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Pure perfection, the 2010 Hermitage reminds Jean-Louis Chave of their 1990. It appears to be a richer, fresher example of what I remember the 1990 tasting like in 1992. The wine exhibits an opaque purple color along with an extraordinary bouquet of sweet blackberry fruit intermixed with creme de cassis, lead pencil shavings, acacia flowers, bouquet garni, meat and crushed rocks. Full-bodied and stunningly rich with laser-like precision, this is a powerful, massive yet exceptionally well-balanced wine that should be forgotten for a decade and drunk over the following 30-40 years. 

I have had the privilege of tasting at this brilliant family-owned estate for over 30 years. During that time, I have seen first-hand the glory of a true evolution from father Gerard Chave to his son, Jean-Louis, and of course, the Chave family has been doing this since 1472. It is one of those small but world-class wine enterprises that is truly inspiring. Tasting through the different vineyards before their newest red and white Hermitages are blended is an education in the different terroirs of that famous dome of largely decomposed granite mixed with gravel and clay. Jean-Louis Chave characterized the 2011 vintage as challenging, where one had to perform draconian crop-thinning and selections in the winery. All the St.-Joseph vineyards are located on steep hillsides near the Chaves’ home village of Mauves, to as far north as St.-Jean de Muzols and Ste.-Epine as well as those once known as Clos Florentin.

 

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.

Parker 100 points

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History

Jean-Louis Chave Chave is known for opting for blending Syrah from their 15 ha vineyards on the Hermitage hill. Their philosophy is against single vineyard wines since blending guarantees more complexity in the wine. In this superb wine this is clearly indicated by the tremendous complexity. Syrah from Bessards is giving rich fruit intensity and concentration to the wine while Méal more depth in flavours and bouquet. Rocoules adds finesse in structure and length along the floral tones. L’Hermite contributes peppery earthy tones and colour. Péléat gives wildness and firmness in structure whereas Diognières provides colour and the savoury tastiness. The Chave family firm has been passed from father to son since its establishment in 1481, through numerous generations, and currently it is under the direction of Jean Louis Chave, although his father Gerard still works with him. The estate is based on the right bank of the Rhone. Chave Hermitage is one of the greatest wines of the appellation, and many think of it as the top wine.

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Vineyards

While based in a small village not far from Cornas, the heart of their operation lies across the river, where they own vines in nine of the eighteen vineyards that cover the Hermitage hill. The Chaves believe the rich variety of terroir to be found there is critical when it comes to the finesse, structure and complexity they require for their blends. 

After centuries of nurture, this family have an intimate understanding of their surroundings. Those plots that do not meet their elevated standards simply aren't used. One such plot is in Les Vercandières, a thin strip at the base of the highly significant Les Bessards vineyard, which they use as a vegetable patch.

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Inside information

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 colors 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 center 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 traditionalperfectionist 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.

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8 different wines with 80 vintages

Highlights

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Wine Moments

Here you can see wine moments from tastingbook users.    or    to see wine moments from your world.

 John Kapon / CEO / Ackerr Merrall & Condit, Pro (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  17 wines 

Moet & Chandon Vintage 1911 / This was a later release; in fact, it was released by Moet to celebrate the 100th year of this vintage.  When first released, it was sold at auction along with a date with Scarlett Johansson.  I’m not sure if the first buyer ever got that date, but I do know that the second buyer insisted if he got that date, Hollywood history might have been a little different lol.  There was a ‘bigger finish’ here per Big Boy, and Jetski admired its ‘smokiness.’  There was so much exotic to this bottle – exotic fruits, exotic fireplace.  It was clearly the most complex, and most people’s favorite.  110 years old never tasted so good (98).

5m 9d ago

 John Kapon / CEO / Ackerr Merrall & Condit, Pro (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  8 wines 

The 1988 DRC La Tache told everyone immediately that it was here for business. There was some creamy, sweet spice, with lots of dusty tomato on the vine and some white pepper and a twist of lime. This was a margarita of a palate, in fact! Speaking of the palate, there was so much density and richness by comparison to the previous two. Rich and leathery, it had great vitamin flavors on its thick and long finish. I was flip-flopping between 96 and 97 points (96+).

6m 6d ago

 Richard Hemming MW, Wine Writer (United Kingdom)  tasted  2 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  31 wines 

Penfolds G5, Released on 1 November, final one of the 'g' trio. 2,200 bottles made. 2018 and 2016 (blended out of barrel), plus 2014, 2012 and 2010 (blended out of bottle). 70% Barossa. 97% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Finished in used oak.
Opened ten hours earlier. Intoxicating oak scent – drenched with coconut and vanilla. Lusciously fruited, of course, with a few degrees more subtlety than the Grange 2017. Brambles from start to finish, with not a thorn in sight. It is a marvel of blending, without any peppery character, but all the richness and history of Barossa Shiraz. Finishes with black liquorice.

8m 13d ago

 John Kapon / CEO / Ackerr Merrall & Condit, Pro (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  19 wines 

A 1978 Dujac Gevrey Chambertin Aux Combottes quickly stole the show from the 1985 flight. This was a perfect example of a wine punching above its weight class. ‘Wow,’ started my notes. It was close to the Clos de la Roche with a sappy, sexy nose full of musk, along with great concentration, pitch and a leathery finish. There was not a lot of spitting once the reds came around, and the notes were getting sloppy. I wrote something about putting something to bed, in bed, I can’t quite tell, maybe I was referring to myself lol (97).

1y 1m ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  19 wines 

2018 Penfolds BIN 98 Quantum Cabernet Sauvignon/ Ruby. Cassis, vanilla, spices, rich, deep, some floral high notes, deep and rich nose, intense. Fresh acidity, ripe tannins, dark fruits, anise, blackberries and spices, rich, intense and layered, quite a bit of wood, dense and long. 96

1y 2m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  18 wines 

"Last Call"-tasting with wines like Lafite and Latour 1982, Krug 2004 and 1982, Monte Bello 1974 and 1984 etc...

1y 8m ago

 John Kapon / CEO / Ackerr Merrall & Condit, Pro (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  23 wines 

The 2011 Comtes Lafon Montrachet showed some banana on the nose and palate, with a tropical sweetness and a touch of glue. It was initially a bit awkward on the finish, but Alberto noticed it got better and drier with food, becoming his favorite. I agreed that it got better, and so Pitts, channeling his inner Tony the Tiger and proclaiming, ‘it’s great!’ (95p).

2y 2d ago

 Thomas Girgensohn, Wine Blogger (Australia)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  26 wines 

Guigal La Mouline is always the more feminine wine of the three, and this is true for the 2015 La Mouline. The grapes come from 100 year old vines with very low yields. This Shiraz includes 10% Viognier, and the wine is matured for two years in new oak. There is no whole bunch included. This wine without doubt was the wine of the night. Fragrant, opulent, fresh, elegant, velvety, pure, silky, spicy; this comes to mind rather than any fruit descriptors. This full-bodied wine has incredible length and stays with you for some time (98 points). 

2y 6d ago

 Jancis Robinson MW, Wine Writer (United Kingdom)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  28 wines 

Roussean Chambertin 1990 / Bright ruby – quite a deep colour actually. Delightfully shaded. Pungent and definitely with lots of tertiary aromas. This has crossed the Rubicon into something serious! Fireworks and explosions. Great breadth and richness. Long and kerpow. So complex and beautfully balanced, Struck match quality. Fine tannins on the finish but lots of pleasure. Tense and exciting.

2y 6m ago

 John Kapon / CEO / Ackerr Merrall & Condit, Pro (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  9 wines 

Everyone wants to know, ‘how is Hong Kong?’ It has certainly been a tumultuous and strenuous second half to the year for one of the world’s greatest cities, and after a bit of recent and extended calm, things unfortunately escalated again on New Year’s Day. The hospitality business has definitely been hit hard, and the city regularly feels emptier than usual due to a spike downwards in tourism. When there are major protests in a certain area, local businesses are basically screwed. People do not go out on the weekends or holidays as much since most of the protests are on weekends or holidays, unless they are protesting, of course. Reports of recession have emerged, and everyone to whom I have spoken yearns for a return to normalcy.
But for its finest wine lovers, pleasure and business continue in fine fashion. People want to enjoy their passion, perhaps even more so given the circumstances. And two short but sweet meals on my two trips there this Fall would prove to be outstanding examples of this point.

2y 7m ago

 Julia Harding MW, Wine Writer (United Kingdom)  tasted  1 wines  from  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave . In a tasting of  20 wines 

Penfolds Grange 1990 / 95% Shiraz, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.Smoky coffee and cassis and a little herbal and just a touch leathery. Much more evolved than the 1991. Fine grained and more elegant tannins than the 1986. Fine grip and freshness, dry but not drying. Long and rich and satisfying. (JH)

2y 11m ago

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