We are at times in a very privileged and spoilt position, tasting and enjoying wines that you often read about but wonder if you will ever get to see or taste. One lunch recently highlighted this fact to a ‘mind blowingly’ high level – a lunch exploring the single vineyard Cote Roties from Guigal; a mere 12 wines from 2002 back to 1968...
Etienne Guigal established his estate in 1946 in the small town of Ampuis in the heart of Cote Rotie – he had arrived in the area aged 14 in 1924 and through his life worked over 65 vintages in Cote Rotie. In 1961 Marcel Guigal, Etienne’s only son, was thrust to the head of the business when his father was suddenly stricken with total blindness. The wines of Guigal are known throughout the world, mainly thanks to the stunning value Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas and excellent Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it is the single vineyard Cote Roties that lifted the estate to the iconic status it holds today.
La Mouline, annual production 5,000 bottles - First produced in 1966, this is always the first vineyard to be harvested (vineyard photographed). The vines sit in a perfectly formed natural ‘Roman arena’, with almost perfect Southern exposure meaning that the grapes ripen several days earlier than La Turque or La Landonne. One amazing fact is that the vineyard can be harvested in less than 4 hours, highlighting the limited nature of the wine. 11% of the vineyard is planted to Viognier, the rest being Syrah. Fermentation is as delicate as possible with little or no pigeage; however gentle ‘pumping over’ of the juice over the cap results in La Mouline being known for its floral aromatics and delicate nature. It is often considered the most elegant and silky of the three wines.
La Landonne, annual production 10,000 bottles - While not technically a single vineyard, La Landonne is produced from a collection of small plots on an extremely steep slope located in the northern part of the appellation on the Cote Brune. Having a slightly south-eastern aspect to the vineyard means that it is harvested just after La Mouline. The fermentation methods of Landonne are aimed to maximise extraction with a closed tank system and automatic pigeage; this, added to the fact there is no Viognier in the vineyard and the strong iron content of the soil, makes La Landonne one of the most concentrated and powerful wines in the world.
La Turque, annual production 4,800 bottles – Often seen as the hybrid of the other two wines, it is the last vineyard to be harvested and is the youngest of the three. Located in another almost perfect location with a southern aspect and gentle slope, it is the highest yielding of the three vineyards. One of the reasons for the late harvest is the noticeable higher acid levels found in La Turque which means that the grapes require extra ripening to allow high sugar levels to balance out the acidity. Fermentation is similar to Landonnne with closed tanks and considerable pigeage.
And so to the wines tasted – and I will list the wines first and then highlight a few that ‘stopped time’ for a few seconds over lunch. A couple of key lesson learnt from the lunch: all these wines require decanting and secondly each wine required time in the glass to express itself fully. These are wines that take time and focus to really appreciate how stunningly good they are. Production has not and in theory cannot be changed at all – the vineyards are what they are and nothing is ever going to change that.
2002, 1999, 1990, 1985, 1968
1991, 1990, 1989, 1986, 1983
Comments from the La Mouline
2002 - Often seen as a shocking year in the Rhone, still the wine delights in the aromatics and balance – it is not a blockbuster, but the elegance and complexity still shine through. 91 points
1999 – The most tightly structured and closed of the Moulines, this took a good 2 hours to begin to sing. It is remarkably fine and delicate, perfectly balanced and so exotic in aromas you can just keep smelling and smiling. Blackberries and dark cherries, spice and pepper. 100 points
1990 – Meaty and earthy, again with spice and pepper and hints of leather and dried fruits – this is drinking to perfection and it would be so hard to open this if lying in my cellar. Perfectly balanced and great length, lacks the pure concentration of the 1999, but my lord this is good. 98 points
1985 – Still showing such youth given its age, this was one of the wines that really needed time in glass to come alive, and given that it has had 29 years in bottle I’m not surprised. The slightest hint of florals from the Viognier, but then complexity of flavours is simply brilliant; a very special wine indeed. 99 points
1968 – Almost as rare as it gets from Guigal – this is just the third vintage ever made from the Mouline vineyard. Yes it is old with fading depth of colour and yellowing hue, but the aroma is intoxicating: dried fruits, leather, spice, fungal and earthy... once again the change over time is dramatic and with a couple of hours in glass it breaths life once again. 96 points
Comments from La Landonne
1991 & 1990 – Worth comparing the two legendary vintages alongside each other. Both are without doubt massively concentrated and extracted wines, immensely rich and ripe, but still with graceful elegance and restraint. A balancing act to be admired for hours. The 1990 just takes the post – it is without doubt one of the greatest young wines I have ever tasted, sitting alongside 1989 Haut Brion and 1990 Chambertin from Rousseau as perfection in a vinous form. The 1991 is so close that these could be identical twins, but with one very, very, very slight difference... 1991 – 99 points, 1990 – 100 points
1989 – Across France this to me is a vintage that expresses itself with reserved and hidden power; be it Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone, the wines seem to be perfectly balanced, perfectly extracted and perfectly poised – but these are wines that need time and space to develop and shine. Dark and brooding, with classic dark fruits and black pepper – a sleeping giant perhaps. 97+ points
1986 – The lightest of the Landonne as expected, the 1986 was slightly lost in this company – but had it been served on its own – then all around the table would have been singing about the wine. Still showing Landonne power and weight with lovely dark berry fruits and spice, leather and tar, this is a delightful wine with grace and great length. 93 points
1983 – Wow – another wine that is drinking to perfection and hitting its absolute zenith... dried fruits, liquorice, tar, spice, pepper, leather and game – this is just delicious – I’m sure 1991 & 1990 will become greater wines, but for drinking today this is the daddy. 98 points
1991 – ‘Iron fist in a velvet glove’ – you can see instantly why La Turque is seen as the hybrid of Mouline and Landonne: stunning structure and power, dark fruits and pepper with floral and lifted undertones. I find this extremely sexy and intoxicating, but that is personal preference in style as opposed to intrinsic quality. Beautiful, beautiful wine. 99 points
1990 – There is something slightly off centre about La Turque – the loveable rogue of the three brothers. The 1990 is gamey and spicy, with beautifully pure fruit and dark berry flavours. It’s very rich with velvety tannins and beautifully balanced acidity. 97+ points
Let it be said that these wines are still undervalued on the world stage. Every single bottle of La La’s I have been lucky enough to taste, drink and enjoy has not disappointed and to be lucky enough to sit down over lunch and taste this range of wines is a truly once in a lifetime experience. I salute Etienne for establishing the estate and seeing the true potential of the vineyards and I applaud Marcel for continuing the journey and creating wines of such elegance and grace, poise and finesse yet with such power and weight. Undoubtedly these are iconic bottles and every wine lover should have some in the cellar.