The Steep Terraces of Guigal's La Mouline

One of the reference point estates for top quality wines in the world today, the family-run Guigal operation was created in 1946 by Etienne Guigal. Today, Etienne's son, Marcel, and his son, Philippe, are firmly in control here, and are without a doubt producing some of the most singular, sought-after wines in the world. Due to the size of this tasting, I'll keep my comments short, but the incredible quality coming from this operation is astounding, and a tasting here is always one of the highlights of any trip through the region. Furthermore, while a lot is said about the extended oak aging regime here, I don't know anyone who tastes mature examples of these wines on a regular basis that still has any doubts about the genius going on here. In short, these single-vineyard (and their blends as well) Côte Rôties are some of the greatest wines money can buy. For this tasting (which, with the Guigals, is always a large one!), we focused on their Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice release, and then three of their Côte Rôties, starting with the classic Brune et Blonde, then the Château d'Ampuis, and finishing with their single-vineyard La Mouline.

The Lieu-Dit Vignes des Hospice in Saint Joseph

Looking first at their Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospices release, it comes from the incredibly steep (and picturesque) vineyard perched above the town of Tournon. The exposure here (which is critical for Saint Joseph as the more southern-facing the plot, the warmer the site) is mostly east-facing and the soils are pure granite (identical to the decomposed granite found in the Les Bessards lieu-dit on Hermitage Hills). Compared to the Saint Joseph lieu-dit, which has a slightly more southern exposure, harvest here is always 5-7 days later.

Still in barrel, the 2011 Guigal St Joseph Vignes des Hospices is a gorgeous Syrah that has layers of crème de cassis, blackberry, licorice, toast, pepper and caramelized meat on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied, with the forward, sexy feel of the vintage, it's a pleasure-bent Saint Joseph to drink over the coming 12-15 years. Giving up more graphite and spice, with serious minerality in its cassis, licorice, toast and smoked meat-like aromatics, the 2010 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is a serious, age-worthy effort that needs another handful of years to truly shine. Full-bodied, concentrated and structured, with sweet tannin, it's rock-star stuff that will have two decades of longevity. Checking in at 13.7% natural alcohol (it's normally in the 13.5 rage), the blockbuster 2009 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is more open, broad and expansive on the palate than the '10, yet possesses a similar level of concentration and structure. Giving up plenty of barbecued meat, toasted bread, smoke and black raspberry jam, this puppy is another gorgeous Syrah from this vineyard. It offers plenty of pleasure now, yet will be better in another handful of years and drink beautifully through 2029. The 2008 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is a great effort in the vintage, and is better than a number of more expensive cuvées. Giving up plenty of herbs, peppered steak, smoked earth, graphite and crunchy blackberry-styled fruit, it's medium-bodied, layered, and beautifully textured, with good ripeness and plenty of tannin. Drink it anytime over the coming decade.

Much more full-bodied and voluptuous, the 2007 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is about as sexy and seamless as Saint Joseph gets. Loaded with ripe black raspberry, flowers, licorice, incense and olive tapenade-like aromas and flavors, it hits the palate layers of fruit, big texture, and masses of sweet tannin. Count me a fan and while it's a joy to drink now, it will continue to evolve nicely through 2022. More classic in style, with a masculine, meaty profile of smoked Syrah fruit, truffle, chocolate, spice and licorice, the 2006 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is full-bodied, rounded and concentrated on the palate, with significant underlying structure. I love the purity here, and it's well worth seeking out. Reminiscent of the 2010, yet more detailed and focused, the 2005 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice boasts fabulous crème de cassis, blackberry, licorice, burning ember and smoke to go with a full-bodied, serious, backward, concentrated and thrillingly structured profile. The purity, balance and overall class here is off-the-charts. In need of another 2-3 years to start to round into form, it will see its 25th birthday in fine form. From a cool vintage that warmed significantly around harvest time, the 2004 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is starting to show some maturity in its cured meats, dried underbrush, toast and licorice-driven bouquet. Gaining more crème de cassis and sweet currant fruit with time in the glass, enjoy this medium-bodied, classically-styled effort over the coming 4-5 years. A wine I've been lucky enough to have multiple times in the past couple of months, the 2003 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is blockbuster stuff that's up there with some of the greatest Saint Josephs I've ever tasted. Smoked duck, plum sauce, spice-box, chocolate and charred earth are just some of the nuances here, and it doesn't lose a beat on the palate, with a full-bodied, decadent, layered and seamless personality. Certainly not classic in style, it's nevertheless an incredible Syrah that will start to hit prime time in another 2-3 years, and drink nicely through 2028.

I was happy to be able to taste the 2002 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice, as this vintage rarely gets poured. While a disaster in the south, the steep hillside slopes of the north were able to handle the massive amount of rainfall (which was less than in the south) with fewer hiccups. As another point of reference, 2002 was a superb vintage in Burgundy, and it is roughly the same distance from the Northern Rhône as from the Southern Rhône. Seeing the same 30 months in 100% new French oak (they had considered less time in oak for the vintage, but after tasting the wine, decided to keep it in barrel for the normal duration), it offers a mature, spice-filled personality, with cured meats, dried underbrush and olive-like aromas and flavors flowing nicely to a medium-bodied, supple, and enjoyable Syrah that's drinking at point. It's certainly not ground breaking, but is classy and enjoyable none the less.

From a solid vintage in the north (2001 is a much stronger vintage in the south), the 2001 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice offers classic blackberry and cassis-styled fruit to go with plenty of licorice, toast, herbed game and spice. The first vintage where the Guigal's were completely in control of this vineyard, it's is a structured, medium to full-bodied, balanced effort that's at the early stages of maturity, but will continue to drink nicely for another decade. Vinified by Jean-Louis Grippa, yet aged by Marcel and Philippe, the 2000 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is a medium-bodied, supple and mature wine that possesses plenty of currants, spice, scorched earth and toast. It's an outstanding wine, but should be consumed over the coming couple of years. Slightly more youthful, the 1999 Saint Joseph Vignes des Hospice is drinking beautifully. Underbrush, spiced meats, olive and bacon-like qualities are supported by a core of mature fruit, and it's medium-bodied, balanced and nicely textured on the palate. It too should be consumed over the coming couple of years.

The Brown Schist Soils of the Côte Brune

Moving north to Côte Rôtie, the Guigal's Brune et Blonde is their entry level release that comes from a mix of vineyards, most of which are estate. It drinks beautifully on release and has a solid 15-20 years of longevity in top vintages. Starting out, the 2010 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is a beauty that possesses a floral, fresh and perfumed personality. Giving up plenty of raspberry-styled fruit, toast, licorice and loads of rose petal and floral-like qualities, this medium-bodied, juicy, elegant and seamless Côte Rôtie can be consumed anytime over the coming decade. Possessing additional richness, the 2009 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde boasts rocking cassis, scorched earth and chocolate to go with more classic cured meats, mineral and violet-like nuances that emerge with time in the glass. Full-bodied, gorgeously pure, with a core of sweet fruit, it too will totally thrill over the coming decade or more. More red fruit-driven, with pretty white pepper, sappy underbrush, spice and toast, the 2008 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is rock-solid on the palate and has medium-bodied richness, bright acidity and a forward, approachable feel. I'd drink bottles over the coming 4-5 years, but it will evolve gracefully on its balance. Classic in style, the 2007 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde exhibits loads of garrigue, lavender, exotic pepper and potpourri-like aromas and flavors to go with a medium to full-bodied, balanced and nicely textured profile on the palate. I like it now as well, but it will continue to drink beautifully through 2022. Slightly reductive at first, the 2006 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is another classic example of this cuvée. Spice, toast, graphite, cured meats and sweet cherry and red berry fruit all give way to a rich, medium-bodied, nicely texture effort that still has notable tannin on the finish. I wouldn't test the tannin balance here with too much additional bottle age, but it should drink nicely for another 4-6 years with no problems. A meaty, masculine and structured effort, the 2005 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is a serious wine that still needs another 2-4 years or bottle age to hit full maturity. Tar, asphalt, crushed rock and gunpowder are just some of the nuances here, and it's medium to full-bodied, concentrated and tannic on the palate, with brilliant mid-palate density. It's impressive and will have two decades of overall longevity when all is said and done.

Much more evolved and mature, with plenty of underbrush, olive, cured meats and hints of leather in its core of sweet cherry fruit, the 2004 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is medium-bodied, seamless, supple and beautifully balanced. Classic Côte Rôtie, and certainly ready to go, it should be consumed over the coming 4 to 5 years. Much more ripe, textured and decadent, the 2003 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is loaded with notions of cassis, plum sauce, licorice and exotic, gamy qualities that flow nicely to a full-bodied, concentrated wine that has sweet tannin, excellent mid-palate depth and a terrific finish. Drinking at maturity, it should nevertheless continue to evolve gracefully through 2023. Easily the most evolved in the lineup, the 2002 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde possesses notions of underbrush, forest floor, spice and evolved fruit in its forward, juicy and yet nicely balanced package. Drink 'em if you have 'em. An outstanding wine that has a classic feel, the 2001 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is medium-bodied, clean and classy on the palate, with ample sweet cherry and currant-styled fruits, spice box, dried flowers and hints of bacon fat and olive. Showing the vintage nicely, with juicy acidity and a fresh, lively feel, it too should be consumed over the coming 3 to 5 years. More mature, the 2000 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde offers plenty of pepper, potpourri, dried flowers and spice that flow nicely to a medium-bodied, seamless and ready to go profile on the palate. Fully mature, it needs consuming over the coming couple of years. The 1999 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde is also fully mature and gives up mineral-laced aromas of blackberry, underbrush, green olive and spice. Medium-bodied, balanced, seamless and with an overall elegant, yet classical feel, it's an outstanding bottle of wine to drink over the coming handful of years.

Looking West Toward the Southern Portion of Côte Rôtie

Stepping up over the Brune et Blonde, the Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis is named after the Château d'Ampuis estate (which lies in the town of Ampuis, along the Rhône River, and was purchased by the Guigal's in 1995). It is a blend of their top estate vineyards. Coming from La Garde, Le Clos, Grande-Plantée, Pommiere, Pavillon, Le Moulin and La Viria, it spends close to four years in new French oak (handled just like the single-vineyard releases) and there are roughly 30,000 bottles produced in each vintage. While the single-vineyard releases get all the buzz, this is isn't far behind in quality, especially in recent vintages, and can represent an incredible value.

Starting with the 2010 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis, this is an off-the-hook effort that easily competes with the more expensive single-vineyard releases. Seamless, gorgeously pure and seriously concentrated and full-bodied, it's an insanely gorgeous Syrah offers layers of crème de cassis, vanilla bean, creamy licorice and smoked meat aromas and flavors. Still a baby, it needs to be forgotten for 4-5 years, at which point it should offer another two decades or more of longevity. Don't miss this beauty! More ripe, voluptuous and decadent, the 2009 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis offers rocking dark fruits, cured meats, dried flowers, licorice and toasty/graphite-like qualities to go with a full-bodied, pedal-to-the-metal style on the palate. Gaining more and more freshness as it sat in the glass, this prodigious effort can be consumed anytime over the coming 2-3 decades. Shining in the vintage, the 2008 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis (which incorporated grapes from only 5 of the normally used 7 vineyards) offers ample black pepper, cured meats, wood smoke and cassis to go with a medium to full-bodied, layered and finely textured profile on the palate. Possessing good concentration and tannin, it should be consumed over the coming decade. Showing the vintage's approachable, rich and sexy style, the 2007 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis gives up ripe black raspberry, cassis, toasted spice, dried violets and cured meats to go with a full-bodied, forward and downright hedonistic style on the palate. About as exuberant and indulgent as Côte Rôtie gets, it offers loads of pleasure now, but will evolve gracefully for another decade at least. Just as good, yet more classic in style, the 2006 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis offers up full-bodied richness and loads of texture to go with knockout aromas and flavors of crème de cassis, licorice, violets and assorted wild flower-like qualities. It has fabulous purity, solid mid-palate concentration and great acidity. Drink it anytime over the coming decade or more. More masculine, backwards and concentrated, the 2005 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis is a full-bodied, structured effort that's just barely starting to show some secondary nuances. Giving up notions of violet, asphalt, graphite, crushed rock, bacon fat and dried rose petal, it has impeccable balance, notable concentration and a big finish. It should hit prime time in another 2 to 3 years, and evolve gracefully through 2025. The first vintage to be bottled with the engraved bottle, the 2004 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis is a clean, classy, balanced and medium-bodied effort that gives up classic black fruits, pepper and smoke intermixed with notions of olive tapenade, underbrush and game. Beautifully complex, elegant and seamless, drink it over the coming 5 to 7 years. A wine I've been lucky enough to have numerous times recently, the 2003 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis is an off-the-hook effort that gives up plenty of plum sauce, smoked duck, licorice, tar, vanilla bean and violet aromas and flavors. Never acidified, it has awesome freshness and focus to go with full-bodied richness, a hedonistic texture and a blockbuster-styled finish. While it's not for those craving delicate-styled aromas and textures, I think it's a gorgeous effort that will continue to drink nicely over the coming decade or more. A wine to drink up over the coming couple of years, the 2002 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis offers notions of white pepper, mint, underbrush and mature Syrah fruit to go with a medium-bodied, supple and juicy feel on the palate. While there's not much backend depth or richness here, it has a classic Côte Rôtie feel, and is certainly a joy to drink. Nevertheless, it's on the downslope and needs consuming. The surprise of the tasting (and not in a good way), the 2001 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis has to be considered a disappointment in the vintage and is a wine that needs to be consumed ASAP. Tasted from two separate bottles, it offers slightly oxidized, evolved aromas and flavors of mulled blackberries, garrigue, licorice and toast as well as a medium to full-bodied, open-knit and completely mature feel on the palate. All I can say is I hope that these two bottles aren't representative, but without a doubt, if you have these, it's time to open a bottle and see where you stand. A big step up, yet also mature, the 2000 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis is a classic effort that gives up beautiful olive tapenade, cured meats and dried flowers to go with a core of raspberry-styled fruit. Medium-bodied, supple, textured and ready to go, plan on drinking bottles over the coming 4 to 5 years. Lastly, the 1999 Côte Rôtie Château d'Ampuis is a knockout bottle of wine that gives up gorgeously mature aromas and flavors of kirsch, blackberry, game, olive and spice in its medium-bodied, seamless and elegant profile. It's a rock-star effort that's drinking at full maturity.

Terraces in the Côte Blonde

We finished the tasting with a vertical of La Mouline. One of the three single-vineyard Côte Rôties produced, this cuvée comes all from the Côte Blonde lieu-dit, in the more western (close to the middle actually) side of appellation. Due to its exposure, this vineyard is always the first of the three single-vineyards to be harvest, and also contains some of the oldest vines on the estate. Fermented using pump-overs (as opposed to punch-downs for the La Torque and submersion cap on the La Landonne), it's cofermented with varying degrees of Viognier, which, in most vintages, ends up being about 10% of the blend. Like the Château d'Ampuis and the other two single-vineyard releases, it sees close to four years in 100% new French oak, of which every trace integrates after a few years in bottle. It's always the most approachable of the single-vineyard releases, and is ready to drink at an earlier stage. For example, the 1999 La Mouline is gloriously mature, while the 1989 La Torque is still an infant. Nevertheless, as the 1978 reviewed here attests to, it has no problem evolving for decades (although I don't recommend holding bottles that long). In short, this was a flight of Côte Rôties I'll not forget anytime soon!

Bottled earlier this year, the 2010 Côte Rôtie la Mouline is an incredible effort that gives up classic crème de cassis, spring flowers, licorice, coffee bean and spiced meat-like aromas and flavors to go with a full-bodied, sexy, seamless and blockbuster-styled profile on the palate. While more reserved and focused than the 2009, it nevertheless has incredible amounts of fruit and texture, thrilling purity and a finish that just won't quit. It will certainly rival the 2009, 2005, 2003 and 1999, and when all is said and done, the 1978. It will have 4 to 5 decades of longevity. Just as good, but made in a completely different style, the 2009 Côte Rôtie la Mouline (which incorporates a whopping 11% of Viognier) offers an insane bouquet of roasted meats, toast, spice, caramelized meats, coffee bean and deep, concentrated and layered blackberry and cassis-styled fruit. As with the 2010, it has off-the-chart richness, a stacked mid-palate and a gorgeous polish to its tannin. Give it another 3 to 4 years and drink it over the following 2-3 decades. Already up-front and easy-drinking, with a surprising lack of depth and concentration, the 2008 Côte Rôtie la Mouline gives up plenty of peppered game, underbrush, and sweet fruit to go with a medium-bodied, elegant and straightforward profile on the palate. While I think it will still be better in a couple of years, it's easily the weakest la Mouline in over a decade and will need drinking in its first 10-15 years of life. In contrast, a recent bottle of 2008 La Torque delivered noticeably more depth and concentration. A big step up, the 2007 Côte Rôtie la Mouline boasts serious richness and depth, with a still tight, focused and youthful profile that's begging for another couple of years in the cellar. Giving up plenty of smoked earth, toast, dried flowers, graphite, chocolate and hints of bacon fat, it's a masculine version of this cuvée that should start to open up in another 3-4 years, and drink beautifully through 2032. Slightly more rustic, with high, yet sweet, tannin, the 2006 Côte Rôtie la Mouline offers notions of toasted spice, licorice, dried flowers, rendered bacon fat and red currants to go with a full-bodied, nicely textured and concentrated feel on the palate. There's a lot of tannin here and I'm curious to see how this evolves over the coming decade. Nevertheless, at the very least, it will benefit from short-term cellaring and have a decade of longevity after that. Another ridiculous effort, the 2005 Côte Rôtie la Mouline doesn't pull any punches and is perfectly balanced, deeply concentrated and shockingly rich, with a seamless, elegant and silky character that's to die for. Giving up notions of smoked beef, iron, spring flowers and thrilling black raspberry and blackberry fruit, this classic La Mouline has nothing out of place, beautiful purity and precision, and incredible length. More in the style of the 2010, it can be consumed anytime over the coming 2-3 decades.

More open and evolved, yet still a textbook and perfumed example of the cuvée, the 2004 Côte Rôtie la Mouline possesses beautiful spice, potpourri, pepper and cured meats to go with plenty of red and black fruit, medium to full-bodied richness and an overall beautifully balanced feel. Drinking nicely now, it has another 10 to 15 years of evolution. A desert island wine (as is just about any top vintage of the cuvée) and a gorgeous showing, the 2003 Côte Rôtie la Mouline is drinking beautifully, yet is still young, loaded with fruit, and possesses over-the-top richness. Giving up notions of plum, liquid flowers, potpourri and smoked meats, this puppy is full-bodied, massive and layered on the palate, with a stacked mid-palate, thrilling amounts of texture, and a blockbuster-styled finish. There's nothing classic about it, but it's still as good as it gets. The 2002 Côte Rôtie la Mouline is an elegant, perfumed and complex effort that gives up good richness and depth to go with classic aromas and flavors of smoked meats, dried flowers, incense and mature Syrah fruit. Incorporating only 5% Viognier due to botrytis (and capitalized), it nevertheless saw the standard four years in barrel prior to bottling. While 2002 was one of the most difficult vintages in recent memory, the quality here is a testament to this estate, and it's a beautiful drink that should be consumed sooner rather than later. A textbook example of the cuvée that possesses a classy, focused, and tight profile, the 2001 Côte Rôtie La Mouline gives up plenty of vibrant berry fruits, pepper, herbed crusted game and bacon fat to go with a medium to full-bodied, juicy, fresh and pure profile on the palate. The amount of acid here gives me a slight pause, yet it has solid mid-palate depth, beautiful polished its tannin, and no shortage of length on the finish. Give it 2 to 3 years and drink it over the following decade or more. The 2000 Côte Rôtie la Mouline is an open, evolved and semi-mature example of this cuvée that has classic aromatics, full-bodied richness and no hard edges on the palate. Drinking beautifully now, with a ripe, open style, I'd plan on opening bottles over the coming decade, although I suspect it will last longer.

We finished the tasting with two perfect wines. The 1999 Côte Rôtie la Mouline is straight-up awesome on all accounts. Drinking beautifully, with explosive aromas and flavors of blackberry, smoked meats, pepper and exotic flowers, this puppy hits the palate with full-bodied richness, beautiful concentration and a seamless, sexy and oh, so fine texture that is the hallmark of this cuvée. This is another wine that will continue to evolve gracefully, yet I've been lucky enough to have it multiple times recently, and when a bottle is drinking this good, don't miss it by always waiting for another day. Lastly, the 1978 Côte Rôtie la Mouline possessed an otherworldly, full-bodied texture to go with a layered, rich and perfumed bouquet of forest floor, sweet blackcurrants, olive, underbrush and game. This puppy is at full maturity and then some (and I suspect has been there for some time), yet still offers an incredible, singular drinking experience that I wish every reader could experience.

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