E. Guigal is one of the most famous producers of Rhône wines. Ray Isle recently sat down with winemaker Philippe Guigal to taste several vintages of the winery's acclaimed (and super-expensive) Château d'Ampuis Côte Rôtie, as well as some of Guigal's more affordable—and very impressive—other bottlings.

E. Guigal
Credit: Courtesy of E. Guigal

E. Guigal is one of the most famous names in Rhône wines. The company’s trio of top Côte Rôties (La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne, colloquially known as the La La’s) are some of the greatest wines in the world—and, unfortunately for non-millionaires, are priced as such.

Recently, I sat down with winemaker Philippe Guigal to taste through several vintages of the estate’s Château d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie. While not exactly inexpensive—the current vintage, 2011, runs $180—the wine is still a third of the price of the La La’s, so what the heck. Call it a bargain. (See below for some of Guigal’s more affordable wines, too.)

Château d’Ampuis was a building before it was a wine, an ancient fort initially erected in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 1500s. The wine comes from seven different parcels on the Côte Rôtie hill; only about 2,000 cases are made each year. “With Ampuis, we’re looking at seven jewels," said Philippe. "Those seven components are always vinified separately.” Typically, the wine is about 93 percent Syrah and about 7 percent Viognier.

The 2011 E. Guigal Château d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie ($180) has aromas of blueberries, mocha, roast meat and wet ink; it’s a very spicy, savory, peppery wine. “It’s a vintage I love,” Philippe said. “It’s a year where you taste the terroir.”

Regarding the 2009 and 2010 vintages in Côte Rôtie, Philippe noted, “The collectors concentrate on this vintage; it has such quality, purity and nobility of structure. Regular consumers lean more towards 2009—hedonistic is a good word for it. It’s a more forward year.”

For me, the 2010 Château d’Ampuis was more overtly oaky at the moment than 2011, with a light licorice note; it had terrific density, with intense dark berry flavors and an iron-like note; the 2009 Château d’Ampuis was more ripe blackberry in character, rounder and more voluptuous. Both are spectacular.

We also tasted the 2008, a cooler year, which showed plenty of white pepper and bacony notes, a savory and more delicate wine (“It’s a vintage that’s Burgundian in nature,” Philippe said. “I’m very proud of it, though I got a lot of gray hair that vintage.”) Finally, we tasted the 2006, which was just beginning to show some age. Mocha and game notes on the nose, savory, powerful flavors on the palate—a very impressive wine. Philippe said, “It’s a very harmonious year. For someone who’s never tasted Côte Rôtie, it’s the perfect vintage.”

Of course, not everyone is going to rush out and buy $180 bottles, so with that in mind, here are some notes on five of Guigal’s other wines:

2013 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc ($19)

Spicy pear flavors form the spine of this full-bodied white, though the peachy aroma of Viognier (which forms 65 percent of the blend) really comes out on the nose.

2013 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage Blanc ($30)

Crozes-Hermitage (basically the area surrounding the famed Hermitage appellation) can be a hit or miss proposition, but the best producers—Guigal is among them—produce wines that seriously overperform for their price. This melony white, with its savory chalk and earth notes, is a case in point.

2010 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge ($19)

The spectacular 2010 vintage has made this always-reliable red an even better than usual value. Essentially equal parts Grenache and Syrah, it offers rich black cherry fruit and a chewy, peppery finish, with much more complexity than most under-$20 wines offer.

2011 E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage Rouge ($29)

The cool 2011 vintage comes across in white pepper aromatics and a streamlined, tangy character in this 100 percent Syrah bottling. It seems restrained at first, but with decanting (or a few years in the cellar) it will blossom.

2010 E. Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde ($85)

The most affordable of Guigal’s Côte Rôties (there are no inexpensive Côte Rôties), Brune et Blonde gets its name because it draws on the two main soil types of the appellation—the lighter, sandier soils of the Côte Blonde, and the more iron- and manganese-rich soils of the Côte Brune. Regardless, it’s almost always impressive, and in 2010 it’s particularly concentrated and ageworthy.