John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Hoarding treasures from the Rhone valley

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From syrah to viognier, Guigal sure knows a thing or two about the winemaker's craft. Photo / Thinkstock
From syrah to viognier, Guigal sure knows a thing or two about the winemaker's craft. Photo / Thinkstock

Tucked away in a hard-to-find corner of my cellar is a handful of the wines from E. Guigal. The family-owned operation, although only established in 1946, boasts a significant international reputation thanks to meticulous winemaking and, in part, to being championed by American wine writer Robert Parker.

Guigal is probably the most famous of France's Northern Rhone producers and offers a range of white and red wines that are keenly sought-after - especially the revered and magnificent Cote Rotie, a red wine that often features as the desert island wine of many a connoisseur.

However, Guigal's whites should not be overlooked and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the world making a better condrieu (or viognier, as we know it).

In keeping with what the Rhone valley does best, the Guigal reds include grapes such as syrah, grenache and mourvedre. Syrah often features on its own and, as often happens in New Zealand, a small dash of viognier is added to ostensibly enhance the brightness of colour and flavour - a practice scorned by some purists.

In the Northern Rhone syrah dominates, with its full-bodied spicy pepper aromas and kirsch, blackcurrant and liquorice flavours, while in the Southern Rhone grenache takes centre stage, with its gutsy, alcoholic swagger and erratic swings between being coarse or majestic with lashings of ripe blackcurrant.

Mourvedre is the most eccentric, with truffle, undergrowth and leather flavours but it can bring a dash of mystery and intrigue when blended. In the hands of Guigal, these wines, whatever their makeup, become rich, dramatic and adventurous - although for some a little less oak would be welcome.

Regardless, they are much sought after wines that usually require robust food.

"We are involved in every aspect of viticulture and winemaking," says Christopher Cannan, marketing manager for Guigal in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We even produce our own barrels and all our wines are designed to represent their appellation."

The greatest accolade for these wines has come from the influential writer, Robert Parker: "There is no winemaker on Planet Earth who has produced so many compelling wines as Marcel Guigal."

Enough said.

Recommended

2009 Guigal Cotes du Rhone, $26
Good, robust, entry-level that never fails to deliver for price. A blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre with grenache dominating at around 52 per cent. Drinking well now but ages gracefully. Has savoury undertones.

2009 Guigal Gigondas Red, $59
Very expressive wine often referred to as the poor man's Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It is generous, powerful, racy and full-bodied. Grenache-dominant with soft tannins and superb with red meat, game and cheese.

- NZ Herald

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