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Oct 8, 2000 04:25 PM

Southern Rhone Wines (was Pinot Noir)

  • m

"I had a Guigal Gigondas that took three years to smooth out,then
it was great. I also had Vacqueyras from Domaine Amouriers which
was good but would have been better if I waited. The 98 Amouriers
is supposed to be tops."

Guigal has made some great Gigondas - but I don't think the 90 will ever smooth out!

The 98 Les Pallieres Gigondas is really lovely - the first vintage completely under the control of hte new owners, the Brunier Family of Vieux Telegraphe and Kermit Lynch. I've tried it three times from pre-release to it's arrival in the states last month. Plump and silky in the mouth, spicy nose that reminds me of fruit cake.

I also like Cayron Gigondas. This is a very traditional producer - need to lay these down for 10+ years.

I have not had a wine from Amouriers, don't think I've ever seen one on the shelf here. Reputation as one of the best in Vacqueyras, and should do a good job in 1998 unless some major fluke happened.

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  1. This may not be the place to express this, but--I hate Guigal wines. I mean, like everybody else, I started out on them (in the mid-'80s, my local liquor store for some reason needed to get rid of a case of the '78 Cote Rotie), but have since realized that the animal aromas I found so intriguing were really just the result of a bad bret infection, and the wood is usually just overwhelming.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Pepper
      Melanie Wong

      Fire away, Pep!

      The wood is overwhelming in the single vineyard Cote Roties. Not every vintage, actually few years, have the stuffing to handle all that new oak. Syrah, like Zinfandel, has a much more delicate constitution for absorbing wood treatment than one would think from its body and intensity of flavor. At Ma Cuisine in Beaune in March we ordered the 1994 Guigal "La Mouline" Cote Rotie from the list. It was very flashy for the first 15 mins but soon deteriorated to new oak syrup and acid water. Wow - I've rarely seen a wine fall apart so quickly.

      In my book, there's "good brett" and "bad brett" (brettanomyces or dekkera is a type of spoilage yeast). I mean, Bordeaux wouldn't taste like Bordeaux without a touch of brett. It's actually a winemaking challenge to get just the right brett strain to bloom just the right amount to give the desired touch of complexity. I've had the "privilege" to taste wines dosed with different strains, and some are just downright nasty with no redeeming flavor value, whereas others can be interesting adding a leathery, animale or gamey note but not bitterness or merde.

      The Syrah and Mourvedre Rhone grape varieties have a tendency toward reduction and are often pretty stinky when first uncorked. It can take an hour or more for a wine to aerate sufficiently and seem to clean up. This is often mistaken for excessive brett.

      Besides the single vineyard Cote Roties, I like Guigal wines quite a bit. Maybe you need to step down from the fancy stuff and drink with the rest of us. (g) The negociant wines from purchased fruit are the most consistent quality in the Rhone, and offer tremendous value. The 95 Cote Rotie for under $30 is a steal, likewise the 98 Cotes du Rhone for $9 which in some vintages is better than other producers Chateauneuf du Pape. At those prices Marcel can't afford to tart them up with new barriques.

      I have not visited the Rhone nor met Marcel Guigal. But I have a story about him. One of my wine pals (who works at UC Davis but isn't in the wine dept.) was getting ready for a first visit to France and various wine regions, in fact his very first trip abroad. George had faxed various properties to make appointments in advance. He rec'd a phone call at his office from someone claiming to be Marcel Guigal apologizing that he would not be able to meet him personally. At first he thought this has got to be one of his friends faking a French accent to play a trick on him, but no, Marcel had all the details of the request down. He told George that he had to be in Paris those days because he was getting an award. Unfortunately, George's only free days were when Marcel would be receiving his country's highest honor for service to France and promotion of French culture. While Guigal may certainly have assumed that my friend was part of the wine industry, it still is amazing that he would take the time to personally call a wine tourist in the States to express his regret for not being able to meet him. I think he had a good excuse!

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Guigal's basic Cotes du Rhone isn't a terrible value. But there are so many glorious, handmade wines from the region--Chave Hermitage, St. Joseph from Trollat and Verset, Cornas from Clape and Juge, Condrieu from Cuilleron, Cote Rotie from Gentaz, just to name an obvious few--that it seems a waste to sacrifice valuable drinkin' time on Guigal's industrial goop.

        1. re: Pepper

          Shhhhh . . . stop talking about Chave Hermitage . . . there's not enough to go around as it is and I'm very upset that the price for current vintages has skyrocketed above $150 retail!

          That is indeed a list of glorious Northern Rhone wines, but I wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination say that there are "so many" either in labels or quantity of worthy wines. The hill of Hermitage has only 132 hectares of vines, whereas Ch.. Lafite’s estate, the largest of the Bordeaux first growths, has 92 hectares of vineyards by itself. That small piece of ground can’t churn out that much Hermitage juice.

          Gerard and Jean-Louis Chave’s cave is the only top quality estate producer in Hermitage, the rest is controlled by negociants for the most part. I’ve never tasted La Greal from Marc Sorrel, although I’ve heard it’s inconsistent The 87 Chave rouge (served with a grilled pork loin rubbed with provençal herbs) at friends’ home on Saturday night made a fine showing. A voice called up to me from the cellar – "Melanie, what’s wrong with 87? Why do we have so much of it?" So I wanted to try it and can say that Chave did a remarkable job in a below average year, one that doesn’t get talked about, leaner but still as complex as a great vintage.

          I do love Cornas, especially the old style rustic ones like Clape who don’t try to be pretty boy, Cote Rotie wannabes. Verset is semi-retired, his finest vines have been sold to Thierry Allemand (who is making incredible wines), and his own Cornas suffers as a result. Strangely though, he did a better job in 1996, a troubled vintage, than most. I’ve had the chance to try more than a dozen older Cornas in the last few months and discovered Guy de Barjac’s wines which had aged the most gracefully and were my top picks.

          Cuilleron is in a class of his own, much better than Ch. Grillet. But at $70 retail a pop, how often can one indulge? I had the 98 Guigal "La Doriane" Condrieu in a blind tasting two weeks ago – fantastic fruit, but ruined by Marcel’s love affair with new oak for his top bottlings.

          Gentaz Cote Rotie will continue to be the standard for combining power and finesse. The outstanding aromatics and complexity of the 1979 in the last year blew away many old grand cru Burgundies and famous Barolos at the dinner table. But is Marius Gentaz still alive? If he is, he’s gotta be at least 80. He has leased out his vines to his nephew Rene Rostaing (I like his wines too) and kept less than an acre for himself. If he’s still making wine, there’s not much of it available either for the likes of me to get my hands on. Rene makes the "La Bonnette" Condrieu formerly sold under the Gentaz-Derveaux label.

          I hear what you’re saying about not wasting your time (or liver enzymes) on plonk. Yet, I would also note that with the exception of the St. Joseph from Trollat (I like the white better than the red), the wines you’ve noted are all north of $45 retail, which means many are over $100 on a restaurant wine list if they’re available at all. That doesn’t put them in the range of affordability for daily meals, much as we can’t afford nor want to eat at Michelin stars every day.

          I applaud Marcel Guigal for his ability to make boatloads of delicious Cotes du Rhone at a rock bottom $9 price point, year in and year out. That’s a much harder task than preening and primping two barrels destined to sell for $200/bottle, although no one gives him any glory for this. Reduced yields and a high proportion of noble Syrah and Mourvedre give his entry level wine more character than many producers’ Gigondas or Chateauneuf du Pape.

          Hardly industrial goop, for Cote Rotie Guigal buys in grapes, not juice or bulk wine. The basic Cote Brune/Cote Blonde bottling can beat out much of Cote Rotie in good vintages and does even better in off years. There are less than a dozen Cote Rotie producers who have as good a track record. When the price differential of 20 to 40% is taken into account, the accomplishment is even more phenomenal.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I suppose I developed my taste for Rhones at Kermit Lynch in the '80s, and it is true: prices have risen to soul-withering heights. I'm not that old--I swear!--but I did buy cases and cases of Trollat at something like $8.95 a bottle, Chave for less than $30, Clape for maybe $13. All that changed when Parker's Rhone book came out coincident with the great 1989 vintage (as you say, the amount of great wine is finite, and even a few thousand more people chasing the wine causes prices to rocket), although I still think the price-quality thing is there, especially compared to Bordeaux or California Cab.

            I've been drinking a lot of wines from Languedoc, Corbieres and lesser Rhone appellations like Rasteau at the $10-$15 price point (also, of course, Italy), although the quality isn't always the same--those Rhones are among the best wines in the world. But it's still small-production stuff that bears the mark of a specific place and a specific hand.

            1. re: Pepper

              You could tell that my "geezer alert" antennae were starting to twitch?!?!? E.g., the wavery voices that say "that's nice wine, dear girl, but it doesn't compare to the 29 Latour".

              The wines from the Northern Rhone are indeed among the best wines in the world, and still represent value compared to their brethren in Bordeaux and Burgundy who are vying for most expensive price point. The scary thing talking to local retailers is they say they haven't found any wine yet that's too expensive for them to move.

              The wine that gave came in #2 during my week in Burgundy (when I was sampling 60 to 100+ wines a day) was the 96 Chave we had with dinner in Beaune. The wine merchants dining with me were hesitant to order it, off-vintage, young, etc., but I insisted and said I would pay for the whole bottle if they didn't like it. We ended up ordering a second bottle it was so good!

              My favorite wines are almost all from Kermit's stable too. Explains my fondness and high tolerance for bretty wines. (g) Among his Languedocs I like La Roque "Cupa Numismae" and anything from Fadat's d'Auphilac. The VdPd'Oc from Mas Champart made from the disallowed Cabernet Franc and a bit of Syrah is joyously delicious for under $10. Gilbert Alquier's Faugeres are very fine and age gracefully.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I'm surprised about the drinkability of the 96 Chave Hermitage. I ordered the 89 last Spring at Ducasse in Paris and they tried to discourage me because it wasn't ready. I insisted and must admit that they were right. My 90 La Chapelle I tasted last year and decided that it needed a minimum of 5 more years. The 78 La Chapelle that I also drank last Spring still tasted quite young, but it had entered a mature phase. As for Guigal, I must say that I consider his single vintage Cote Rotie's among the world's great wines despite some individual's views of new oak. I ordered a 90 La Muline at the Feniere in Lourmarin in Provence (a wonderful restaurant with a great wine list and prices) and the owner came over to meet us. His memorable comment was that "Guigal is a god".

                1. re: jason

                  I was very surprised at the approachability of the 96 Chave the first time I had it too. That was about two years ago at friends' house, and when I saw the bottle on the table my first thought was - what a waste. But it was awesome and enjoyable as a baby, although the best is yet to come. If I had not had this experience I wouldn't have been so insistent on ordering it in Beaune.

                  89 and 90 are far greater vintages than 96 in general. I did try the 89 La Chapelle about a year ago and it was surprisingly unmoved and youthful as you say. Thanks for the heads up on the 90 La Chapelle, I have only one bottle that I picked up as a bin end. Fwiw, I recently tasted the 96 La Chapelle from magnum, and it has not nearly the material that Chave produced in the same vintage. It was also surprisingly developed and showing some tertiary complexity, wouldn't expect it to make old bones.

                  That bottle of Guigal 90 La Mouline sounds wonderful, and a great experience at the restaurant too. In the big years, I think the fruit can soak up the wood, but I question so much new wood for lighter years.