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Today we offer the 2015’s Rouge and Blanc from JL Chave!

In 1996 during my first week at Yarra Yering, Doc handed me a bottle of wine, with simple instructions, enjoy. It was a 1983 Auguste Clape Cornas. Wow! The sophistication and personality of this wine were insane. It just screamed DRINK ME! The beautiful texture, incredible depth of fruit, and, elegance. The complexity of the wine entranced.

A year later in Prevelly Park in Margaret River, I picked up a bottle of JL Chave Hermitage Blanc, I can’t recall the year. Needless to say, once again, mind blown! This is without a doubt one of the greatest Marsanne Roussanne blends of the world. Just like the Rouge, it is a rich, ripe wine, somehow, it remains elegant and refined. Complexity, seamless layers, and, incredible texture are words that I find myself repeating again and again with these two producers.

In 1999 I found myself cruising through the Rhône Valley. Dining at Le Chaudron in Hermitage, I completely miss read the menu and ordered a plate of offal, don’t get me wrong I love a little offal, but, a full plate, was a bit much. Fortunately, I had no problem with the wine list. On it the epic 1990 JL Chave Hermitage, the elegance and sophistication, married with incredible power and such beautiful tannins took me back to the 1983 Cornas from Clape. It remains in the top 10 wines I’ve ever drunk!

At the time, in Australia, when you saw this intensity of flavour it was typically in a wine that was over the top, clumsy, and with a less than pleasing texture. These two makers were doing something incredible, they were taming the beast. Moving from Death Metal to Mozart!

Producers like Clape, Chave, Allemand, Jamet, and, Paris are amongst those leading the Northern Rhône by example toward wines of as Nick Stock put’s it, “…greater depth, definition and interest across the board. Much like the Southern Rhône, refined ideals and methods elucidate this region’s fascinating and expressive terroirs. It’s something we feel very positive about.”

About JL Chave

The following video is a fascinating insight into a year with JL Chave, it is one of the best pieces of work I’ve seen in an attempt to follow a winery through a season. It’s in French, even if you don’t speak French it’s a great watch!

The commitment of Chave to acquire prime but forgotten land and re-establish vineyards is an exciting development for the region. “Before phylloxera these were special sites,” Chave explains as he surveys steep terraces above and below a narrow road cut through a newly planted south-facing hillside. “The difficulty today is finding the people willing to do the work.”

The current generations in charge, father Gérard and son Jean-Louis, use their knowledge, experience and spread of lieux-dits to craft wines that combine all the power, longevity, nuance and refinement that the Hermitage hill is capable of.

The expertise that Gérard and Jean-Louis draw upon is not only their own, but, also the accumulated wisdom of their ancestors, transmitted down through the generations since Chaves began making Hermitage in 1481, continuing a five-century dynasty of extraordinarily high quality and pure expression of great terroir that is unmatched.

The near vertical vineyards of Hermitage

As Andrew Jefford writes in The New France, “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.”

The key to the perfect balance of Chave Hermitage, whether rouge or blanc, is in Gérard and Jean-Louis’ remarkable blending skill, a process that begins anew with each vintage. Like Jamet and Clape, the Chaves assemble their vintage cuvées from their expertly farmed array of sites, each with its own character, to create singular blends of great nuance, harmony, depth and ageing potential.

Traditionalists to the core, Chave has never released a cru Hermitage despite how impressive some of the individual cuvées are—the blend is all. As Gerard told Stephen Tanzer in 2000, “We create a wine that no early taster knows. Every year we start from zero in assembling the blend.”

While the components and their percentages are different every year, the one constant in the Hermitage rouge is the Syrah from Bessards which provides the cuvée’s backbone with the fruit from its steep, granite slope; as Gerard said to The Wines of the Northern Rhône author John Livingstone-Learmonth, “Bessards is our essential climat; you can’t make a Grand Hermitage without it.”

Likewise, the base for Chave’s heroic Hermitage blanc is the plot of century-old Marsanne vines in their Péléat monopole, which provides rich and intense fruit without heaviness. The usual final blend for the blanc is 80 to 85% Marsanne with 15 to 20% Roussanne.

While both colours are revered worldwide as the very essence of Hermitage, endlessly complex wines that surreally balance their richness and depth with elegance and finesse, it can come as a surprise to many that the blanc will live as long, if not longer than the rouge. In the 1980s, we tasted a Chave Blanc from the 1920s that was breathtaking.

In vintages where the Chaves feel that the surreal harmony of the rouge won’t be compromised, the heroic Cuvée Cathelin is bottled separately. It contains the same lieux-dits, made in the same way, but their percentages are different; the goal is a wine that has a bit more of all of the classique’s elements. Painfully rare, only 200 cases are produced in those vintages deemed appropriate.

In addition to their benchmark Hermitage wines, Chave has long made a beautiful, traditionally styled St. Joseph rouge from their vines in the historic centre of the appellation; this is a model St. Joseph with its round black raspberry, black olive, violet and woodsmoke aromatics, firm underlying structure and fine balance.

The Chave’s methods for all of their wines are thoroughly traditional—perfectionist farming, low yields, full ripeness, minimal new oak, minimal intervention and no filtering. There are no secrets, just unmatched attention to detail and instinctive feel for growing and winemaking. Centuries in the making, this approach has one goal: a pure rendering of noble northern Rhône terroir.

The Map below from American Sommelier shows a great fly over of Les Bessard.

We only have a few bottle of each wine.

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About the Wines

Wines of JL Chave

2015 Hermitage Rouge

98-100 Points

Not yet bottled, the 2015 Hermitage has perfection written all over it and reminds me of the 2010. Graphite, charcoal, liquid rock, and sensationally pure crème de cassis notes all soar from the glass of this full-bodied, concentrated, opulent 2015. This is a big, sexy beast of a Hermitage, yet it has the classic minerality, purity, and balance shown by just about every wine made from this estate. Forget bottles for 4-5 years, count yourself lucky, and enjoy over the following 4-5 decades. (JD) (1/2018)

Jeb Dunnuck

98-100 Points

After tasting several intermediate blends that will ultimately be combined in some proportion to create the 2015 Hermitage, I would not be surprised to see the final result achieve perfection. Although massively ripe and concentrated, there is still a feeling of balance and elegance in the wines that I fully expect to carry over into the final product. As the blending process isn’t complete, Jean-Louis warned that it was too early to say if there would be a Cuvée Cathelin, which is typically an outstanding parcel that, for some reason, doesn’t work in the rest of the blend. (JC) (12/2017)

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

96-98 Points

As usual, tasted vineyard by vineyard from barrels. 1) from Les Beaume: Powerful, deep-pitched cherry, blueberry and violet character; intense mineral and spice overtones add vivacity. 2) from Meal: Densely packed but uncannily fresh and energetic, displaying sweet raspberry, cherry, spicecake and floral pastille qualities and a core of juicy acidity. 3) from Ermite: Superb depth of dark fruit and floral character; a core of minerality provides energetic lift and focus, giving an impression of energy, not weight. 4) from Bessards: Mineral and floral notes accent ripe blackberry and cherry, and a sexy Asian spice flourish lends an exotic touch and back-end cut. The final wine should be a knockout and I envision that it will come off as a hypothetical cross of Chave's 2009 (power and heft) and 2010 (energy and structure). (4/2017)

Vinous

2015 Hermitage Blanc

100 Points

Matching the otherworldly 2009, the 2015 Hermitage Blanc is a perfect wine and certainly one of the greatest whites ever made from this hallowed estate. The normal blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne from the l’Ermite, Péleat, and les Rocoules lieux-dits, it exhibits a huge, opulent bouquet of buttered citrus, flower oil, orange marmalade, quince, and honeysuckle that’s to die for. This majestic, full-bodied Hermitage Blanc has a huge mid-palate, thrilling purity of fruit, and a finish that won’t quit. It’s capable of lasting for 4-5 decades, but still has the sexiness of the vintage front and center and will be enjoyable early in its life. (JD) (1/2018)

Jeb Dunnuck

97-99 Points

Tasted in components. Number 1, from Peleat: High-pitched citrus fruit and floral qualities hearken to Chablis. Becomes more floral with air and shows superb definition. Number 2, from Rocoules: Deeper and more round but not lacking for energy. Offers juicy pear, peach and honey flavors backed up by a core of zesty minerality. Number 3, from Ermite: Sappy, densely packed orchard fruit flavors display a smoky mineral note that gains strength on the back half. The resulting wine looks to be a monument of its vintage and appellation, showing a remarkable interplay of depth, power and energy that I only occasionally encounter with the very best white Burgundies. I've little doubt that it will outlive many people reading this, assuming that they're of legal drinking age. (JR) (7/2017)

Vinous

95-97 Points

Chave continues to make a full-throttle, concentrated and unctuous Hermitage Blanc, and refuses to buy into the ridiculous trend toward making Sauvignon Blanc-like whites from this tiny, magical terroir. God bless him for that and there are few whites I’d rather drink than a mature Hermitage Blanc from this genius winemaker. Starting with the latest vintage and tasted from multiple barrels, the 2015 Hermitage Blanc will be a sensational wine. This rich, unctuous beauty has terrific purity and depth, with the classic concentration, extract and fat that’s the hallmark of the estate’s Hermitage Blanc. White currants, buttered citrus, toasted bread and hints of flower oil are just some of the nuances here and this beauty will deliver the goods. (JD) (12/2016)

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate