October 21, 2011 J.L. Chave Séléction
J.L. Chave Séléction Hermitage Blanche
marsanne, roussanne (a touch)
From the vineyards of Hermitage overlooking the Rhône…
… to the salmon-rich waters of the Humber River in western Newfoundland. A great wine/food pairing.
Hermitage is one of those iconic terroirs that every wine drinker wishes to experience. It is just 134 hectares, a hillside overlooking the Rhône and the village of Tain l’Hermitage. The vineyards lie a hundred metres above the river, positioned wonderfully to soak up the summer sun, their various soil types leaving distinctive imprints. The reds are syrah, the whites mostly marsanne (with a touch of roussanne).
The estates are renowned (Chave, Chapoutier, Jaboulet, Delas), the wines very pricey. Enter J.L. Chave Séléction, the small négociant arm of the famed estate. Drink wine from Hermitage and still pay off your mortgage. Not the top cuvées, yet very, very good.
J.L. Chave is as deeply steeped in the tradition of wine making as anywhere in France. It bears over 500 years of Chave family ownership (in the paternal mode), passed from father to son since 1481, with the first son of every second generation named Jean-Louis. The family owns vines in nine of the eighteen vineyards that make up the hill, a total of about 14 hectares. The domaine is every bit as famous for its whites as it is its reds. Says the present Jean-Louis Chave, “If there is a place that ever was supposed to be home to grapes it is Hermitage.”
Jean-Louis is still in his early 40s. His father, Gérard, did much to enhance the estate during his tenure, when in his early days Hermitage was viewed as a far lesser wine than it is today. Jean-Louis maintains the exemplary reputation of the Hermitage wines, yet finds time to turn his expert attention to his négociant operation. As his father did, he quietly goes about the business of making extraordinary wines, steering well clear of the limelight.
The sole Séléction white wine from Hermitage is this Blanche, sourced from various parcels, including the hilltop Maison Blanche. The winemaking is natural and non-interventionalist, and undertaken with extreme care. If there is one aspect of the process at which the domaine excels above all others it is the fine art of blending. “You think about it all the time,” say Jean-Louis. He constantly weighs the merits of the wine that comes from each individual parcel, allowing it to express itself before deciding in any given year what will constitute the blend of each wine. “Making wine is not our job,” he says, “it is our life.”
J.L. Chave Séléction Hermitage Blanche 2006
Sunny gold in the glass. A mineral pepper quality on the nose, a creamy yeastiness. So inviting, such a notion of something special. There is a natural, home-baked texture to the wine, an approachable complexity that is at once rich and balanced. A wine not to be approached lightly, but to be savoured and constantly admired. $$