A model of consistency, value, and, yes, pleasure—the flagship blend.  (photo by Jenny Gorman for Wine and Whiskey Globe)

Normally, about this time of year, I would be starting to stock up on party wine. At the very least, I would be making sure that my holdings of house wines would be in a robust state.

Oh, you don’t have a house wine? As old-fashioned as it may sound, I think you should. It eliminates a lot of thinking, in a lot of circumstances and, if you administrate it properly, it means you always have on hand something you’re pleased to serve. Or to grab on the way out to someone else’s gathering.

[It might be noted here that everything I just said actually made some sense before the wretched pandemic, and I suspect it will again.]

For many years, my house red was the main Côtes du Rhône  bottling from E. Guigal. Two decades ago, you could sometimes find it on sale right at 10 bucks; a sale price today might be $15 or $16. It tastes very much the same now as it did then; the 2015 pictured above was spot-on; it always is. Some critics can taste slight improvements in better years—as with, for example, the very fine 2016. Here is a blurb from the stalwart Wine and Spirits magazine: “This contrasts sweet, juicy plum fruit and firm, spicy tannins with some earthy notes and bright cranberry highlights. Philippe Guigal [grandson of the founder, currently running the day-to-day] bases this blend on Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre, sourced from his network of 80-some growers and mellowed in barrels for 18 months before release. It’s an impressively structured and complex Côtes du Rhône red. Best Buy.”

Other critics—myself included—agree with that succinct assessment. All of them say to go buy the wine—and that’s a wine with a production of 4.5 million bottles!

I had the privilege a few years ago of visiting the Guigal headquarters, and got to see the various tanks where this wine was waiting to be blended. As familiar as I had been with so many vintages, I found the experience a little bit emotional—and found, too, that my affection for the wine really resulted from a lot of hard work by the makers.

I chatted a bit with Jacques Desvernois, then the new winemaker, and he noted two main factors that have determined the bottling’s astonishing consistency. First, the Guigal operation isn’t shy about a predominance of Syrah in the blend. That grape has more heft, and responds well to age. Second, that age. While they don’t have to, Guigal self-requires at least 18 months in barrel before releasing it.

“It could be easier,” Desvernois told me. “We could go to a big cooperative and select a big tank and bottle very simple wine. But no, no, no. We buy only small quantities from different producers, and that’s why we have small tanks. We need to have color concentration and ripeness and maturation. The consistency is always what Phillipe wants to have.

Not too long after that trip, I was amazed to see the wine being served by the glass during intermissions at the Metropolitan Opera. A wine is selected in that circumstance not because it is inoffensive or inexpensive; it is chosen because it tastes good, even to people who know their way around a wine list, and because it is easy to make the purchasing decision. It’s going to be right, year after year. It has been.

There are other similar blends at similar price points, but none has unseated the Guigal at my table. I’m going to go ahead and say it: It tastes like home.