Chapoutier and Guigal single-vineyard St-Joseph

25 Jan 2013 by Jancis Robinson

Chapoutier Granits from 225 rand, $40.94, €33.31, 44.84 Swiss francs, HK$449.86, £45, AU$97.56

Guigal Lieu Dit from $24.93, €21.83, £24.72, HK$262.41

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May I recommend that you find a wine collector friend who believes in generously sharing the contents of his or cellar? Last Saturday we were treated to a quite incredible array of mature Hermitage La Chapelles including the near-mythical 1961. See A birthday dinner for six for more details.

The wine that our wine provider chose to serve before all these magnificent Hermitages was a white Rhône, chosen with care because we'd discussed this particular wine less than a week previously, agreeing that we both enjoyed Chapoutier's single-vineyard bottling of white St-Joseph, Les Granits. I rarely see it other than when Michel Chapoutier is launching his Sélections Parcellaires single-vineyard bottlings, and I often find that the wine is almost as good as his much, much more expensive bottlings of white Ermitage, as he calls Hermitage.

But last weekend we were treated to a fully mature M Chapoutier, Les Granits 2007 St-Joseph Blanc with more than five years in bottle. Chapoutier is a big fan of Marsanne, which makes very big wines, but they have the lovely honey-and-herbs character that defines good white Hermitage, as well of course as lots of body and relatively low acid. This example was 14.5% and I don't think I would keep it much longer, but it was extremely luscious, dry overall, with (just) enough nerve and a rather lovely pear-juice sensation on the finish. But this is a wine you can enjoy much younger than this. I have enthusiastic notes on 2011, 2010, 2009 (especially), 2008, 2007 and 2005. The wine must be made in pretty big quantity for it is widely available, notable through the French-based online retailer Millésima.

As  John Livingstone-Learmonth writes in his magisterial The Wines of the Northern Rhône, 'the white Les Granits is one of the most sensuous whites of the northern 
Rhône..Although it sells at a high price, you feel you can have a darned good time when drinking it'. I should of course point out that 'granit' refers to the rock beneath the vineyard.

(If you're a fan of white Hermitage and within reach of London, you might like to investigate the breathtaking new, upmarket, Russian-owned, Mayfair wine shop Hedonism Wines. When I dropped in recently they were offering a vertical of white Hermitage, including several Chave examples, in their tasting machines.)

Another big-name Rhône producer making particularly fine single-vineyard white St-Joseph is Guigal, based much further north in Ampuis but with a holding, bought from Jean-Louis Grippat, very close to Chapoutier's Granits vineyard just north of the Chave town of Mauves. The vines here are particularly old, apparently, and Guigal, Lieu Dit Blanc 2011 St-Joseph contains 10% of the other, nervier northern Rhône white wine grape Roussanne.

I'll be publishing a full set of tasting notes on Rhône 2011s before too long - north before south - but I was most impressed by this white wine which is already fairly widely available in many countries. I reckon you could drink it any time over the next five years, and again, much appreciated the wine's richness without fatness. In the case of the Guigal 2011, I picked up a note of quinine, though it is really very, very like Granits - perhaps just a little less luscious and concentrated because the vines are not quite as old. Apparently, these grapes are so early-ripening that they are picked before those destined for Guigal's appellation-conquering Condrieu.

I asked Philippe Guigal which vintage of this wine he recommended for current drinking and he claimed to be drinking the 2001 now!

My major bit of advice is to drink and serve these wines with food. They are far too big to sip as an aperitif. We enjoyed the 2007 with a creamy salt cod gratin whose saltiness nicely counterbalanced the richness.

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Tags:  Rhône
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