Many wine tasting events say that there will be “wineries from around the world pouring.” Often, that translates into one or two importers offering samples from a few minor wineries.
Not so Hospice du Rhone. The French luminaries included Château de Beaucastel, Chateau Juvenal, Château Pesquié, Chene Bleu, Domaine la Barroche, Pierre Gaillard, and, the star of the show for me, E Guigal.
Some of these could support a well-attended wine event all on their own. For instance, I have tasting notes on nine wines from Guigal alone.
The Rhone Valley is divided into two regions, Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone. Syrah is the main red wine in Northern Rhone; whites from there feature mainly viognier and marsanne. Grenache is the star in Southern Rhone, highlighted in wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You will also see syrah and mourvedre from Southern Rhone.
I will talk about two wineries, Chateau Juvenal and E Guigal.
Two of Juvenal’s wines have the same name, Perseides, one a red and one a white. Juvenal is in Southern Rhone, so, as you would expect, the main red grape is grenache. A full-bodied but not heavy wine, it’s delicious, with bright, red fruit, especially cherries. The Perseides Blanc is 100% roussanne. While it doesn’t seem to have a long shelf life, it’s quite tasty right now, bright with notes of stone fruit.
Guigal is a powerhouse producer, with a glorious history of stellar wines. In fact, over the years, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has bestowed on 36 of its wines the perfect score of 100. Few wineries located anywhere in the world have achieved such notoriety. And, after tasting nine of their offerings, I can see that their claim to fame is well-deserved.
Go to Guigal’s website and you will see that they categorize their wines into three sections: Chateau de Nalys (a relatively recent acquisition in Southern Rhone); The Collection (notable wines from both Northern and Southern Rhone); and, The Treasures, highly collectible gems from Northern Rhone.
Patrick Will, the vice president of Vintus, the importer of Guigal to American shores, has worked with Guigal for more than 25 years. He poured four of “The Treasures” at HdR: 2016 and 2018 Ch. Ampuis; 2018 Vignes de l’Hospice; 2020 St. Joseph Lieu-Dit Blanc; and 2020 Condrieu La Doriane. He also opened at least six other wines, but let’s focus on these.
I always love it when a winery offers two different vintages of the same wine. That way you can see some of the potential (or lack thereof) in the younger bottles. Chateau d’Ampuis 2016 (being the elder by two years) had gained some balance and was a touch mellower than its junior sibling. It’s beautiful, with medium body and spicy, red raspberry notes. The 2018 was aged in all new French barrels, so it’s a bit in your face but that will recede with age. Forest floor aromas with dark fruit tastes, you can drink it now with some decanting, but patience will be paid off.
The 2018 Saint-Joseph Vignes de l’Hospice was smoky and thick fruit, dark berries, with pepper notes. Parker described it as “as one sexy bacon-scented beast,” but this does it a disservice. While intense and aromatically powerful, give it some time in your glass and it will evolve into a magical accompaniment to a medium-rare ribeye.
Then I had the distinct pleasure of sampling two amazing white wines. The 2020 St. Joseph Lieu-Dit Blanc and 2020 Condrieu La Doriane.
The Lieu-Dit, virtually all marsanne, has a body and a structure not often found in whites. Its bright nose is coupled with apricot and cotton candy grape flavors. How about some charcoal grilled chicken to go with this? Ah, yes.
The Condrieu comes from 40-year-old vines, aged only in new French oak, and is 100% viognier. This babe is a seducer. It’s like drinking a perfectly ripe cantaloupe mixed with sweet white peaches. While you could drink this with the typical white wine foods (salmon, foie gras, etc.), simply pop the cork and enjoy.
Don’t miss Hospice du Rhone next year.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.