Thursday, 8 November 2012

Guigal dinner at Christie’s – The La Las: La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne

While they might sound more like a Telebubby than a trio of some of the world’s finest wines, people are going gaga for the La Las. La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne, affectionately known as the La Las, are the three single vineyard wines of Guigal, the most famous and finest producer in the Côte Rôtie. 
Having clocked up more perfect 100-point scores from influential wine messiah Robert Parker than any other wine producer, Pétrus and Screaming Eagle included, the La La’s have become some of the most highly sought after wines in the world, not least due to their miniscule production. In 2007, the 2003 vintage of the La Las set a record for the most expensive Rhône wines ever released, with bottles selling for as much as £500. Imagine my delight then, dear reader, when I was invited to taste all three at an intimate wine dinner at the plush King Street HQ of Christie’s auction house.
Taking my place beside our affable Antipodean host, Guigal’s brand ambassador Brett Crittenden, we were quickly brought up to speed with the estate’s rich history over a glass of Guigal’s waxy, honeyed and intensely aromatic La Doriane Condrieu 2010. Setting out as a teen to earn a living picking apricots, having arrived in Ampuis, an ancient village in the Côte Rôtie boasting a 2,500-year winemaking history, entrepreneurial Etienne Guigal soon secured a job at Vidal Fleury, at the time the most powerful producer in the Rhône. Guigal’s rise through the ranks was meteoric, working his way up from cellar hand aged 14 to cellar master in the 1940s.
Before Crittenden proceeds with the story, we’re served a rich terrine of foie gras fragrant with white truffle oil and tempered by jasmine jelly. Tucking in, Crittenden continues… Having accrued sufficient experience, in 1946 Etienne branched out and founded his eponymous estate, E. Guigal, in Ampuis. In addition to the near-mythical La Las, Guigal produces wine from appellations across the Rhône, including around 45% of Condrieu’s annual production, but is best known for playing a pivotal role in raising Côte Rôtie's global reputation. 
Guigal shot to international fame in the mid ‘80s when Parker heaped praise on the La Las, commenting: “I have never seen a producer so fanatical about quality as Marcel Guigal.” The Maryland critic’s backing helped catapult Côte Rôtie onto the international stage, allowing it to emerge from Hermitage’s shadow.
 Gagging to try the reds, we begin with a comparative tasting of Château d’Ampuis 2003 and 2005. Made in vast quantities compared to Guigal’s single vineyard wines, with around 30,000 bottles produced each year as opposed to a few hundred cases of each of the La Las, while 95% of all Côtes du Rhône is based on Grenache, Guigal has always chosen to showcase Syrah. The inky 2005 had the edge over the spicy 2003, its dense, expressive nose showing notes of plum, pepper and blackberry, though both matched well with the accompanying, perfectly al dente, autumnal mushroom risotto.
Succumbing to blindness in 1961, Etienne handed over the reins to his son Marcel, who adopted a simple winemaking approach: low yields, organic viticulture and minimum intervention in the cellar. His relentless work ethic and dedication to quality has cemented Guigal’s place in history as the world’s leading Rhône estate. Snapping up Vidal Fleury in 1984, Marcel then acquired, restored, and in 1995 relaunched the wines of the aforementioned Château d'Ampuis. Today, Marcel’s son Philippe, a father of young twin boys, looks after winemaking at the estate. With 60 hectares in the Northern Rhône, he is custodian of the finest collection of old vine vineyards in the Côte-Rôtie.
With our roast duck main on the table, it was time to try the legendary La Las, each of which undergoes a staggering 42 months in new oak before bottling. Expectations were great. We sensibly begin with the most restrained of the three – La Mouline 2006. The intoxicating perfume of its exotic nose offered floral spice, wild herbs, bacon, earth, iodine, truffle, red cherry, minerality and hints of summer fruits, along with a polished palate of spun silk. Making its debut in 1966, La Mouline, a mere 400 cases of which are produced a year, is the first of the La Las to be harvested. Made from old vine Syrah and Viognier from a single vineyard in the Côte Blonde, the wine includes the highest proportion of Viognier of Guigal’s single vineyard wines (around 10%), and as a result, is the most floral, feminine and elegant of the trio.
Next up is La Turque 2006, described by Brett as having an “electricity” to it. Reigning from a parcel of old vines inside the Côte Brune, La Turque, meaning “The Turk”, is typically a blend of 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier. Displaying both the power of La Landonne and elegance of La Mouline, La Turque started out in 1985, and, like the other La Las, is aged in 100% new French oak for 42 months. Straddling both spheres, it is denser and more opulent than La Mouline, but less powerful, structured and tannic than La Landonne. The ’06 showed notes of damsons, blackcurrants and violets, and had an enticing vitality to it. Like La Mouline, production hovers at around 400 cases a year.
Dinner hit a powerful note with Guigal’s beast of a wine – La Landonne 2003, crafted from 100% Syrah, making it by far the most tannic of the trio. Bottled first in 1978 from 20-year-old Côte Brune vines, the lack of the softening touch of Viognier makes it the most masculine of the La Las. The ’03 was packed with blackberries, black cherries, chewy tannins, tobacco and truffle notes, though refreshed by a mineral core. While taking much longer than the other two to mature, La Landonne, I’m told, rewards those patient enough to wait for it to reach its full potential. The 2003 was still miles off maturation.

Ending with a glass of La Turque 1994, which, while retaining the energy of its youth had mellowed magnificently, mirroring the elegance of La Mouline, I bypassed the selection of Rhône cheeses in favour of a midnight amble around the gallery on the lower floor, scattered with modern artworks worth millions still in their bubble wrap leaning nonchalantly against the walls. From a Damien Hirst dot painting to a cryptic quintet of Gerhard Richter doors, to see such valuable works in such a casual context was a rare and thrilling treat. 

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