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France_Rhone_Hermitage

Hermitage is one of the smallest regions in France but maybe with the most high quality-producers for such a small region. It is only 132 ha or the size of say Pichon-Baron. Located in the Northern Rhone region of France some of its steep slopes are akin to the Mosel Valley. The hill of Hermitage is mainly granite is a sight see with the names of the most important producers in big white letters half way up the slopes. Also similar to Germany oddly enough. 


The main and only allowable red grape is Syrah. Again the rules of the appellation, oddly enough allow 15% white varietals, which almost no producers I can think of use. The rare white Hermitage is made from a combination of Marsanne and Rousanne. Although Marsanne is more typically used in larger quantities, sometimes 100% with no Roussanne at all. These are thick dry wines that age extraordinarily well but go through a long period where they can seem closed to the point of oxidation. Only after that phase do they blossom into unforgettable, elegant, rich and complex wines. The top cuvees of White Hermitage from top producers can fetch $300-$450 a bottle. Some producers such as Chapoutier own many different parcels on the hillside and maybe label them individually as the soil types and exposure are so different as to ensure a completely different expression. 


Now back to the main topic, red Hermitage, as that is what 2/3 of production in this ridiculously small appellation is. These are wines that have serious structure and demand to be aged and have beguiling aromas of dark fruits, animal, leather, olive and a barnyard quality that attracts traditional wine drinkers. As the appellation is so small the style of Hermitage does not change much. There can be differences in winemaking philosophies though but the end product is always unmistakably Hermitage. It is all pretty traditional. Chapoutier spoofed it up in the late 80's and early 90's but much of what he makes today is very terroir focused and pure without hyper-extraction and offensive oak usage. These wines can be difficult to drink in their youth and I would say that for good Hermitage 15-25 years is necessary in the bottle. They age almost like a top Bordeaux would. The entry level price is around $50 and they can go to $1500 for some of the top Chave cuvees.


Notable Recent Vintages: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2003 (extreme wines, very hot and dry vintage), 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997


Top producers (in no particular order) include:

  • J.L. Chave
  • Bernard Chave
  • Paul Jaboulet (esp. Hermitage La Chapelle pre 1990 and post 2001)
  • Delas
  • Guigal (pre. 1990)
  • Bernard Faurie
  • Alain Graillot
  • Chapoutier (recent vintages only)
  • M. Sorrel
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