1998 E. Guigal – Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote Rotie, Northern Rhone, France.
I first tasted this Chateau d’Ampuis 1998 on its release, so it was interesting to see where it was now, after about 20 years since I last tried it and to my surprise it was drinking beautiful and more weightless and Pinot Noir or Burgundy like in textural quality, though purely Syrah in the profile with a subtle bacon/meaty character behind the layers or mature fruits and wood framing. The palate feels medium bodied in this garnet colored Cote Rotie showing red berry, plum, currant and fig fruits along with coffee grounds, earthy tertiary notes, pipe tobacco, cedar, dried lavender, tea and black licorice. I really enjoyed sitting with this wine as it kept fighting for life in the glass and watching it rally back from what I though was its last legs and the bouquet did the same going from fallen leaves and beef notes to pretty florals, with whiffs of wilted roses and delicate strawberries. This turned out to be a much more fascinating bottle than I had expected, even though I knew it would be interesting and complex and as I get older I have really come to enjoy very old Rhone wines. The Chateau d’Ampuis showcases seven single parcels, including Le Clos “Côte Blonde”, La Garde “Côte Blonde”, La Grande Plantée “Côte Blonde”, La Pommière “Côte Brune”, Le Pavillon Rouge “Côte Brune”, Le Moulin “Côte Brune” and La Viria “Côte Brune”, with the average age here being 50 years old, with usually a final blend of Syrah 93% and Viognier 7%. When young these wines are lush and concentrated with luxurious mouth feel and hedonistic fruit density, almost like dry Port, much more ripe in style that old school wines like Domaine Jamet, which are more rustic, feral and earthy in style, with both these domaines pushing the envelope in opposite directions.
Guigal makes modern ripe, opulent and luxurious wines, with their Chateau d’Ampuis Cote Rotie seeing a full 38 months in new wood, which delivers lots of texture, richness of fruit and sweet toasty notes. Dujac, since 1986, has had a viticultural regime that combines holistic practices from organic to full biodynamics in order to grow the absolutely best grapes as possible and to show off each sites terroir influence. The famous Guigal domaine, that zoomed to world attention under the legendary Marcel Guigal in the early sixties, was originally founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal, marcel’s father, in Ampuis, the small historic village that is the heart of the Cote Rotie region. Today Marcel’s son Philippe runs the winemaking at this estate that has become one of the biggest family run wineries in the Rhone, joining Chapoutier and Jaboulet, who all make entry level wines all the way to some of the most coveted wines in the world, like Guigal’s La La’s, La Moulin, La Torque and my favorite La Landone, which are Cote Roties that thrill collectors almost as much as DRC. In 1995 the Guigal family acquired the historic Château d’Ampuis and this1998 was one of first under their direction to make its way to the States and it has become an important part of their star studded collection. The Chateau d’Ampuis includes Syrah vines, set on steep granite slopes, plus a tiny amount of Viognier, in both the Côte Brune and the Côte Blonde and marries their terroirs to produce an exceptional wine of powerful and opulence. To make this wine, Guigal employs a closed stainless steel tank fermentation with a temperature controlled primary fermentation with a four week maceration before being pressed to toasty new oak where it ages more than three years. Guigal, like Gaja in Barbaresco, and Louis Latour in Burgundy, do their own cooperage and their barrels are made exclusively for their own wines to enhance their distinctive character. I recommend more current vintages, especially years like 2005 and 2016, of Guigal’s Cote Roties, and having with lamb and or other meaty dishes.
($146 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive