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Average critic rating : 95.0 points
The 1998 Hermitage is also gorgeous, yet has more concentration and depth. Described as a “granite year” by Jean-Louis, this puppy has searing, liquid rock-like qualities to go with ample dark fruit, gunpowder and flint. Structured, firm and backward, yet with a rock-star mid-palate and finish, give it another 3-5 years and drink bottles through 2028. ||Located in the tiny village of Mauves, just south of Hermitage, lies one of the true bastilles of traditionally made wines, and there are few vinous experiences that surpass getting to taste through the different terroirs of Hermitage and Saint Joseph in Chave’s cellar. Founded in 1481, Chave has seen a long succession of generations, with Gerard Chave, who was born in 1935, slowly beginning to hand over the reins to his brilliant son, Jean-Louis (born in 1968), in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, the estate stays firmly planted in tradition, yet is far from resting on its laurels or reputation, completing work on a new cellar (just across the street from their existing cellar and connected via a tunnel) in 2014, and working hard on a number of new vineyard sites. While this new cellar includes a state-of-the-art lab, Jean-Louis was quick to point out, “you don’t need a lab to make great wine.” In addition, and along with the help of Jean-Louis’ wife, Erin Cannon-Chave, they’ve continued to grow their negociant label, Chave Selection, which offers fabulous bang-for-the-buck and includes both Northern and Southern Rhones. While Jean-Louis has a professor-like level of expertise with regards to Hermitage, today his passion is firmly directed at the steep slopes on the western side of the Rhone River, in the appellation of Saint Joseph. He has numerous new vineyards coming on-line, and while everything is currently blended into his estate Saint-Joseph, each of the individual terroirs are incredibly unique, and I’m sure will be bottled on their own sometime in the future. With more and more of Hermitage going to larger corporations these days, it’s inspiring to see this small, family owned estate still sitting near the top of the hierarchy. Jean-Louis is still young (and has a young son who takes after him, and a daredevil daughter who takes after Erin), so the future is very bright at this estate! Looking specifically at their Hermitage, the Chaves vinify each of their individual terroirs separately, and the components are all aged in small barrels before blending and bottling without being filtered. As is the norm in Hermitage, everything is completely destemmed, and the percentage of new oak is kept to a minimum, falling in the 20-30% range. The style here is beautifully transparent, with the wines always showing the vintage characteristics clearly (which Jean-Louis breaks into a “Granite” year, or a “Sun” year). In addition, when tasted as individual components, each plot’s characteristics always shine through. While the wines have the balance and purity to dish out plenty of pleasure in their youth, they age beautifully, with Jean-Louis recommending at least 15 years of cellaring for most vintages. eRobertParker.com.August, 2014
Jean-Louis Chave: The Importance
Described by Robert Parker as “the model estate for a family-owned vineyard – a great family, a great domaine, a great terroir, and great wines”, the domaine of Jean-Louis Chave continues to produce arguably the finest and most complex wines of all the northern Rhône appellation. The domaine is currently helmed by father and son team Gérard and Jean-Louis and praise has been heaped on the family for the quality of their winemaking and their dedication to tradition. Andrew Jefford writes: “The Chave line ... could make a fair claim to be France’s winemaking royal family: in no other of France’s great terroirs is the largest individual landholder so deeply rooted in time and place, so supremely competent, and so modest a custodian of the insights and craftsmanship of the past."
Some of the best rated vintages from this domaine have been 1990, 1995, 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2010, although this domaine has oft been praised for its ability to produce excellent wine in some of the trickier vintages, such as in 2002, with Parker noting, “[w]hat Chave accomplished in the extremely challenging 2002 vintage is unquestionably noteworthy.”
Jean-Louis Chave: The Insight
The Hermitage Rouge and Hermitage Blanc account for most of the production at this estate, which also includes a luxury cuvée, some St Joseph from their vines in that appellation and a highly rated Vin de Paille.
The most important factor in the winemaking at this domaine is the blending process that takes place every year. There is no set formula for the final blend, and different proportions of wine from each of the single vineyard sites will be used every year depending on the characteristics of that particular vintage, and each will bring its own particular character to the blend. As Gérard Chave told Stephen Tanzer in 2000, “We create a wine that no early taster knows. Every year we start from zero in assembling the blend.”
The Hermitage Rouge is consistently highly rated by critics, who praise its richness of fruit and deep complexity, with Parker describing the 100 point rated 2010 vintage as, “full-bodied and stunningly rich with laser-like precision…a powerful, massive yet exceptionally well-balanced wine.”
The Hermitage Blanc has also received considerable praise, with many highlighting its concentration and extraordinary longevity. In praise of the 2009 vintage of this wine, Parker writes that it is “insanely good” and “utterly profound in every way, offer[ing] to-die-for notes of liquid rock, licorice, buttered citrus, honey and quince [which] gives way to a voluptuous, full-bodied, decadent and heavenly Hermitage Blanc that has massive richness and mid-palate depth while always staying fresh, pure and focused.”
The luxury Cuvée Cathelin made its debut with the 1990 vintage. The wine was named after a close friend of the family, the well-known French artist Bernard Cathelin who designed the label. This wine is made by blending the same fruit used in the Hermitage, but in different proportions. Most of the grapes that are used to produce this cuvée come from the Les Bessards lieu-dit, a terroir rich in granite giving the wine considerable structure. This wine is intended to be more concentrated and refined than the Hermitage and spends much more time in new French oak during its maturation period. Only about 200 cases of Cuvée Cathelin are made, and only in those vintages where Chave deems that the quality of the grapes is high enough, which explains the huge demand and the premium prices it commands. Josh Raynolds of Vinous describes the 2003 vintage of this wine as possessing “[p]ositively explosive aromas of mulberry, creme de mure, exotic chocolate, musky herbs, pungent flowers and smoky game, with wild potpourri and resin notes.”
Chave has also created a small négociant business called ‘J L Chave Sélection’, which produces two wines from bought grapes, the St Joseph Offerus and the Côtes du Rhône Mon Coeur. He is clear about the fact that these are not second wines, but wines made with a different philosophy in mind, that is to create reasonably priced wines in a sustainable way that are true reflections of terroir.
Of the 14 hectares of vines that JL Chave owns in Hermitage, 10 are planted to Syrah and used to produce the two Hermitage wines, their traditional Hermitage and their prestige Cuvée Cathelin. These vines are old and have an average of about 50 years. The 4 remaining hectares are planted to 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, and these vines are all around 60 years of age.
Jean-Louis Chave: The Background
The Chave family are one of the oldest winemaking families in the world, with their label proudly bearing the inscription ‘Vignerons de Père en Fils depuis 1481.’ The current winemaker Jean-Louis Chave is the 16th generation of his family to manage this estate. Originally, the Chave family made wine in the appellation now known as St. Joseph, but the family made the move to Hermitage following the attack of phylloxera in the late 19th century. JL Chave completed a renovation and extension to their cellars in late 2014, a move showing that although this is a domaine steeped in tradition, they continue to innovate and improve year on year.
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