The denizens of the wine trade tend to differentiate between vintages that were 'made in the vineyard' and those that were 'made in the cellar'. This is somewhat simplistic but what they mean is that some growing seasons enjoy such perfect weather that little additional work is required and that some are so challenging winemakers need to 'pull out all the stops' to make good quality wine. After a succession of relatively straightforward years, 2021 was undoubtedly a vintage where a lot of additional cellar work was necessary. Fortunately, the Chave family have a wealth of experience and have always been willing to make less wine to maintain their qualitative standards.
The Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage blanc is made from a traditional blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne that are hand-harvested and raised in vat and barrel for at least 18 months prior to a fastidious assemblage and bottling. It is often approachable on its youthful fruit but tends to tighten up between 3 and 7 years of age before revealing its mature complexity. The finished wine displays a complex bouquet of acacia flowers, honeysuckle, apricots and palate of white stone-fruit, grilled nuts and minerals preceding a long, elegant finish.
The Hermitage rouge is made from pure Syrah coming from mature rootstock grown over 9.3 hectares of vineyard covering 7 different climats. This gives an enviably broad palette of fruit from which to blend and each parcel is vinified separately. The wine is matured in vat and barrels of various ages and sizes for at least 18 months before blending. With diverse aromas of violets, dark berries, leather and pencil shavings alongside concentrated autumnal fruit flavours, it has wonderful peppery and gamey undertones and a tannic sub-structure that will support (at least) 20 years bottle age. Definitely requiring time in decanter, it makes a terrific accompaniment to small game and slow-braised stews.
Recent and welcome additions to this list are the family's négociant bottlings that are produced under the 'Jean-Louis Chave Sélection' label. A white Hermitage - made from pure Marsanne - is called 'Blanche' and the base of its fruit hails from the 'Maison Blanche' lieu-dit at the top of the escarpment. With inviting wild flower and orchard fruit aromas plus a palate of Mirabelle plums with mineral notes and great length, it is a marvellous entry point to the Chave cannon. A sibling red 'Farconnet' has a deep purple robe, a dark fruit and garrigue berry bouquet and ripe red and black fruit flavours supported by fine-grained tannins. It is relatively forward-drinking but can happily be cellared for 5-10 years.