in a similar vein to the AC Condrieu and still tight and quite long, if dominated by oak. It’s still a rather nice sweet/sour, oak/fruit sexiness going on though, even if it’s OTT.
All this sounds pretty tasty so far doesn’t it? Yet here comes the rub. The alcohol. It burns. It’s searing and dominating and seriously unattractive, taking away from the joyous oak and fruit of the rest of the wine and leaving you with nasty burns. It’s even more pronounced in La Doriane, as the palate is quite wound up in the oak too.
A slightly challenging wine (of sorts), the only question that remains is what to score this? Strictly speaking it’s a very good wine, but how much do you take off for alcohol excess? I’m settling for 17.5/91+, which looks a fraction generous in a way (or not, depending on how you look at it). Why higher than the AC Condrieu you ask? Largely as it’s not much fun to drink right now. The scores should swap in the future though (even though the alcohol will not go down).
Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2007 $19.99
50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre.
Always nice to check in with this wine, if just to recalibrate. It’s not a bad drink this vintage too, if not quite on the same level as the top 2005.
Already a little tawny in colour this looks utterly Grenache-y on the nose with slightly dirty, slow cooked beef , caramel, soil and a little candied red berries. If you get into a bit of Grenache then you wont mind the earthen oddities around the edges here for it looks very solid.
The palate looks grungy, dirty, meaty, Rhoney and generally all round good, finishing off with some grainy tannins to boot. It tastes of old barrels, earthen, lightly bretty rustic fruit and meaty medium bodied GSM savouriness. It’s not especially concentrated or delineated but no questioning the baseline ‘where’s my roast beef’ drinkability. 16.5/88
Guigal Gigondas 2007 $59.99
God I hope this is a bad bottle. Huge sulphide hit on the nose, horribly so. Palate too is all stink, no fun. After some vigorous swirling I did see a hint of grapes in here, but then the sulphides came back to fuck everything up again. Pass. 13/73
Guigal Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 $88
A moveable feast of a wine. At first I loved it, but as the night wore on (over about 2 hours) I grew very tired of it. I’m going to split the tasting note up into section a) b) and c) to illustrate:
a) First Impressions – Meaty, white and black pepper, beef ghoulash, pork, peppercorns and biltong. Rather bretty? Regardless the nose is rich and deep and the dry, meaty animale palate is nicely rich and full with plenty of brett sausage action but also plenty of fruit richness. Nice grainy tannins. Intriguing if bretty. 17.7/92
b) The Second Look – Yes it’s bretty bit it’s also firm and deep and very CdP. I like it still. 17.5/91
c) The Last Taste – Yuck. Band-aid ‘bad brett’ has taken over and the fruit has gone. Looking hard, bretty and unpleasant now. 14/78
Would I buy it? If you could bottle up the joys of the ‘First Impressions’ then yes. Otherwise this is a ticking wine bomb of brett…
Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2006 $38.99
A very traditional Crozes style in many ways, with plenty of that trademark borderline ripeness of yore. There’s still some charisma here however and I do think that is drinkable juice.
It all kicks off with peppercorn, ham sandwiches and sappy red fruit on the lean, slightly herbal nose, over a palate that is The something of a contrast to the nose, looking cranberried, beefy but not underripe with some length to shout about. It reminded me of a cool year Coonawarra Shiraz actually (but without the Eucalypt). In many ways it’s an odd wine but I think with steak it could satisfy. 16.8/89
Guigal Saint-Joseph Lieu Dit Rouge 2008 $69.99
100% new oak for this puppy and it looks it too. Sexy oak mind you. Oh and love the ‘Treasures’ label and proprietary bottle for this red. Lots to like!
Some vibrant purple edges on what is a very bright wine (in this lineup). Carries a rather rich, modern and oaky polished nose with lipstick, plums and white pepper. A juicy nose if perhaps too oak driven for big love. Palate is sweet, chocolately and light, with lifted acidity and a rather light finish. Once the oak settles down this should be a solid wine, if a much lighter, polished wine than most of the other Guigal wines. 17/90+
Guigal Hermitage 2005 $115
Now we’re getting serious. This took at least an hour and a half in the glass to start hitting it’s straps, so I think a decent decant is required to drink it now.
A deep, dark red/black fruited wine with charcoal, roast beef, beef jerky and a hint of truffle. It’s a slightly dried out, dusty nose that freshens up with air, though still points straight to secondary flavours with nary a bright berry in sight. The palate too is dry, earthen and linear with a rather brawny mid palate that hooks you in, even though it’s very much a mid weight wine. I keep thinking about ‘brown’ the whole way through this wine (hello pesky synesthesia) and I think this means the wine is a beefy and masculine one.
Still coming together, this is deep, dark and meaty, driven by secondary flavours and loads of structure, which marks it as something of a classic Guigal Syrah. 17.9/92+
Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis 2007 $220
95% Syrah, 5% Viognier.
I raved about this at the Winestate Shiraz Challenge tasting recently and it looked pretty good again here, if just a little Viognier heavy. It’s still the archetype for modern Shiraz Viognier, carrying the silkiness that Shiraz/Viog does so well.
It all kicks off with a very sexy nose, one that looks rather fruit driven compared to the other wines of this bracket, the nose carrying more cranberry, pan juices and macerated plum, all prettied up by the Viognier addition. It works wonders on the palate too, fleshing out the very linear, dry, dirt-meets-deep-black-fruit meatiness, all ending with fine grained – if just a little oak driven – tannins.
What I like about this wine is how well the Viognier sits. It’s almost like the perfect + 1, the Viognier a pretty ying to the masculine Syrah yang, ultimately producing a complete wine that shows off all the good things about Shiraz/Syrah and Viognier. A Shirognier archetype. 18.4/94
|Guigal Ex Voto Rouge 2007|
Guigal Côte-Rôtie ‘La Landonne’ 2007 $650ish (not for sale)
100% Syrah. 42 months in new oak.
A powerfully divisive wine, this carries a distinctive herbal black pepper nose that looks floral, herbaceous and dense (all at once). It’s a curious nose, with black dirt, meaty, stalky (though I don’t think this is whole bunch) wildness and untamed depth. Woah. Unique indeed. The palate is very firm, large and dense, looking just a fraction roasted, extractive and very long, a big hulking thing loaded with dark dirty tannins and a hardcore dense mid palate. A firm and uncompromising wine this should make very old bones (but I wouldn’t drink it now) and deserves appreciation just for how uncompromisingly winey it is. A 30yr wine without question. Heroic stuff and so wonderfully authentic, powerful and focused. 18.7/95+
Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto Rouge 2007 $650ish (not for sale)
If La Landonne is the hulking muscle man then this wine is it’s pin stripe suited brother. Immediately more modern, less distinctive and much more polished than La Landonne and really rather approachable, though clearly comes from a royal, cellarworthy bloodline. A much more purple wine it is too with jubey, black licorice and flashy oak, tinted with a hint of sweet berry and chocolate for good measure. On the palate it’s more of the same with cola, licorice, black fruits and tar, with the thick mid palate wrapped in softening cocoa powder, before quite soft – if still prominent – fine grain tannins.
A Rhone Shiraz doing a very good impression of an ultra high end Barossa Shiraz (Teusner FG, Torbreck Laird etc) but with a more licoricey, less warm heart. It is perhaps just on the boozy side, but no doubting the savoury, cola, berries and earth seduction tactics employed here (and it was easily the most popular wine of the tasting). I’d still take the classicist route and choose the La Landonne in the longer run, but if you were looking for a Shiraz for dinner this makes a pretty compelling case. Very fine Syrah. 18.6/94