Hermitage. For a long stretch of time in the 18th and 19th centuries it played the supporting role to Bordeaux – the ‘medicine’ for poor vintages in the Médoc. The greatest writer on the subject – John Livingstone-Learmonth* painstakingly traces the many “coincidences” between very good Bordeaux vintages and vintages in which the Bordeaux trade were able to buy large quantities of good quality Hermitage. I couldn’t possibly comment. But “Claret Hermitagé”, was more than an open secret, it even featured on some labels as a sign of quality!
Paul Jaboulet Aîné have been owners at Hermitage since 1889, but pre-WW2 bottles are exceptionally scarce. My fascination with their estate Hermitage ‘La Chapelle’ began in 1992 when it was one of the first top tier French wines I tasted at my university’s wine club – 1985 and 1983 side by side. I still recall the extraordinary combination of sweet blackberry-like fruit, roast meat, herbs and pepper, and an almost honey-like glycerin-laden edge. The richly tannic 1983 was forbidding next to the summery, succulent 1985.
This week I hosted a little vertical of ‘La Chapelle’ in our shop. To be fair, past tastings have revealed some variability in the wines of the 1980s to early 2000s, but on this night everything was shining. Many attendees put in orders for the wines on the spot – when you look at the prices for these mature examples and compare them to, ahem, other regions, they offer a lot of fine wine for your dollar.
Last month I had the chance to visit that iconic hill, take the compulsory tourist snap next to the little chapel, take a look at some different lieus dits within the hill (which, after all, covers some 130ha from southwest to southeast exposure), and take in the scene: Tain-l’Hermitage and the flat vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage to the south, and across the river to Turnon-sur-Rhône and its St.-Joseph syrah-bearing slopes.
After an extensive tour and tasting at Jaboulet’s facilities, I was impressed with the work Caroline Frey and her team have done over the past decade. The whites here are now very fine. And the Hermitage ‘La Chapelle’ is made with precision and painstaking care (and is now a much smaller production/selection). The 2014 I tasted reminded me of some of the classics. I’ve yet to taste the 2015, but they are very proud of it and it has received some rave reviews. We have some available en primeur, including some rare formats. I suggest you secure some, and while you are waiting, try some of the older vintages, ready to drink…
*If you don’t already own a copy of his Wines of the Northern Rhone, you should.
**This offer is valid to private customers only.