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MUSEUM RELEASE DIRECT FROM CHAVE CELLARS

Today we offer the 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014 Hermitage Rouge 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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JL Chave's Hermitage Vertical

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About the Wines

Wines of JL Chave

2011 Hermitage Rouge

96 Points

Tasted from bottle, the 2011 Hermitage sports a ruby/purple color to go with an awesome bouquet of sweet cassis, dried flowers, spice-box, ground pepper and crushed stone. One of the more serious, focused and structured 2011s, it has fabulous concentration, sweet tannin and a seamless texture. Give it 5-6 years and enjoy bottles over the following 2 decades or more. 96+ points. (JD)

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

96 Points

A grippy, mouthwatering style offering solid, briary tannins inlaid with finely beaded acidity, all of which melds into the core of anise, blackberry paste and fig sauce favors. Shows terrific energy on the singed apple wood finish. Should cruise in the cellar. Best from 2016 through 2030. (JM)

Wine Spectator

94-95 Points

This wine was still broken out into five different pre-blended components when I visited in November but should be in bottle by now. #1: Intense red fruit and floral qualities, with a bright mineral underpinning. #2: Wilder and spicier, with zesty red fruit and star anise nuances and a touch of smokiness. #3: More dark and brooding, showing powerful bitter cherry and cassis qualities and strong back-end power. #4: Distinctly mineral-driven, precise red fruit and floral pastille aromas and flavors, with a deeper note of cola in the background. #5: Powerful cassis and bitter cherry aromas and flavors pick up spiciness and floral character with a little air. The most densely packed of these samples but showing surprising finishing vivacity and cut. Jean-Louis thinks that this wine "will be a little strict" for a while after bottling and hopes that people don't jump too quickly into it simply because 2011 is perceived as an easy vintage. (JR)

Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar

18.5+

As usual tasted parcel by parcel. Peléat - The most open and charming and therefore gives the earliest indication of the vintage. Racked mid Nov. Deep crimson. Tight, firm and chewy at first but with great line. Lots of sweet fruit emerges. Baumes - Next to Peléat with 'pudding stones' so gets quite ripe. Round yet very fresh too. Lots of linearity. Very transparent. L'Hermite - Dense and chewy with some black fruit flavours. Actually this is quite ripe and open too. Le Méal - An impression of very fine leather. More obviously Syrah than the others. Great race and lift. Bessards - Granite. 'You can't make great Hermitage without Bessards', according to Jean-Louis. Very dark crimson and utterly majestic. I really do understand about people saying you have to bow down in front of Hermitage. Dense, structured and really great. 18.5+/20 points. Drink 2020-2038 (JR)

Jancis Robinson

2012 Hermitage Rouge

96 Points

One of the more charming and forward efforts from Chave, the 2012 Hermitage sports a mostly opaque purple color to go with classic creme de cassis and blackberry fruits intermixed with notions of lead pencil shavings, violets and powdered rocks. Deep, full-bodied and sumptuously textured, with good freshness, this pure, elegant Hermitage shows more and more definition and cut with time in the glass, but never loses it's more fruit forward, charming profile. I suspect it will drink nicely for most of its life.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

95 Points

Black tea and warm ganache notes frame a core of steeped plum, blackberry and boysenberry fruit. Rather restrained at first, this picks up steam through the finish, as a well-embedded graphite edge emerges, letting the dark fruit and anise accents linger beautifully. A poised, polished, understated and precise version that will age deceptively well. Best from 2018 through 2027

Wine Spectator

94-95 Points

Tasted from its final three component tanks on the same day that the final blend was to be made: #1: Ripe cherry and dark berries on the nose and in the mouth. Fleshy, broad and smoky, finishing with strong cling. #2: Spice-accented cherry and cassis aromas, along with suggestions of cola and candied licorice. Sappy and seamless, displaying excellent back-end focus and lift. #3): Sexy, highly perfumed red fruit and floral pastille scents and flavors, with a peppery element adding urgency. Silky and fine-grained, showing excellent closing thrust and length. The ultimate wine should offer a suave blend of richness and vivacity, with textbook dark fruit, spice and floral Syrah character and the balance to age.

Vinous

2013 Hermitage Rouge

97 Points

As normal, I was able to taste the 2014 Hermitage in its individual components, with the Bessards and l'Hermite (which are the backbone of the cuvee) both showing full-bodied richness, plenty of mid-palate depth and no shortage of tannic grip. The Méal is always the most jammy and forward, and is easily the most identifiable given its sexy, supple texture, although it never has the definition or cut of the Bessards. The Peleat and Beaume barrels are normally smaller components in the final blend, with the Beaume always showing the most spice-laced and perfumed of the two. The 2014 shows the house elegance and purity, yet has solid ripeness and texture. All of the samples had solid tannic grip, but the overall impression was much more forward and approachable than the 2013, and I suspect it will be relatively accessible with short term cellaring.

Robert Parker

97 Points

This wine is the final blend and was resting in holding tanks in preparation for bottling, "probably in March," according to Chave: Inky ruby. Vibrant black and blue fruit aromas are complicated by suggestions of candied flowers, incense and licorice, and a bright mineral nuance adds lift. Sweet, fleshy and focused, offering palate-staining cherry compote, black raspberry and violet pastille flavors accented by smoky Indian spices and a hint of cracked pepper. Shows impressive depth but comes off surprisingly lithe, finishing with superb focus and length and fine-grained tannins that sneak in slowly. (JR)

Vinous

95 Points

Solidly built, with a bolt of charcoal through the core of dark cherry, plum and blackberry preserves. Lots of bay, sage and leather fill in the background. Best from 2019 through 2034.

Wine Spectator

2014 Hermitage Rouge

97 Points

Tasted in components: #1, from Peleat: Vibrant red and dark berry character, along with intense floral and mineral nuances and silky texture. #2, from Beaume: Heady, smoke- and spice- accented dark berry and floral pastille qualities, plus a round, supple texture and repeating floral character on the back half. #3, from l'Ermite: More structured and powerful, showing intense dark fruit character and notes of olive and licorice that build with air. #4, from Le Méal: Exotic spices and candied flowers on the nose, along with bright red and dark berry qualities. Sappy and focused, displaying excellent depth and no excess weight. #5, from Bessards: Gorgeous, expressive floral pastille, incense and ripe dark berry scents and flavors. Weighty yet lithe, showing excellent focus and building sweetness. The final blend should be a beauty, combining dense, sweet red and dark berry fruit character and the freshness to buffer it. (JR)

Vinous

97 Points

White peach, grilled hazelnuts and plenty of yellow citrus fruits with dried meadow flowers. The palate has impressive glycerol-laden texture. Lemon and lime citrus ride on a smooth and expansive mid-palate. Peach and peach skin flavors and a sapid, taut finish. A real masterpiece. Best from 2020.

James Suckling

96 Points

This starts strong, with warm ganache, steeped fig and crushed blackberry flavors, then gains steam, picking up smoldering charcoal, bay leaf and juniper accents as this drives and expands through the finish. Offers a long echo of graphite, with the fruit keeping pace. Very impressive for the vintage. Best from 2020 through 2040.

Wine Spectator

96 Points

As normal, I was able to taste the 2014 Hermitage in its individual components, with the Bessards and l'Hermite (which are the backbone of the cuvee) both showing full-bodied richness, plenty of mid-palate depth and no shortage of tannic grip. The Méal is always the most jammy and forward, and is easily the most identifiable given its sexy, supple texture, although it never has the definition or cut of the Bessards. The Peleat and Beaume barrels are normally smaller components in the final blend, with the Beaume always showing the most spice-laced and perfumed of the two. The 2014 shows the house elegance and purity, yet has solid ripeness and texture. All of the samples had solid tannic grip, but the overall impression was much more forward and approachable than the 2013, and I suspect it will be relatively accessible with short term cellaring.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate