Object Lesson in Excellence: E. Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie “Château d’Ampuis” 2019

The Guigal family, the elder Marcel and his wife Bernadette, and their son Philippe and his wife Eve, have always focused on site specificity in the great Northern Rhône appellation of Côte-Rôtie. It started in 1966 when they bottled wine separately from La Mouline, a 2.5-acre vineyard planted with both Syrah and Viognier, in an amphitheater on the Côte Blonde slope of the appellation.  A few years later, in 1978, they began bottling wine from La Landonne, a single 5.7-acre vineyard on the Côte Brune also planted to both Syrah and Viognier. Finally, in 1985, they began bottling La Turque, from another 2.5-acre vineyard, planted entirely to Syrah, on the Côte Brune.

In 1990, Guigal felt the wine from another single Côte Brune vineyard, Pommière, was distinctive enough to be bottled separately. This time, however, Guigal bottled it in magnum only and, curiously, without the vineyard name on the label.  Then in 1995, they decided there were six sites (a seventh was added in 2005), both on the Côte Blonde (La Clos, La Garde, and La Grande Plantée) Côte Brune (La Pommière, Le Pavillon Rouge, Le Moulin, and La Viria, the one added in 2005) that were sufficiently distinctive to produce a high-end representation of Côte Rôtie.  And thus, Château d’Ampuis was born.

The name of the wine comes from the 12th century château, a national historic monument that Guigal purchased in 1995, then painstakingly restored, and ultimately made the headquarters of this great House.  Château d’Ampuis is meant as a wine to lie—in stature, production and price—between Guigal’s classic Côte-Rôtie, dubbed Brune et Blonde de Guigal (200,000 bottles annually at about $90 a bottle), and the three single vineyard bottlings, collectively known as the LaLa’s (about 5,000 bottles each annually of La Mouline and La Turque and double that for La Landonne. Each cost about $500 a bottle upon release).

The youthful 2019 Château d’Ampuis is simply stunning. The influence of long aging in new oak (38 months) is still apparent at this stage, yet not overwhelming.  Based on my experience with older vintages of Château d’Ampuis as well as Guigal’s single vineyard bottlings, all of which receive similarly long oak-aging, the oak eventually marries seamlessly with the plethora of fruit, pepper, smoke, and other savory nuances found in these wines.  Elegance is lent to the wine by a touch (seven percent) of Viognier in the blend, with these grapes from the Côte Blonde being co-fermented with the meaty and powerful Syrah fruit.

Unevolved at this stage, the wonderful 2019 Château d’Ampuis needs at least a decade to fully unfurl and show its splendor. (95 pts., $135, imported by Vintus).

Posted by Michael Apstein at 9:09 PM