Grapevine Archive for Hermitage

Tue 25 Oct 2011

In the Rhône, Day 1: Domaine Chave

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The Tête de l’Aigle or 'Eagle's Head' in Saint-Joseph

I can remember my first visit to Chave back in 1987. I tasted Hermitage, vineyard by vineyard, finishing always with the mighty Bessards. Saint-Joseph was never more than an afterthought in the line up, tasted if at all between the white and red Hermitage.

How things have changed. Slowly, Gérard and his son Jean-Louis began reclaiming once famous slopes below their ancestral home of Lemps. Then Jean-Louis started to buy wines from friends and neighbours, and eventually grapes as well. The new wine was given the name Offerus and is a textbook Saint-Joseph which the Society has bought in every vintage (the 2004 is still available at the time of writing).

The picture is of a steep part of Saint-Joseph called the Tête de l’Aigle or ‘Eagle’s Head’ after the striking outcrop of granite that stands in the middle of it. This is part of an estate recently acquired by Jean-Louis Chave. This came when Jean-Louis bought the Florentin estate, the heart of which was the historic Clos de l’Arbelestrier (a source of exceptional reds in particular). With it the Chaves have become masters in Saint-Joseph once again, with a clear intention of making great wine.

So back to my visit: now not just Hermitage is tasted vineyard by vineyard, but also Saint-Joseph, which revealed just how complex this patchwork of largely granite slopes can be. The two vintages tasted were 2010 and 2009 though I did have a little look at a somewhat embryonic and promising 2011.

Both ’10 and ’09 were clearly outstanding, though quite different: 2009 is full and sundrenched with an underlying tannic structure of some substance. 2010 is, if anything, blacker and more intense, but more mineral and shot with a life-affirming seam of acidity. Look out for the 2010 Saint Joseph Offerus which we will include in the Opening Offer due out in January.

We then dined together in a perfect little restaurant where the cooking is simple, homespun and delicious. Jean-Louis bought a bottle he happened to stumble over in his cellar. It was a Cornas from Noel Verset and a 1978 to boot. Completely sensational. For anyone with decent vintages of Verset’s wines in their cellar, there is no hurry!

Marcel Orford-Williams

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