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 2011 Hermitage (also still in barrel), in comparison, is more focused and straight, with a slightly more serious feel to its tannin profile and overall structure. All of the samples (again, tasted in individual components) were beautifully perfumed, with the Les Bessards (which will make up the bulk of the blend) showing surprising density and concentration in a vintage that generally produced more up-front and supple wines. A serious 2011 that will certainly be one of the stars of the vintage, it should be reasonably approachable on release and have an easy two decades of longevity. One of the highlight visits during my time spent working in the Northern Rhone, Jean-Louis Chave (who is often called "The Pope of Hermitage" by others) makes some of the most profound wines in the world today. As he says, "We don't make Chave, we make Hermitage," and there are few things more educational, when trying to understand this storied appellation, than to taste through each of Jean-Louis's different Hermitage plots from barrel. The striking minerality and austere cut of the l'Ermite parcel is in stark contrast to the voluptuousness and texture that's found in the Le Meal (which is just down the slope); and both are completely different from the silky, polished and perfumed Peleat lieu-dit. Despite the notoriety here, Jean-Louis remains one of the most humble and straight talking winemakers out there, and his wines deserve a place in any wine lover's cellar. Score: 96/98 Points; Jeb Dunnuck, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate
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