Whenever I think about the wines of the Rhône Valley in southeast France, what inevitably comes to my mind's eye are the iconic gold-and-red-hued labels that identify every bottle of wine produced by the family-owned firm of E. Guigal. Guigal originally was founded in 1946 by Étienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small ancient village and cradle of France's Côte-Rôtie appellation. They are the best-known of the Rhône wine producers.
Although they're starting to get the respect they deserve, Rhône wines were long considered to be the poor stepchild of France's more aristocratic and opulent wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Fun fact: For hundreds of years, the red wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux were given hefty doses of Rhône juice to deepen their flavors. Today, Rhône wines are more likely thought of as France's wild child of wines: untamed, irreverent, spicy, earthy, brooding, dark and lively. They are Lady Gaga to the more Taylor Swiftian wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy—not always appropriate, but certainly exciting.
A great place to begin your discovery of Rhône wines is with E. Guigal, since they make everything from white wines such as Marsanne-based Saint-Joseph Blanc and elegant Condrieu, to Côtes du Rhône, Tavel Rosé, Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage and gorgeous Côte-Rôtie.
If you're fairly unfamiliar with Rhône Valley wines, I suggest starting with the simplest and most straightforward: Côtes du Rhône. E. Guigal makes red, white and Rosé versions. A remarkable value at $17.75, E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge is unique insofar as it takes a wine that is normally Grenache-based (the Southern Rhône style) and instead uses Syrah as the main varietal in Northern Rhône style, brimming with elegance and finesse. E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc ($17.75) is a luscious blend of 65 percent Viognier, 15 percent Roussanne, and splashes of Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc. It has Viognier's trademark apricot-and-white peach aromas, and is rich and round on the palate. It pairs very nicely with sushi and a range of Asian dishes. Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah go into the making of E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé ($17), and this is a terrific springtime wine with strawberry, red currant and raspberry notes.
If you're in the market for a rustic, earthy, spicy and intense red wine, look no farther than E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage Rouge ($29). This wine is Syrah through and through, an affordable luxury with well-structured, refined tannins and dark black currant flavors plus vanilla notes from long aging in small oak barrels. Just a small step up in price is another pair of excellent E. Guigal reds: Saint-Joseph Rouge ($34.97) and Gigondas ($34.49). Like Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph Rouge is 100 percent Syrah, with a powerful red berry nose and delicate oak aromas. Its bright acidity makes it a good candidate for mealtime. Meanwhile, dark fruits and classic Guigal tannins dominate full-bodied E. Guigal Gigondas, a blend of 60 percent Grenache, and 20 percent each of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The nose is intense, and the wine is racy and assertive on the palate, albeit with soft tannins. Enjoy it alongside red meat, roasts, game and aggressive cheeses.
E. Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($55.99) is the iconic southern Rhône wine, with lovely texture, harmony and concentration. If you're looking for a bit of a white wine splurge that is well worth the investment, enjoy a bottle of E. Guigal Condrieu ($68.75). Aged in stainless steel, Condrieu is 100 percent Viognier, with a flowery nose and beautiful tropical and white fruit flavors. Enjoy it as an aperitif or with foie gras.