Notes on a vertical tasting of Chave Hermitage

I am the sort of wine drinker that if asked the question “What are the finest white and red varietal in existence, would answer Riesling and Syrah, although perhaps most would opt for chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. And for me the Riesling should be German and the Syrah should be a Northern Rhone.

I have always enjoyed Hermitage and have been lucky enough to taste many of them, including two occasions when we had the 1978 vintage of Chave Hermitage vs. the Jaboulet La Chapelle (each wine won one of those tastings so it is a draw at the moment).

I have a small stash of each and in the case of the Chave, which includes a case of the 1995 that has been in the cellar since release and hadn’t been touched until this tasting.

Parker, who I always respected when he was in his prime regarding Rhones, was very keen on the 95, thought the 96 to be good and the 97 to be even better. He was also complimentary to the 2000, and felt that the 1983 was drinking well back in the late 1990s.

Our tasting included the 83 in half bottle, and each of the 95, 96, 97 and 2000 in full bottles. I chose to taste them from youngest to oldest and we did it in two rounds, going through them all, then letting them sit for about an hour and going back to them to see how they had changed. The bottles had been opened 30-60 minutes before they were decanted and we waited a half hour after decanting to taste. Fortunately there were no corked bottles and fill levels were excellent.

2000 – medium dark wine with a nice nose that was floral with a bit of mint. Good up front acidity, soft tannins, blackberry fruit and good length. At the second tasting, it hadn’t changed ,uch, except to add a black olive component which partially replaced the blackberry we’d seen at first.

1997 – lighter colour, more violets in the nose, and red fruit rather than black. Again, soft tannins and a very pleasant mouthful. With time, the wine softened as well as fading slightly in the glass but was substantially the same as when first tasted.

1996 – excellent spicy nose leapt from the glass, nice weight on palate with a savory component and a salty finish. Judged to be the best we’d tasted to that point. The nose persisted in the later retaste.

1995 – lighter in colour with garnet highlights, and a funkier nose than the others and sweet/savory thing going on in the mouth that included black pepper and black olive, plus a smoky component not noted in the other wines. It hardly changed by the second tasting. Glad I held off opening these too early. Best so far.

1983 – lightest colour, reminiscent of a Burgundy, and as anticipated, fading a bit on palate, but an absolutely killer nose made up of anise, mint, 5 spice, and in the long finish, notes of cinnamon and black tea (the latter likely a symptom of age). In the second tasting, more minty in the nose, the rest of the components still present, and the fruit faded a bit. Hard to adequately describe the complexities of the nose of this wine – I could have happily sat there and just sniffed it for ages. I hope to be in on the opening of a full bottle from the same source in future.

Fascinating tasting of superb wines and something I intend to repeat with Jaboulet La Chapelle (I still have some 79 and 82 in the cellar as well as more recent vintages through the mid 90s – just need to find someone with a 78 they are willing to open!