As if being privileged to taste through 20 vintages of Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage the other day wasn't enough, I headed back over to the domaine in Mauves this morning to focus on the 2010 and 2011 vintages.
Jean-Louis Chave continues building a new path for St.-Joseph, focusing on his newly acquired Le Clos vineyard as well as hillside parcels he has planted over the years. One site, in Lemps, is now finished, a scant 5 acres which took nearly 15 years to plant on the steep hillsides that Chave has slowly cleared, re-terraced and returned to vineyards.
"Another five, maybe 10 years," said Chave languidly. "Then I should be finished planting the St.-Joseph. But it's really exciting for me, to create that. Because in Hermitage, of course, you cannot create something new, you can only defend the site. It was there before me and will be there after me. But in St.-Joseph … what is St.-Joseph? We don't know really yet, what it is."
As the vineyard development slowly moves into its final phase, Chave has had to expand his facility in Mauves. A large crane now maneuvers over the domaine's main house in town, as Chave has bought the building next door and is adding on cellar space. He's also renovating the Le Clos facility at the southern end of town to house his burgeoning négoce operation, Jean-Louis Chave Sélection, from which he produces Côtes du Rhône, St.-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and, debuting in the 2007 vintage, to be released this summer, Hermitage. Chave's wife, Erin, is also considering opening a small boutique hotel, which the area sorely needs.
"And it was his idea," she said, gesturing at Jean-Louis. "The guy is in the vineyards all day and he's thinking of hotels!"
A regular stop, you can reference my most recent background and notes from my May 2011 visit.
We started with the separate lots that will eventually make up the 2011 Hermitage White. From the Péleat lieu-dit, with flatter, clay soils, the wine shows plump heather and peach notes.
"That was picked rather late," said Chave. "I understand the fashion for minerally wines now. Just like the fashion in the '90s was for big wines. But we're still picking a few weeks after everyone else. In white Hermitage, there isn't acidity. If you're looking for it, you'll get grapes that aren't ripe. But if you believe in the terroir, you will get ripeness and minerality in white Hermitage, with a wine that is still rich."
From the Roucoules lieu-dit, the wine shows more tension and cut, while from a different area of Péleat, with older vines on limestone slopes, the wine pulls together freshness along with a range of pear, heather and almond notes.
"2011 is very easy to explain," said Chave. "You had summer in spring and spring in summer. Hot and dry to start, cool and wet in July and August. So the flatter parts are not as interesting as the slopes, because they collected water and didn't get concentrated. Normally the hills might suffer because they struggle with drought and heat and can stop ripening. But in 2011 they functioned properly all the way through and then we got the Indian summer in September, so it was really ideal."
From the Méal lieu-dit, there is a bracing white peach note, with a long, elegant, floral finish. Another portion from Méal, but further up the slope and with high turbidity, shows smoke, almond, piecrust and roasted pineapple notes. The last sample drawn, from Maison Blanche, sizzles with cut, as almond paste, heather honey and melon rind notes show great tension. It checks in at 15 percent alcohol according to Chave, but you'd never know it.
The 2010 Hermitage White is closer to being completed, though there is basically half the crop in 2010 compared with '11. A sample of the pre-blend is ripe and unctuous in feel, and refuses to break down in the mouth, with creamed melon, green fig, green almond and heather notes all rolled together and backed by a long, freshly baked brioche note.
"The blend will certainly change," said Chave. "This is to give us some direction. "Blending whites is much harder than reds because the danger is to make something too rich or flabby, and then the wine is lost. You need to keep the balance and whites are less forgiving. That is why I can understand the concept of single-vineyard whites, more than single-vineyard reds."
"White Hermitage really is unlike anything else," continued Chave. "We are really lucky to have Michel [Chapoutier] so committed to white. He could have pulled it out and planted Syrah. But he really has stayed true to that culture and history of his estate, which is great for the appellation."
The 2009 Hermitage White, now bottled and set for release, cascades with buttery but driven layers of lemon curd, brioche, heather, creamed Jonagold apple, toasted almond and persimmon notes, with gorgeous mouthfeel and stunning length. Despite its weight, it has a lovely floral edge for balance, with a stony echo on the finish.
"2009 is interesting, as it's such a rich year for the reds, and in vintages like that, usually the whites suffer. But in '09 the whites stayed fresh," said Chave.
Moving to the estate's 2011 St.-Joseph, we sampled a lot from Dardeuilles, which gives dark cherry and licorice notes, but stays very sleek despite its forward, ripe feel. A sample from Les Oliviers is a shade darker and longer, while also offering a more briary feel and tangy edge. From the Bechesson plantings above the town of Lemps, a pastis note quickly gives way to a chalky intensity and long iron finish, with a live wire of acidity running through it. From the recently acquired Le Clos, the wine shows a plump feel, with ebullient ripe cherry fruit and red licorice note, all giving way to a violet hint on the high-toned finish.
Now with three vintages from Le Clos vinified in his cellar, Chave feels he has a handle on the new site.
"It's exactly what we thought it would be. Bright and pure. On granite, but gravelly granite which is well-drained and lean, so the wine has no fatness," said Chave, who said he is not surprised at getting such good results so quickly from the site.
"Not much had been done to the vineyard before and it had never ever seen a single chemical spray," he said. "It had only been a bit neglected, which means it hadn't been properly exploited, as opposed to being harmed."
From Chave's most recent plantings in Challets, the wine shows an edgier feel, with tangy kirsch fruit—lively but not refined.
"That's the frustration of young vines," he said.
For the 2011 Hermitage, we started with a sample from Péleat, which is taut and nervy, offering red fruit and a chalky edge. From the granite soils of l'Ermite, the wine courses with cassis and red licorice, showing a sappy but still tightly wound, long, rapier finish. From more pebbly soils in l'Ermite next to Méal, the wine shows more blackberry fruit and a juicier, richer texture. From Le Méal itself, a refined rope of cassis is intertwined with flora, iron and rooibos notes and seems very complete on its own. The Les Beaumes lieu-dit shows heft, with cocoa, espresso and licorice root notes and a chewier feel on the finish. Even darker and richer is the portion vinified from Les Bessards, with deep cocoa and licorice notes and lots of bass to help fill out the ultimate blend.
"2011 might be more tender than '09 or '10 for sure," said Chave. "But there are serious wines too. It's a nice vintage to have after '09 and '10, because you want a mélange of styles in vintages."
The 2010 reds here have really stretched out since my last visit, as this vintage in general has taken on impressive weight and length, catching up to and in many cases surpassing the richer, fleshier 2009s.
"The flesh is what makes '09. But what makes '10 is the bones," said Chave. "The wines were really tight early on but they have really soaked up their élevage."
The 2010 St.-Joseph from Bachesson shows great cut, with cherry skin, Campari and red licorice notes and lots of life on the finish. The Le Clos is racy and defined, with gorgeous blackberry, mouthwatering anise and super depth. Because of the smaller crop in 2010, portions from Dardeuilles and Les Oliviers were blended together, and the wine is a touch reduced, with hints at dark roasted fig, chestnut and bitter cocoa notes.
Tasting through the lots for the 2010 Hermitage, the sample from Péleat delivers a beam of licorice that gets denser as it moves through the finish. The Les Beaumes is plump, with dark berry preserve, espresso and charcoal notes. From Lé Meal, melted licorice, crushed fig and plum fruit notes rush forth, with lots of bass but great vivacity as extra loganberry and briar fill in on the finish. As in the '11, it seems the most complete on its own today. The l'Ermite portion is immense, with layers of cocoa, tar and fig paste supported by immense tannins. The Les Bessards is a touch reduced, with beefy-edged espresso and baker's chocolate notes and ample heft.
Typically when we taste through the components at chez Chave, there is one lieu-dit that stands out and seems likely to define the final blend. In '10 however, the quality level is amazingly consistent from sample to sample, boding well for what should be one of the top vintages here. Nonetheless, Chave noted it is not a cakewalk from here.
"This is when the blend is actually most difficult to make, when you have such evenness. When there is a dominant part, you can build around it, because you know what direction you need to go in. But when everything is even at the start, that direction is hard to find, because with each lot you add to the blend, the blend will keep changing," he said.
Another result of 2010's evenness is that there is likely to be no 2010 Cathelin bottling, the microcuvée that Chave produces in some vintages. "It would be too difficult to choose something for Cathelin, and then, ultimately, it would be a different expression from the main blend either," explained Chave.
The bottled 2009 Hermitage is, not surprisingly, no different from when I tasted it in the vertical lineup with Chave a few days ago. Dark and loaded, with terrific flesh and a gorgeous lacing of charcoal to hold the plum, cassis and blackberry fruit together, it is both muscular and seamless and a clear classic.
And lastly, the 2009 Ermitage Cathelin is set to be bottled soon. The first vintage for this cuvée since the stunning 2003, it contains fruit primarily from the Les Bessards lieu-dit in this vintage (it shifts from vintage to vintage). The core of warm fig reduction and plum is coated with myriad flavors, including Valrhona chocolate, fresh espresso, roasted chestnut, alder wood and tar. The texture is like crumpled velvet, with an amazing combination of muscle and purity. Apparently Chave hasn't spent so much time thinking about hotels that's he's neglected to focus on the wine.
With 125,000 cases of wine, Delas is not exactly a small company, but it does have that feel. Head winemaker Jacques Grange is as génial as they come. He's a smart, serious winemaker, but still soft spoken and always smiling. The winery itself, located on a side road in St.-Jean-de-Muzols is modest on the outside and inside. The bulk of the production, volumewise, is Côtes du Rhône and Ventoux bottlings from the south while the heart of the production is Northern Rhône, from 35 acres of vines owned by the estate.
And lots of change continues here, with initial organic farming trials now being done on 7.4 acres and an entirely new viticultural team in place for all of the estate, a full-time team rather than the previously subcontracted work.
"It's a really good team, with a great spirit and enthusiasm for the changes we are trying to make," said Grange. "And so far we don't have any additional disease pressures in the organic blocks than the other blocks. Nothing that wouldn't be normal for the kind of spring we have had. The real problem is the speed of the vegetative growth right now—the leaves are tender and the tendrils very long and thin as so much energy is being spent. It's been a record amount of water this spring, after several dry springs."
A semi-regular stop for me, you can reference additional background on Delas from my blog notes from my March 2010 visit. Granges is assisted by Claire Darnaud-McKerrow, the assistant technical director, who rejoined Delas in 2009 (her own Darnaud-McKerrow project is on hold for now).
The 2011 Crozes-Hermitage White Les Launes, bottled six weeks ago, shows very bright floral, plantain and meringue aromas and flavors, with a pure, green almond-tinged finish.
"I think the cooler July helped to keep the freshness of aromas. They haven't been cooked out, and so the whites are really highly aromatic in '11," said Darnaud-McKerrow.
The 2011 St.-Joseph White Les Challeys, also bottled, is very open and inviting, with creamy melon, almond, lemon curd and pear flavors that glide effortlessly through the finish. As flattering as it is in feel, it stays pure and racy.
From tank, a sample of the 2011 Condrieu La Galopine is still sitting on its lees and has yet to finish its malolactic (though not all the cuvée goes through the secondary fermentation). It shows a lightly milky, crème fraîche edge, but has lots of bright anise, white peach and bitter almond notes and ample weight on the finish.
"We want to keep the wine on their lees as long as possible, up to about two months before bottling. Since during the bottling process the wine picks up oxygen, we want them to be as protected as possible up to that point," said Darnaud-McKerrow.
The increased attention to detail in the vineyards here is demonstrated in the samples shown for the 2011 Condrieu Clos Boucher. The wine is sourced from 5 acres that have been divided into five different blocks since the 2010 vintage, with press and free-run juice kept separate from each. Since the change in how the vineyard is managed, there are two weeks of ripening between when the first parcel is picked and the last. The wine is partially barrel fermented. A sample drawn from stainless steel from the first block picked shows lively green and yellow apple notes, with a racy floral feel and nice intensity through the finish. A sample from the last parcel picked is also from stainless and has gone through malo, showing more bergamot, quince and green fig notes and a creamier feel. A sample of a barrel-fermented lot (50 percent new oak) is an entirely different wine in and of itself, with toasted brioche, almond and macadamia nut aromas, lush creamed pear fruit and a lingering matchstick note that hints at a touch of reduction. Also fermented in half new oak and with full malo, a sample harvested during the middle of the two-week stretch shows a lovely combination of floral and talc hints along with fuller creamed melon and pear, all carried by a lush, brioche-filled finish.
The 2011 Hermitage White Marquise de la Tourette, sourced from the Le Grand Vigne lieu-dit on granite soils above l'Ermite at the top of the hill, shows lovely chamomile and plantain notes, with a strong yellow apple core that stays pure and focused through the finish, which is tightly framed by a quinine streak. It is typically blended with grapes sourced from a portion at the bottom of the Bessards section of the hill, which shows more flesh and lots of creamed melon, sweetened butter, brioche and quince. It's the bass to complement the treble of La Grande Vigne.
All of the 2010 reds were bottled between one and two weeks ago.
The 2010 Crozes-Hermitage Le Clos shows a layer of toasty oak that has not yet been soaked up, with vanilla bean, roasted tobacco leaf and cedar dust hints that are slowly seeping into the stylish blackberry and red cherry fruit. That fruit then slowly gives way to a subtle sanguine hint on the finish. Despite the toast, this has a decidedly more elegant feel than most Crozes, which often displays full-bodied, forward, fleshy black fruits.
The 2010 St.-Joseph François de Tournon is far more open, with inviting cassis and blackberry fruit laced with suave mocha and bittersweet cocoa notes. The finish picks up nice iron-edged grip, showing the more terroir-driven profile of the vintage. Its muscular feel is in contrast to the 2011 St.-Joseph Ste.-Épine, which is tightly wound, but finer in profile, with a bracing iron note, crushed damson plum and red currant fruit and a violet note weaving through the finish. It should unwind slowly in the cellar while maintaining its minerally spine and elegant approach.
The 2010 Côte-Rôtie Seigneur de Maugiron is loaded with still slightly chunky blackberry, loganberry and briar notes, all laced with a vibrant licorice snap note. Bitter cocoa and singed coffee bean notes fill in on the finish, with the pleasantly bitter edge adding a mouthwatering edge. A long charcoal spine drives the finish and this will need a few years of cellaring to settle into itself.
The 2010 Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes (a change in name from the former Marquise de la Tourette label) is very backward, with dark espresso, roasted fig and macerated currant fruit notes all rolled together and framed by smoldering ash, tar and graphite notes that have yet to stretch out fully. It's youthfully raw and densely packed but with finely beaded acidity ultimately driving it all, which bodes very well for cellaring.
"As good as the '09s are showing now, the '10s are tighter focused and more intellectual. They are just starting to come into themselves and are showing more and more each day," said Darnaud-McKerrow.
The 2010 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne isn't showing any effects of the mis (bottling process), with stunning bittersweet cocoa, mocha and licorice root notes along with densely layered road tar, blueberry paste, smoldering tobacco leaf, currant and pâte de fruit flavors. The finish is loaded with authoritative structure that is fine-grained and well-integrated despite its obvious heft. This has both a throwback and modern feel to it and is perhaps the most compelling La Landonne made here, including the stunning '99, the exotic '03 and densely structured '05.
The 2010 Hermitage Les Bessards is also relatively open (it is the most recently bottled and thus has yet to start shutting down, according to Grange), considering its enormous weight and depth, with thick, tar-coated grip supporting the incredibly lush fig paste, crushed plum and blackberry preserve notes. Loam and cocoa fill in all the remaining space on the finish, before the tarry grip reasserts itself and finally takes the wine over. This is a massive Hermitage, beautifully done in the powerful style, and it should reward two decades of cellaring.
"For me, the '10s are complicated now," said Grange. "They will need at least five to six years to start to really show what they have. They are a little like '05, though '05 was even more austere when young and took a little longer to unwind. The '10s have more flesh, but very similar tannins."
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