Hermitage La Chapelle

La Chapelle

The hill of Hermitage is one of France’s most famous terroirs; an old vineyard whose name first appears in a play written 1680 and whose wines were revered by the likes of Thomas Jefferson. Go back even further in time and wines from this corner of France were known to Romans Pliny and Martial. The term Old World seems very appropriate here.

The hill itself is 132ha of south-facing granite looming over Tain l’Hermitage and the river Rhone below. At the top sits the small chapel of Saint-Christophe which gives its name to the appellation’s most famous wine. Paul Jaboulet Ainé have owned the chapel since the end of the first world war and whilst the likes of Chapoutier and Chave make world class wines in Hermitage, neither make a wine that inspires the same romance and sense of history as La Chapelle.

Jancis Robinson has written about how La Chapelle 1961 was one of the most celebrated wines when she first started writing about wine: “Practically everyone serious about wine then had a story to tell about this wine. How they nearly tasted it, how it knocked the socks off the almost equally famous Château Latour 1961, how they drove three hours up the M1 to drink the last two bottles off a restaurant’s wine list.” She goes out to reminisce about discovering a twenty-year old bottle in a pub in Newbury for the princely sum of £30. If only lists like that existed today. 

The 1961 is far from the only vintage that has true oenophiles going misty eyed. Robert Parker has given his maximum score to both the 1978 and the 1990. The 1978 is my bucket-list wine; probably the finest produced in the Rhone that year and the (very) big sibling of a sublime Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert I drank recently.

The history of La Chapelle was for many years best told over a long dinner by Gerard Jaboulet, the family’s much-loved globe-trotting ambassador. His passing in 1997 cast a shadow over the wine that was only really lifted when the Frey family purchased Paul Jaboulet Aine nearly a decade later. The Freys' ambition, investment and unstinting demand for quality has reawakened interest in La Chapelle. 

Of the wines currently in the market, the 2001 and 2005 are fantastic examples. The former is textbook La Chapelle; perfect now, a classic Rhone vintage for drinking rather than collecting. The 2005 comes from a riper, richer vintage and it fills the palate to great effect. Anyone with the capacity to cellar should be stocking up on the 2009 and 2010. These are the first big vintage La Chapelles from the Frey era and they have a majestic future ahead.

Author:
Omar Raafat
Date:
7th February 2014


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