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Hermitage Rouge, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave 2016

Red Wine from France - Rhone
The syrah grape at its grandest. The complex geology of Hermitage and the sun-drenched Rhône Valley slopes ensure that these wines are like no other. Multidimensional and infinitely refined with great depth of flavour and incredible finesse. There is intensity and a sense of luminosity in the 2016.
Price: £250.00 Bottle
Price: £1,500.00 Case of 6
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Code: RH53511

Wine characteristics

  • Red Wine
  • Full-bodied
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • 14.5% Alcohol
  • Oak used but not v. noticeable
  • 2026 to 2040
  • 75cl
  • Cork, natural

Northern Rhône

A narrow, funnel-shaped vineyard extends on both sides of the Rhône from Vienne in the north to Valance in the south. The scenery is often dramatic with many of the vineyards perched precariously on the steep valley sides. The wines match the scenery: deeply coloured, fine, spicy reds made from the syrah grape and rich, full-bodied whites made from marsanne and roussanne grapes, or the more aromatic viognier up in Condrieu. Granite, sandy silica and clay soils predominate though small traces of limestone may also be found in Hermitage, Crozes and Cornas.

Production here is relatively small, accounting for less than 3% of the total for the Rhône Valley. Most of the wines are sold by appellation with three being white only, two red only and three others where both red and white can be made. The appellation Côtes-du-Rhône is rarely seen in the north and may well disappear altogether. On the other hand, full use is made of the vin de pays/vin de France category which allows producers to...
A narrow, funnel-shaped vineyard extends on both sides of the Rhône from Vienne in the north to Valance in the south. The scenery is often dramatic with many of the vineyards perched precariously on the steep valley sides. The wines match the scenery: deeply coloured, fine, spicy reds made from the syrah grape and rich, full-bodied whites made from marsanne and roussanne grapes, or the more aromatic viognier up in Condrieu. Granite, sandy silica and clay soils predominate though small traces of limestone may also be found in Hermitage, Crozes and Cornas.

Production here is relatively small, accounting for less than 3% of the total for the Rhône Valley. Most of the wines are sold by appellation with three being white only, two red only and three others where both red and white can be made. The appellation Côtes-du-Rhône is rarely seen in the north and may well disappear altogether. On the other hand, full use is made of the vin de pays/vin de France category which allows producers to make slightly simpler wines from young vines or from vines that for one reason or another were not included in any appellation.

Seyssuel
There is no appellation Seyssuel. These steep vineyards on the left bank close to Vienne were once famous but fell into obscurity after phylloxera wiped them out in the 19th century. Since the late 1990s, however, there has been a move to reclaim this valuable land for the vine. Many growers are involved here and the results are extremely good. The wines are broadly similar to Côte-Rôtie in style but maybe riper and more dramatic, the vines, after all, face the evening sun and there is more heat here than in Côte-Rôtie. Full appellation status is probably just a few years away after the efforts of Ogier, Villard and Villa have done so much to put it on the map.

Côte-Rôtie
Red only. The “roasted slope”, only half an hour’s drive south of Beaujolais, this northernmost outpost of the syrah grape produces wines that at times can match Burgundy for delicacy and charm. The vineyard is very steep with an incline of as much as 60 degrees. Guigal is the most important producer attracting the highest prices, but there are dozens of smallholders making interesting wines. Guigal has made new oak very fashionable and many growers use it sometimes to excess.

Condrieu
White only from the viognier grape. The scent of apricot in a good example of Condrieu is almost intoxicating. Rapid expansion of vineyards means that there are lots of young vines and therefore wines that lack substance, so there is good reason to get to know the better growers, such as André Perret, François Villard and Christophe Pichon, and follow them..

Saint-Joseph
Reds from syrah and whites from marsanne and roussanne; reds are more exciting. The best Saint-Josephs have class and can be good value. Some of the best slopes are only now being replanted after years of neglect, so huge potential. Many top producers have started to bring out single-vineyard Saint-Josephs. All can be brilliant and though pricey, offer better value than top-end Côte-Rôties for example. Look for the grower’s name.

Crozes-Hermitage
Reds are made from syrah and whites from marsanne and roussanne. Crozes-Hermitage accounts for more than half of the northern Rhône and its wines are plentiful and accessible. Reds are better than whites. Crozes-Hermitage comes in two parts. The largest is on the flat, close to the river and what would have been a river bed. It produces deeply coloured reds that are soft and fruity and without question a perfect introduction to the syrah of the north. The other part is behind the hill of Hermitage, sometimes on granite but mostly on white clay and limestone. This is the historic heart of Crozes producing wines of interest and substance and the whites from here can be outstanding too.


Hermitage
Syrah for reds, marsanne with a little roussanne for whites. This amazing southfacing slope has the greatest pedigree of any wine in the Rhône Valley. Its complex geology ensures added interest and complexity and in good years, Hermitage may sit at the highest tables. The downside is that the quality and reputation of Hermitage wines from the best producers means that there is a very limited supply of the best wines, and prices are set to rise.


Cornas
Red only from syrah. It is a small appellation nestling in a half amphitheatre of mostly granite, all facing fully south. The climate here is significantly warmer so Cornas is often among the first to harvest. Wines are black, thick and often tannic in their youth. Style is changing and quality is on the up, almost matching Hermitage. Cornas remains an uncompromising wine and rewards good food. Always decant.

Saint-Péray
White only made from marsanne and roussanne. The granite of Cornas gives way to limestone. The wines have more acidity and keep well. For some unaccountable reason, historically, most of the wine was sparkling but mercifully things are changing. There is big potential for fine whites. Producer’s name is essential.

The Drôme Valley
This is a major tributary of the Rhône that rises in the Alps and joins up with the Rhône to the south of Valence. At the western end there are a few vineyards, mostly of syrah and sold as Côtes-du- Rhône Brézème. This is rare, very little known and amazingly good-value source for Crozes-like reds. Further east, the landscape becomes more mountainous and the grapes mostly white, clairette and muscat and wines are mostly sparkling. Clairette de Die is light and sweet, a bit like Italian Asti, while Crémant de Die is dry and full-flavoured.
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Domaine Jean-Louis Chave

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave is unquestionably one of the great wine estates of France and, as the label says quite modestly, can trace its origins back to 1481. The family comes from the Ardèche, in particular the village of Lemps. This is still the spiritual home of the family, who own a large house there, and also the location of Chave’s first vineyards, on land which today is part of the Saint-Joseph appellation.

Of course the renown of Chave rests with the wines of Hermitage on the other side of the river, but acquisition came much later when the ravages of the phylloxera epidemic and the Great War made land suddenly available and at quite good prices. Today they own 15ha of vineyard, all scattered across Hermitage and reflecting the great geological diversity of the hill. It makes Chave the fourth-biggest landowner there (after Chapoutier, the Tain Co-operative and Jaboulet).

What makes the Chaves special, quite apart from their prodigious talents and attention to detail, is the respect they have for tradition and for the appellation itself. Their interpretation of Hermitage exists as a blend of different terroirs, from the granites of les Bessards to the rich clay and limestone of Méal. They make outstanding wines in both red and white Hermitage and in some years even a tiny amount of vin de paille.

The Wine Society has known two generations of Chaves. There was Gérard, learned epicurean with a passion for duck shooting, who made some of the greatest Hermitage ever,...
Domaine Jean-Louis Chave is unquestionably one of the great wine estates of France and, as the label says quite modestly, can trace its origins back to 1481. The family comes from the Ardèche, in particular the village of Lemps. This is still the spiritual home of the family, who own a large house there, and also the location of Chave’s first vineyards, on land which today is part of the Saint-Joseph appellation.

Of course the renown of Chave rests with the wines of Hermitage on the other side of the river, but acquisition came much later when the ravages of the phylloxera epidemic and the Great War made land suddenly available and at quite good prices. Today they own 15ha of vineyard, all scattered across Hermitage and reflecting the great geological diversity of the hill. It makes Chave the fourth-biggest landowner there (after Chapoutier, the Tain Co-operative and Jaboulet).

What makes the Chaves special, quite apart from their prodigious talents and attention to detail, is the respect they have for tradition and for the appellation itself. Their interpretation of Hermitage exists as a blend of different terroirs, from the granites of les Bessards to the rich clay and limestone of Méal. They make outstanding wines in both red and white Hermitage and in some years even a tiny amount of vin de paille.

The Wine Society has known two generations of Chaves. There was Gérard, learned epicurean with a passion for duck shooting, who made some of the greatest Hermitage ever, notably the 1978 and 1990. Then came his son Jean-Louis, introspective and perfectionist with his American wife and accent.

Jean-Louis gradually took over during the 1990s, helped no doubt by the run of less favourable vintages in 1992, 93 and 94 – it is always better to start with difficult vintages: if you can cope with these you can cope with anything! There is a restless energy about Jean-Louis and with it a realisation that making great Hermitage was not enough of a challenge. Accordingly, he founded a very successful négoce house, which produces a very fine Côtes-du-Rhône and Saint-Joseph.

Over the generations, the cellars in Chave’s headquarters at Mauve have expanded and today occupy three separate sites. First there are ancient cobwebbed cellars beneath Gérard’s house, where Hermitage is made. The négoce part of the enterprise is just round the corner in more functional surroundings. Finally, the Chaves bought the estate that was owned by their friends, the Florentin family. This included the legendary Clos de l’Arbelestrier which Jean-Louis is busy replanting and sorting out.

The big project chez Chave is their Saint-Joseph vineyards. The ancestral site in Lemps on very steep granite was never replanted after phylloxera: in those days there was neither the money nor the manpower to undertake such work and the price for Saint-Joseph wine was far less than Hermitage. Understandably, all their efforts went into the latter and it is only in the last 10 years or so that they have begun to look at Saint-Joseph afresh. The task has been enormous: clearing the land of trees and shrubs, ploughing, rebuilding miles of dry stone walls and, only then, replanting. But there is real belief here that these ancient soils will one day produce great wine again.

The Society’s Exhibition Hermitage
The Chaves are owners in many of the best plots on Hermitage. Each vineyard is harvested and vinified separately before being raised in Burgundian barrels. Jean-Louis Chave starts making up his blends after these elements have spent a year or so in barrel and, inevitably, some of become surplus to requirements. It is these parcels that form the basis of The Society’s Exhibition Hermitage.

The holdings on Hermitage
There are 9.3ha of reds and 4.6ha of whites The principal vineyards are as follows:
L’Hermite: 3.45 ha. Syrah and roussanne
Rocoules: 3.45 ha. Syrah and marsanne
Bessards: 2.05ha. 80-year-old syrah and the key ingredient in the red
Péléat: 1.51ha. Mostly syrah but there is a plot of 100-year-old marsanne
Le Méal: 1.02ha. 60-year-old syrah vines
Diognières: 0.58ha. 50-year-old syrah vines
Beaumes: 0.31ha. 60-year-old syrah vines
Vercandieres: 0.46 ha. Syrah on granite at the bottom of Bessards
Maison Blanche: 0.33ha. Marsanne

Winemaking is along classical lines except that the fruit is cooled down before fermentation begins. Historically, red Hermitage was always destemmed, and still is today, to about 80% in order to avoid astringent tannins. Maceration and cap management is done by punching down, sometimes very traditionally by foot.

All of the reds and most of the whites are aged in barrel for about 18 months with the amount of new wood dependent on the style of the vintage. Wines are bottled unfiltered and invariably develop a considerable crust or sediment.
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Rhône Vintage 2016

The verdict of all the growers we asked? ‘Exceptional.’ The weather remained perfect at harvest time and growers had the luxury of being able to pick as they pleased, optimising ripeness, plot by plot. One grower referred to the fruit at harvest time as in ‘demonstration mode’: the crop was immaculate and ripeness complete. Even the stalks that often remain green, had, in many cases, turned brown! The wines really are that good, in both the north and the south – the latter boasting some remarkable successes, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Northern Reds

These wines are bright and sleek, and have a wonderful density and purity of fruit, fine, well-integrated tannins and perfect balance. Despite the quality, it was not quite plain sailing in the north: Hermitage was hit by hail in April, in some cases halving the crop. Thankfully, the vines themselves were not too damaged and the wines, if anything, are even more concentrated as a result. Everywhere is good but...
The verdict of all the growers we asked? ‘Exceptional.’ The weather remained perfect at harvest time and growers had the luxury of being able to pick as they pleased, optimising ripeness, plot by plot. One grower referred to the fruit at harvest time as in ‘demonstration mode’: the crop was immaculate and ripeness complete. Even the stalks that often remain green, had, in many cases, turned brown! The wines really are that good, in both the north and the south – the latter boasting some remarkable successes, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Northern Reds

These wines are bright and sleek, and have a wonderful density and purity of fruit, fine, well-integrated tannins and perfect balance. Despite the quality, it was not quite plain sailing in the north: Hermitage was hit by hail in April, in some cases halving the crop. Thankfully, the vines themselves were not too damaged and the wines, if anything, are even more concentrated as a result. Everywhere is good but Saint-Joseph, with its steep granitic slopes tempering the ardour of the vintage, performed particularly well.

The Southern Reds

Perfection! From beginning to end, nothing went against the 2016 harvest in the south. There was heat and rain when it was needed and not a drop more! The wines are a joy. They have weight and concentration to be sure, with tannins that are fine and well integrated, and yet they also have real lift and charm. Châteauneuf is outstanding but then so is everything else. This will be one to savour over many years to come.

The Languedoc-Roussillon
Fantastic wines with classicism and purity of expression, plus a wonderful balancing freshness that really seems to be the signature of this vintage.

The Whites

The cool summer nights helped to preserve the fruit in the white wines, too, and they are excellent: full of flavour and concentration (especially in hail-affected Hermitage), but also purity of fruit and invigorating freshness. The Condrieu wines are wonderful, opulent yet focused, and the Saint-Péray and Crozes-Hermitage whites also stand out for depth and grace. In general, the whites are likely to keep well too.
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2016 vintage reviews

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