TN: 83 Guigal Hermitage - Who says half bottles don't age?

Every now and then neglecting one’s cellar pays off.

I had a half bottle of 83 Guigal Hermitage, purchased on release, kicking around for years. I drank my last full bottles in 2003 and 2004, when they showed very well (low 90 points for me).

Other 83 Northern Rhones that I’ve had since, including Guigal’s Cote Rotie B&B and the La Chapelle, have dried out and turned unpleasantly acidic. And Guigal’s Hermitage was always seen as the step sibling of the favored Cote Rotie. So my expectations were low.

Imagine my amazement this evening when I popped this with a friend when we found ourselves at the end of a bottle of 2003 Hirsch Lamm Gruner Veltliner (very full bodied, a trace of alcohol poking through) as we headed into the cheese course. I figured the Hermitage would be a tired novelty, but we were agreed we didn’t need another full bottle.

Pow! In the nose, there was a fair deal of maturity – a trace of caramel, black tea and coffee powder. In the mouth, however, it was extraordinarily fresh, full bodied and fruity from the get-go. Hints of cassis and black olive. The tannins are pretty fully resolved, but there’s a nice acidity to support the wine, lots of fruit and the whole was utterly seemless. It was decanted maybe 30 minutes ahead and it just got better and better in the glass, the aromas freshening and fleshing out… until we drained the dregs and happily scarfed them down.

This was the essence of the best, most graceful old style Northern Rhone. Marcel knew his shit! 95+

And from a 375ml! Go figure.

Thanks for the interesting note, John.

Don’t give up on the 83 B&B just yet! My experience this time last year with the 83 Guigal B&B was in no way dried out. It actually surprised me with its intensity in perhaps a similar way the 83 Hermitage did you.

1983 Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde. The bouquet of this wine is wildly complex and engaging. Aromas of smoky honeyed BBQ sauce, dark lilac and violets, worn horse bridle leather, loamy dirt, iodine and steel fold themselves in and around the full aromas of black raspberry and black cherry fruit. Over time, even more layers pile on top, with cool scents of hardened bacon fat, cracked black pepper and dark animal fur coming on. It is really a wine to sit and savor and ponder over. In the mouth, it is quite savory—with flavors of bacon bits, black olives and chalky black bean paste running ahead of the dark cool fruit. It features firm acidity and a tensile structure at first, but that slowly yields to allow a greater volume of fruit and dimension to come forward. The softening finish shows great balance, with just the tiniest bit of ghost tannins hanging around. I think this can go a while, but it is really wonderful to drink right now.


FWIW, it’s doing fine in full bottle, too. Earlier this month, in Maine (where everything tastes better to me ):

8/10: .this is a wow wine…vibrant, super concentrated, mature and harmonious syrah (is there some viognier in this? as it is plenty finesseful). Olives and that glue of syrah…light on the palate w/.chocolate and long long clean fruity chocolately fruit with good structure . WOW! Wonder how good the Chave is?

1983 was the year I got married and discovered Burgundy and Alsace in the process of honeymooning. I always loved the vintage in both places and both ends of the Rhone valley. I think I still have a bottle left, though not sure; I know I have a couple of Chaves that I bought at Bern’s in Tampa in 1996.

(Also, a note from 1997: 2-20-97: had this wine at IWC walkaround and later at home. (Not my bottle). Still big, deep tannic, with super concentrated fruit and oaky. Wine could really use 3-4 more years’ bottle age. Would try in 2000 or 2001. The Chave '83 tried the same night was more elegant and round.)

Glad to hear other people have had better luck with the 83 B&B. There were several bottlings in each vintage in those days, often months apart, and no lot numbers on the label. Some could be vin de garde and others less so. As I recall, the earlier bottlings were of lots they thought would drink better young. Perhaps that’s what I ended up with. (Mine were Grape Expectations imports, bought in California in the mid-80s, around the time of release, and stored properly.)

The last 83 B&B I had was in 2003. The aromas were lovely and classic, according to my notes, but the fruit had dried out and it was tasting rather acidic. That had been my experience with a couple of earlier bottles.

Thanks for the note on your half bottle, John; that’s encouraging to read.

I’m with Michael, though, in having had good luck recently with fairly recent purchases of the very '83 Northern Rhônes you mention, Guigal’s Hermitage and B & B, and Jaboulet’s La Chapelle.
They all showed rather tired upon opening, but freshened up marvelously and continued to improve from about a half hour on.

Yeah…when that '83 La Chapelle is on…it is great, too.

I think lots of these '83 N. Rhones are just coming into their best. In 2005, I had the '83 B and B…and wasn’t impressed. I do generally prefer Hermitage to CR, but…

I’ve still a couple halves and full bottles of the 78. I guess I need to open them side by side to compare them one of these days. Also still have some of their 83 Cote-du-Rhone. More Syrah heavy than your typical Cote-du-Rhone. I probably need to open these as well.

Generally, Guigal’s Hermitage had been as sort of pedestrian compared to the B&B, and that was certainly my experience with vintages from the late 70s and in the 80s. (Everything changed in the 90s with the Ch. d’Ampuis, more CR producers bottling under their own names and so on.)