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The Chaves have been growing vines on the famous Hermitage hill for over 500 years. Gérard Chave took over from his father in 1970 and rapidly achieved megastar status due to the extraordinary quality of his wines. The estate is currently under the helm of University of California Davis graduate Jean Louis Chave , although his father Gerard still plays an active role. The domaine produces a red St Joseph 'Offerus' (made in equal proportions from senior vines in Mauves and St -Jean-de Muzols), an acclaimed Vin de Paille, but their reputation is built on their superb red Hermitage (Syrah with the addition of 15% white grapes) and white Hermitage (85% Marsanne and 15% Roussanne).

The Chaves own 15 hectares of vines on the Hermitage and crucially their Hermitage holding is spread across 9 of the 18 climates on the hill (incl. Les Bessards, the adjacent Le Méal, Les Roucoles, Maison Blanche and the monopoles L'Hermite and Peléat). This means that they can produce a blend which reflects the separate "terroirs" of the climates and is a perfect balance between aromatic complexity, power and finesse.

The 2004 red Hermitage, which was given a much longer time in barrel and small foudre than normal because the Chaves determined the tannins and the acids needed a longer time to integrate, is a beauty. The wine exhibits a dense ruby/purple color, a big, sweet nose of creme de cassis, black cherry, licorice, pepper, and a hint of olive paste. It is a full-bodied wine that tastes atypical for this vintage with its beautifully integrated acidity and sweet tannin. The wine is structured, more masculine and backward than the over-the-top, full-throttle 2003. Readers could probably think of it as an improved, modern-day version of the 1988 or 1998.

I reviewed them last year and gave them perfect scores, but before leaving the cellars, I had the privilege of retasting the 2003 red Hermitage (about 16% natural alcohol) and the 2003 red Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin (2400 bottles produced, and the Chaves aren

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