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.