The imperious saddle-shaped hill of Hermitage - which overlooks the might of the river Rhône at Tain L'Hermitage - has been recognised as an excellent enclave of viticulture since Roman times and continues to be a celebrated bastion of fine wine-making. The only problem is that the number of global wine lovers increases year-on-year and the vine area here remains fixed at 137 hectares. On a more positive note, the recent vintage run has been excellent and the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on important restaurant sales, so now could be a good time to invest in a few bottles for future delectation.
Jean-Louis Chave would appear on the shortest of shortlists of important vignerons in the vicinity. With a wine-making lineage dating back to 1481, he presides over 9.3 hectares of Syrah and 4.6 hectares of Marsanne and Roussanne, covering 11 different plots on 9 named climats. This gives an enviably wide range of fruit to work with and means that blending is critical within the context of any individual vintage.
The Domaine J-L Chave Hermitage Blanc is made from a blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne that are vinified and raised in vat and barrel for a minimum of 18 months prior to blending and bottling. Frequently, the finished wine will drink well on its young fruit and then tighten up from 3-7 years of age before revealing its full potential with bottle age. Typically, it displays diverse scents of acacia, honeysuckle and apricots and a complex palate of white stone fruit, grilled nuts, brioche and minerals underscored by glycerine – giving length and balance in equal measure. It merits decanting and should not be served too chilled; circa 12 degrees C. is ideal.
The Chave Hermitage Rouge – from pure Syrah – has a similar élevage to the white wine, with a proportion being kept in vat to retain vigour. An assiduous assemblage is undertaken after at least 18 months in barrel before bottling at around 2 years of age. The finished wine has a diverse bouquet of dark berries, leather and spices and a wealth of forest fruit offset by well-structured tannins with peppery undertones. While it can be enjoyed in youth, it really needs 5 years in bottle for its flavours to assimilate and can cellar well for decades thereafter. It is a great gastronomic wine ideally suited to small game and wild mushroom dishes.
Welcome additions to these pages are the négociant bottlings produced under the 'J-L Chave Sélection' labels. A white 'Blanche', made from pure Marsanne, has a lovely bouquet of wild flowers and conference pears and a white plum and mineral palate with a long, elegant finish. Its red sibling 'Farconnet' has a deep purple robe, beguiling black fruit bouquet and sensuous palate of stewed red and black fruit supported by supple tannins. Both drink well from release and represent great value for the appéllation.