The impact and influence of the Guigal family across the Rhône Valley, France, and all the world of fine wine is so immense, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that it’s all happened so quickly. In a country with such a rich and deep wine history, the Guigal family’s story is only in its third generation. The remarkable story begins with Etienne Guigal, a remarkably independent and both intellectually and physically capable man. He was the youngest child in his family, but as the most resilient he was sent off on his own at a very young age when his family could no longer afford to care for him. He came to Ampuis, half an hour south of the city of Lyon and the home of Cote-Rotie, to pick apricots. In the early 1930s his brother helped Etienne, still only 14 years of age, secure a job in the vineyards at the largest winery in the Rhône. Etienne started pruning in the vineyards and rose to cellar master over the course of 15 years, before eventually leaving just after the war in 1946 to start his own firm, E. Guigal. Etienne’s son Marcel became involved very early in the business when in 1961 he was forced to rush back from school because his father was suddenly struck with total blindness. Marcel has led the firm since, and his unparalleled work ethic and dedication to quality have lifted the Guigal wines to the pinnacle of the wine world, and the Guigal domaine to its status as the leading winery from the Rhône Valley. In the process Marcel brought attention to Côte-Rôtie and other appellations throughout the Rhône that were in danger of being lost in the annals of wine history, despite the region’s distinguished past of 2,500 years as a superior wine-producing area, and the cradle of wine civilization in France. The Guigal firm is extraordinary in a number of dimensions. Primary amongst them is that they will only purchase vineyards that are capable of producing truly great wines. Therefore despite their important production, they own only 150 acres, all in the Northern Rhône. They own overwhelmingly the finest collection of vineyards in Côte-Rôtie, the finest, carefully selected sites in both Condrieu and Saint Joseph, four exquisite parcels in Hermitage, and some of the finest vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage. These 150 acres are truly the finest collection of vineyards in the Northern Rhône, and serve as the source for their estate-bottled wines and the foundation for their Northern Rhône appellation wines. The more you learn about the Guigal family, the more astounding becomes their story. Their wines are the benchmarks for every Rhône appellation, and over the last thirty years they have become arguably the most lauded producer in the world. Year after year the Guigal family produces wines of exceptional quality that in all classes offer exceptional value.
JEB DUNNUCK - WINE ADVOCATE
Almost a mix of the 2010 and 2011, the 2012 Saint-Joseph Vignes de l’Hospice is rounded and supple, with gorgeous black raspberry, spiced meats, white pepper and scorched earth all emerging from the glass. Showing the purity and the freshness of the vintage, with a supple, layered texture and fine tannin, it should be reasonably approachable on release, yet not hit prime time until age 4 or 5. It should have 15 years or more of longevity. (Not yet released) One of the highlight tastings during my more than two weeks spent working in the Northern Rhone, this set of releases by the father/son pair, Marcel and Philippe Guigal, is about as stacked a lineup as you’ll find anywhere in the world. From their tiny production Cote Roties, to the massive production level Cotes du Rhone (red and white), the quality here is impeccable, as is the attention to detail at every step of the winemaking process. Looking at the vintages reviewed here, reds first, their 2009s are some of the most bombastic, decadent and thrilling wines out there. While they have the over the top richness that allows them to dish out plenty of pleasure even now, they need 4-5 years to integrate their oak and to fully flesh out. Count yourself lucky if you have a few of these hidden in the cellar. More classic in style across the board, the 2010s are more focused and straight, yet similarly concentrated, if not with additional density. They will take slightly longer to come around compared to the 2009s, and certainly offer a more textbook drinking experience. They, too, are at the top of the wine hierarchy. The 2011s show the vintage nicely with slightly more approachable profiles, sweet tannin and brilliant concentration, especially in the vintage. They still have another year in barrel to go, but will certainly be among the top wines of the vintage, have broad drink windows, and should come close to what was achieved in 2009 and 2010, albeit in a different style. Lastly, the 2012s should, in my mind, surpass the 2011s, as they have a smidge more overall density, as well as fabulous purity. Neither the 2011s nor 2012s have the density of the 2010s, nor the sheer wealth of material that’s found in the 2009s. Nevertheless, time will tell, and these wines won’t be bottled for some time yet. Looking at the whites, 2011 and 2012 are similar in quality. Both vintages have beautiful purity, good overall acidity and good concentration, i.e., lots to like. Whether or not we’ll see a 2012 Ermitage Ex-Voto Blanc (which was not produced in 2011) remains to be seen, but what I tasted was certainly promising, if not earth-shattering (as was the 2010!). Importer: Vintus Wines, Pleasantville, NY; tel. (914) 769-3000