Guigal Château d’Ampuis 1995-2009 – vertical tasting of 15 vintages

Château d'Ampuis 20131026 flaskrad 2One week ago I arranged a tasting that I have been considering for quite some time, a vertical tasting of Guigal‘s Château d’Ampuis. This means that we’re in Côte-Rôtie in the northernmost part of Northern Rhône, close to the town of Ampuis, which means that we’re talking about Syrah-based red wines, often with a small proportion of the white wine grape Viognier. What was somewhat special about this vertical was that we tasted all vintages of the wine, from the premier vintage 1995 to the most recent release, 2009, for a total of 15 vintages.

Guigal produces five different wines from Côte-Rôtie, which is their home appellation. Their wine at the “basic level” is called Brune et Blonde, and with an average annual production of slightly more than 200 000 bottles, this is by far the Côte-Rôtie produced in the largest quantity (but still not that much compared to the around 3.5 million bottles of Côtes du Rhône Rouge produced by Guigal). To a large extent this wine is produced by grapes purchased from across the appellation. The name comes from Côte Brune and Côte Blonde, two major parts of the Côte-Rôtie slope above Ampuis, which each consists of a number of named vineyards. I.e., a wine can be a Côte Blonde or Cote Brune wine and still have a specific vineyard name. At the summit of the Guigal range we find the three well-known and expensive “LaLa wines” La Mouline from Côte Blonde (1966 was the first vintage), La Turque from Côte Brune (from the 1985 vintage), and La Landonne (from the 1978 vintage), here ordered from the most velvety to the toughest. In price and quality, Château d’Ampuis is located between the basic wine and the three LaLas, so we could perhaps dub it Guigal’s semi-prestige Côte-Rôtie. Together with the LaLas it is however included in the prestige range of Guigal, “Les Trésors”, where the different wines carry individual labels, while Brune et Blonde is included in the basic range “Les Classiques” where all wines have similar labels.

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Photo by Stina.

Château d’Ampuis is produced by grapes from seven of their own vineyards, Le Clos, La Garde, and La Grande Plantée in Côte Blonde, as well as La Pommière, Le Pavillon Rouge, Le Moulin (not to be confused with La Mouline!), and La Viria in Côte Brune. This means that Château d’Ampuis also is a “Brune et Blonde wine”. This wine was added to the Guigal range from the 1995 vintage, at which time the three LaLa wines had been in existence for a number of years. I assume that with a high demand for the top wines and an increased price difference between the basic Brune et Blonde and the LaLas, it seemed reasonable (and made economic sense) to use the second-best vineyards to produce a wine of higher quality than Brune et Blonde (and sell it at a higher price), rather than to blend these grapes into the Brune et Blonde, where various purchased grapes are also used. The wine’s name has been taken from the building in Ampuis where Guigal is located. Until the 2004 vintage, the wine consisted of six vineyards, and from the 2005 vintage La Viria was also added. There has been rumours that La Viria eventually may become Guigal’s fourth LaLa wine, but for now it is included in the blend that makes up Château d’Ampuis. The production has varied between 20 000 and 37 000 bottles the last six vintages (2004-2009) for an average of just under 30 000 bottles.

Most of Guigal’s wines are characterised by long time in oak and a substantial proportion of new oak barrels being used, 38 months on new oak in the case of Château d’Ampuis, and of the grapes being harvested late. The proportion of Viognier in Château d’Ampuis is given as 5% until the 2004 vintage and as 7% from the 2005 vintage (of a maximum allowed 20%), which is slightly more than for Brune et Blonde (4%), the same as for La Turque (7%) and slightly less than for La Mouline (11%). All Viognier used for Château d’Ampuis is grown in the Côte Blonde vineyards.

As to the style of the wines, I must quote the brick-sized tome The Wines of the Northern Rhône (2005) by John Livingstone-Learmonth, where he summarised Guigal’s five Côte-Rôtie wines with the words “none of these is typical Côte-Rôtie – they are Guigal Côte-Rôties”. On the other hand, Guigal is by far the largest producer in Côte-Rôtie, so in a way the wines of Guigal are in a way representative of Côte-Rôtie, even if the wines of other producers show more obvious “Côte-Rôtie signs” that would make them in one way more typical. The Guigal wines often have sweet fruit, but not that much of green or herbaceous notes, they pack concentration on the palate and come across as less tart or acid-dominated than many other wines. The do have plenty of tannins, but they are often well embedded in the fruit. The spice notes are definitely there – we are after all talking about Northern Rhône Syrah – but the wines aren’t quite as peppery as some of the rest. Similar to most other Côte-Rôties, the wines are flowery and aromatic, but this character originates both from the Syrah grapes and from the generous use of oak. Considering how Guigal has been able to expand their production, and the high scores given to their wines, their style has been quite popular.

The 15 vintages plus three reference wines were tasted in three flights of six wines each. I served the wines semi-blind within the respective flight, i.e., the participants were told which wines that were included in each flight, but not the order they were served in. We also voted for best and worst in each flight. About half the wines had been purchased when new and cellared under good conditions since then, while half were auction purchases. Judged from the outside, all bottles looked like they were in perfect condition with respect to fill level and the appearance of the wine.

Château d'Ampuis 20131026 flight 1

Flight 1

Here I included the three oldest vintages, and the three vintages from the 2000s that were expected to be slightly weaker than the rest judging from vintage charts and other scores.

2008 Château d’Ampuis
In this vintage, the production was lower than average (20 000 bottles), but I haven’t been able to figure out if this was due to more strict grape selection or if some of the seven vineyards were excluded from the blend.

Medium red colour. Nose of blackberries, noticeably flowery with violets, some mint, spice with pepper, clearly elegant. After a while some oak notes emerge. The palate shows blackberries, blueberries, tart berry notes, good concentration, pepper, mineral, medium(+) tannins, and an aftertaste with tart berries. A medium-powered style with fine elegance and balance. Young, but drinks well now, 91 p.

1 best and 1 worst vote.

Considering that the 2008 Northern Rhône vintage is supposed to be fairly medoiocre (and definitely the worst in the period 2003-2011), this wine is quite marvelous!

2002 Château d’Ampuis
Only four out of six vintages were used for this vintage; the grapes from La Grande Plantée and Le Moulin instead ended up in Brune et Blonde.

Medium red with slightly faded edge. Nose with blackberries, ripe strawberries, some developed notes with some leather, spice and pepper, slightly flowery. A rather elegant nose that actually gives me some Pinot Noir vibes. Palate with ripe strawberries, some dark berries, a berry-dominated and medium(+) concentrated impression, noticeably spicy with pepper, medium(+) tannins and slightly tough aftertaste. Rather fully developed, rather good balance but not as impressive as many other vintages; the tannins also come through a bit much, 89 p.

1 best and 4 worst votes.

For a vintage that was plagued by rain at harvest time (although Southern Rhône fared worse), this is a good wine, but most other Ampuis vintages are clearly better. Intresting enough, I don’t find any green notes in it, which is something I would have expected from a vintage of this character.

2000 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red colour with faded edge. Nose with red berries, spice, some leather and animal notes, noticeably developed and shows an almost metallic note (metal filings) which doesn’t make it that impressive. Palate with red berries, blackberries, good fruity note, medium(+) concentration, tart/acidic impression, clearly spicy with pepper, medium+ tannins that make themselves felt rather much. Fully developed and with a bit of a hot vintage character. Improved in the glass but not quite balanced, and it could have had a little more fruit (to balance the tannins) and elegance, 89 p.

0 best and 1 worst votes.

1997 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red with some brown in the core, brick edge. Nose with dark and red berries, spice, quite a bit of barnyard aromas and leather, strong developed notes. Palate with dark berries, medium(+) concentration, slightly sweet fruit, spice and pepper, good acidity, medium tannins that have softened; tart/acidic and slightly hard aftertaste. Fully developed and wonderful maturity, but based on this bottle I would advice against cellaring this wine for much longer, 91 p.

1 best and 1 worst vote.

1997 is a good Rhône vintage that produced wines of rather sweet fruit character, which to some extent is reflected in the style of this wine. Some early scores indicated that 1997 was even better than 1995, but based on our pair of bottles I can’t say I agree with that.

1996 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red with some brown in the core, brick edge. Nose of dark berries, green notes, stable or barn aromas with used straw in need of changing, somewhat agressive notes, but also clearly developed. Palate with dark berries, medium concentration, rather mild spices, medium tannins, tart/acidic aftertaste. The palate shows some tendency of having tired, but still shows better balance than the nose. Lean and classical but with a nose that I find disturbing; fully developed and has probably started to go downhill, 87 p.

7 best and 5 worst votes, including my worst vote.

Without any doubt the most controversial wine of the tasting, 12 out of 13 participants voted for this wine as either the best or the worst of the flight! Those who liked it seemed to think that it showed wonderful development, while those of us who were less impressed with some rather aggressive notes that didn’t limit themselves to the type of green notes that can be found in many Côte-Rôties (although less often in the wines of Guigal). Those type of “regular” green notes were for example amply present in the Jamet wine in the next flight, and there they didn’t disturb me.

1995 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red with some brick edge. Nose with dark berries, spice, coffee, strong notes of leather and barnyard, rather strongly developed notes. Palate with dark berries, some sweetness of fruit, good concentration, fine mineral notes, noticeable spice notes with pepper, medium(+) tannins, long aftertaste with berries and tannin. Very fine balance and almost majestic in style! Rather fully developed, but should be able to take considerable additional cellaring. 93 p

3 best votes, including mine, and 1 worst vote.

Slightly more powerful and young in the nose than the 1997, and better balance on the palate. I tasted this wine a little more than a year ago (when some preferred a 2004 Brune et Blonde in the glass next to it, I gave this wine 91 p at that time) and this bottle is clearly better, and more in line with how I expect a mature top Ampuis vintage to be.

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Flight 1 in front and flight 2 behind. Photo by Stina.

Flight 2

Here I included some of the best mature vintages, and a comparison between three 2007s, including a La Mouline. Many sighs were heard when we were supposed to vote for “worst wine” in this flight, because many of the participants didn’t want to label any of the wines in this flight as “bad”.

1998 Château d’Ampuis

The first bottle: corked. However, the defect wasn’t noticeable when I first opened it, but only after it had been poured after having first spent over an hour in the decanter. Luckily, I had a backup bottle that was opened instead.

The second bottle: medium red colour, paler edge. Nose of dark berries, spice and pepper, slightly herbaceous, developed notes with some leather and barnyard; a powerful nose. The nose shows rather clear development but also quite a bit of youthful notes. Palate with blackberries, good concentration, noticeable acidity, pepper, medium tannins, aftertaste with tart berries. Fine balance, rather development, can take more time in cellar. 92 p.

1 best and 1 worst votes.

Since this wine (due to the reserve bottle being opened after the other bottles) was given shorter time in its decanter, the overall votes can have been a bit ungenerous. My score reflects my impression of this wine over a longer time in the glass, though.

1999 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red, rather compact colour, slightly faded edge. Nose with dark berries, spice and pepper, violets, animal notes, slightly herbaceous, mint and mineral, slightly developed notes with barnyard aromas and leather; elegant. Palate with cherries, blackberries, good concentration, some mint, mineral, medium(+) tannins, aftertaste with berries and acidity/tart notes. Fine balance, starting to mature, should be allowed more time in the cellar, 93+ p.

4 best votes.

Less developed than the 1998, slightly lighter and more herbaceous nose, but more elegant. I hesitated for quite some time if I should vore for this wine or the 2007 La Mouline as the best wine of the flight.

2001 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red, rather compact colour, faded edge. Nose with dark berries, a bit pf ripe and sweet fruit, slightly herbaceous, some developed notes with barnyard aromas. A youthful and at the same time developed nose. Palate with blackberries, powerful concentration, pepper, quite present acidity, medium tannins, aftertaste with berries and acidity/tart notes. Good balance, starting to mature, should be allowed more time in the cellar, 91+ p.

3 worst votes.

Not quite as good as the 1999, but comes across as rather similar.

2007 Jamet Côte-Rôtie

Medium red, rather compact colur. Nose with strong green notes of stalks, grass and green pepper, cherries, some flowers; elegant. Palate with blackberries, blueberries, fine acidity, medium tannins, aftertaste with tart berries and mineral. Good balance, can take more cellaring, 90+ p.

8 worst votes including mine.

This pirate wine definitely stood out with its strong green and herbaceous notes, and was easy to spot as a non-Guigal. I included this wine for comparison since Jamet produces wines in a very different style from Guigal. It is a good and elegant wine, but not quite of the same class as the Ampuis vintages of this flight.

2007 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red, rather compact colour, slightly paler edge. Nose with ripe cherries, blackberries, flowery notes with violets, spice with cloves and pepper, a hint of herbaceous notes; comes across a spicy and aromatic. Palate with blackberries, blueberries, powerful concentration of fruit and berries, some sweetness of fruit, well embedded and velvety tannins. Young, but drinks well now, 92+ p.

6 best votes. Notice that this wine got a considerably better voting tally than the 2007 La Mouline, which must be because it was open and accessible, but also because it is a very good wine. Better than expected from the vintage!

La Mouline 20072007 Guigal La Mouline

Medium red, rather compact colour. Nose with blackberries, ripe cherries, cloves; after some time in the glass mint notes emerge. Palate with blackberries, ripe cherries, powerful concentration, pepper, powerful but well embedded and velvety medium+ tannins. A large-size wine on the palate, but young; it is somewhat drinkable now, but isn’t fully open for business and indicates that it is in a “dumb phase”, give it time, 94+ p.

2 best votes, including wine, and 1 worst vore. The reason why this wine placed third in the flight is that it currently is less expressive in the nose.

This wine is slightly more flowery and more elegant than the 2007 Château d’Ampuis, but currently more discrete in the nose. When I tasted this wine about a year ago it was more expressive, so it has obviously closed down more than the 2007 Ampuis since then. I hesitated for quite some time between this wine and the 1999 Ampuis as the best wine of the flight. The 1999 is probably “better right now”, if I should go strictly by that criteria, but I finally put my vote here since it after all has a palate one size larger than the rest.

Château d'Ampuis 20131026 flight 3

Flight 3

Here I included the more powerful of the younger vintages, as well as the 2004 to provide contrast to the 2003 and 2005, and a 2009 Brune et Blonde for comparison.

2004 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red colour, faded edge. Nose with ripe strawberries, some dark berries, noticeably herbaceous, a hint of mint, some spice, discrete notes of maturity. Palate with sweet red berries, rather good concentration of fruit, strong mint and herbal notes, high acidity, some mineral, medium tannins. Not a heavyweight, and rather ready in its development, 90 p.

0 best and 3 worst votes, including mine.

Comes across as a little lighter than many of the other vintages, and with more pronounced herbaceous notes.

2009 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde de Guigal

Medium red, rather compact colour. Nose with blackberries, cherries, slightly flowery with violets, some cloves, some pepper, just a hint of herbs; rather elegant. Palate with blackberries, tart berries, powerful concentration, slightly sweet fruit, medium tannins of a supple character, aftertaste with sweet berries and a hint of alcoholic feeling. Young, drinkable now although it is not completely “settled”, can definitely develop, 91+ p.

3 best and 1 worst votes.

Compared to an average vintage of Château d’Ampuis, this vintage of Brune et Blonde is definitely not lighter, but it is slightly less flowery. It is fascinating to see how many best votes the “regular” Brune et Blonde got. Some of those who attended this tasting apparently aren’t that expensive to maintain. 🙂 Of course, we’re talking about the last flight, and a very good wine from a top vintage.

2009 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red, rather compact colour with a hint of purple. Nose with blackberries, blueberries, flowery notes with violets and hyacinths, some cloves and black pepper, some animal notes; elegant. Palate with ripe blackberries, ripe cherries, some strawberries, massive concentration of fruit, well embedded medium+ tannins. Quite a lot of concentration and power, young but drinkable now, 93+ p.

5 best votes, including mine, and 1 worst vote.

More powerful and flowery nose than the 2009 Brune et Blonde 2009, and shows the same “punch” on the palate as the 2007 La Mouline. An exceptionally good Chateau d’Ampuis!

2006 Château d’Ampuis

Medium red, slightly faded edge. (Paler in colour than the 2005.) Nose with blackberries and some ripe strawberries, a lot of animal and sausage notes, cloves, slightly herbacous, some developed nptes. Palate with blackberries, strawberries, rather sweet fruit, spicy notes with pepper, medium tannins, some mineral, rather good acidity. Already shows some development, should be able to develop more, 91 p.

1 best and 6 worst votes.

The rather developed and clearly sausage-dominated nose was a bit surprising given the wine’s rather young age. This wine came across as considerably more developed than the 2007, and many thought that this was the 2004. This is probably not due to a badly stored bottle, because this bottle comes from a box purchased newly released and stored in good cellar conditions since then.

Château d’Ampuis 2005

Medium red, rather compact colour, slightly faded edge. Nose with ripe blackberries and ripe strawberries, some animal notes, slightly flowery with violets and a hint of mint. A rather powerful nose that goes somewhat in the sweet direction. Palate with ripe blackberries, quite dark fruit, notes of tar, good concentration, good acidity, medium+ tannins, tannic aftertaste. Concentrated style, slightly developed but definitely not ready, should be allowed more time in the cellar, 93(+) p.

3 best votes.

In the nose, 2005 and 2003 were rather similar, but on the palate they differ quite a lot. On the palate, 2005 showed the darkest notes of all the vintages, although the concentration of fruit felt greater in the 2009. I hesitated for a long time between and this wine as my best wine of the flight. I finally decided for the 2009, since that wine is more accessible now while showing about the same weight. Perhaps the 2005 may become a better wine than 2009 at full maturity, since it shows great concentration without too much sweet fruit, which gives it the potential for perfect balance some time in the future.

Château d’Ampuis 2003

Medium red, rather compact colour, slightly faded edge. Nose with ripe blackberries and ripe strawberries, slightly sweet nose, some eucalyptus, sightly flowery with hyacinth. Palate with ripe dark berries, slightly sweet note of berries, somewhat fiery with alcohol feeling, very peppery, medium+ tannins, tannic and slightly fiery aftertaste. A powerful wine, but not quite balanced, and I don’t think that is going to get corrected with more cellaring, 91 p.

1 best and 2 worst votes.

Women are from Venus, men are from Mars, and this wine is rather from Australia than France. It is a good wine, but it is a Shiraz rather than a Syrah, and therefore it doesn’t quite fit into the company. It is the only Ampuis vintage where I specifically noted that the alcohol made itself felt. I am generally somewhat hesitant to 2003s from the classical European wine regions, some sweet wines excepted, for the simple reason that they usually arent that classical or balanced. They were fruity and accessible directly on release, and generally possess good concentration, so I believe that many of them were awarded undeservedly high scores by some slightly fruit bomb-loving wine critics. These scores still tend to be cited some 8 years on, but in my opinion the wines seldom live up to them. The 2003 vintage has received the highest Parker score of any Ampuis vintage, 96+, placing it just ahead of 2009 at 95+, 1999 at 95, and 2005 at (94-96). Very few at this tasting agreed with that scoring of 2003 relative to 1999/2005/2009, but I do agree with Parker that the trio of 1999/2005/2009 constitutes a set of similar quality. The only participant who voted for the 2003 as the best wine of the flight correctly identified it as a 2003, and proudly declared himself to be a fruit fan.

In summary

Château d’Ampuis definitely demonstrated its high class, and that it develops well at least to 10-15 years of age, with a forecast of 20+ years for the greatest vintages. The wines do vary significantly in style between vintages, but they definitely show a common Guigal character. We had the impression that the more recent vintages of the wine may have become even more concentrated and larger-sized, even when we try to compensate for the general vintage character.

Château d’Ampuis is slightly more powerful than Brune et Blonde, and is also more polished and elegant. This combination defines the style of the wine and is what explains the price premium, rather than just the difference in power, since younger heavyweight vintages of Brune et Blonde (such 2005 and 2009) come across as more concentrated than some older vintages of Ampuis. Comparing the style of Ampuis with that of the three LaLa wines, I’d place it somewhere betweem La Mouline and La Turque, possibly a little closer to La Mouline. (It has least in common with La Landonne.) However, Château d’Ampuis is less concentrated than these wines, which means that it demands less cellaring than the LaLas and is more accessible in its youth.

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Photo by Stina.

If I summarise the vintages using my own palate, 1995, 1999 and 2009 were of the highest class right now, and 2005 will be there after a number of more years. 1998 and 2007 also showed quite high class, and 2001 may possibly qualify as member of that group with additional cellaring. Perhaps this is also true of perfect bottles of the 1997. Moreover, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2003, 2001 and 1997 were all quite good wines. 2008, 2007 and to some extent 2002 performed better than I had expected from these vintages, while 2006 actually underperformed somewhat given the initially higher scores of this vintage compared to the 2007. 1996 and 2003 are those vintages most clearly marked but their vintage character, but in very different ways (respectively green notes and very hot character) and there the opinion on the wines will very much depend on what one thinks of these “outlying” vintage styles.

Here is the Swedish version of this post.

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2 Responses to Guigal Château d’Ampuis 1995-2009 – vertical tasting of 15 vintages

  1. Wendy Besett says:

    Greetings…got talking with friends tonight about a 1992 bottle of Cotes Du Rhone Guigal-Ampuis we’ve had in our cellar (a gift back in the day from a wine store friend who said “save”) )…what to do? At this point, how do we tell the best time to open? (or sell?)

    • vintomas says:

      Please note that only one of Guigal’s wines is called Château d’Ampuis, and has been produced from the 1995 vintage. However, Ampuis is also the address of Guigal, so while “Guigal-Ampuis” isn’t wrong for any of their wines, it can be a bit misleading. The Côtes du Rhône is Guigal’s very reliable entry level wine (in red, white and rosé), which would today cost something like € 8 in France. While it might be a good idea to cellar it for a couple of years, in particular in some vintages, I wouldn’t really recommend keeping it for 20+ years. Your bottle might still be drinkable (and even good) if it has been well kept, has a good fill level and you enjoy mature wines. I opened a 1988 (impeccable fill level) of the same wine a few months ago, and it was good, but 1988 is probably a more long-lasting vintage.

      As a general rule, 10-15 years is a good age to open many classical red wines (be they Northern Rhône, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont or something else), but for tannic monsters (such as Guigal’s La Landonne) or unusually tannic vintages (such as 2005 in France) you might wish to add 5 years.

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