Monday, August 25, 2008

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, 2003

In a message board discussion a few months ago, those of us who know and love Cotes du Rhone wines came to a general consensus that, in most vintages, the best CDRs for aging are probably those of Etienne Guigal. Guigal's vineyards are in Cote Rotie, the northern Rhone, so for Cotes du Rhone (as for Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape), he is a negotiant, buying grapes from someone who has a surplus. That's generally not a good approach; most growers are going to keep their best grapes for themselves.

Guigal's record with Cotes du Rhone speaks for itself, however, and goes back many years. The 1981, 1983 and 1985 Guigal Cotes du Rhone stand out in my memory. When I had a chance to pick up the 1983 for about $30/case in 1990 (when by all rights it should have been dead), I had no hesitation. And it was drinking so beautifully that I went back for case No. 2 and enjoyed every drop.

The 2003 vintage is a controversial one; the warmer than usual weather created many wines that were over-ripe. While they showed beautifully young, they may or may not have the acidity needed for aging. Guigal's wine is one of the few I have had confidence keeping, mainly because of his track record and reports I have heard from those I trust.

It's a medium deep crimson, very dark for a Cotes du Rhone. The nose is powerful with more Syrah than Grenache traits. This smells and tastes more like a Crozes Hermitage than a Cotes du Rhone--black fruits, shoe polish and only a hint of garrigue. It's ripe but not raisined, and it has a nice black cherry finish. It's also very different from the bottle I had a few months ago and, for me, not as enjoyable.

I was away the second night and what was left in the bottle on the third night was a bit disjointed and hot on the finish. The alcohol level is only 13.5%, but I suspect that the balance is a bit fragile. It's probably going through an awkward stage, but I'm going to drink up the few bottles I have left.

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