Legendary (H)ermitage lived up to its billing. A tasting to see how Hermitage AOC winemakers had handled the heat of the 2019 vintage and the hurdles of 2020, followed by a dinner of truly epic proportions. This was the first Syrah celebration that the AOC had conducted in 31 years and the first-ever in London, and it soon became one of those pinch-yourself moments where legendary bottle after legendary bottle were poured and drank.
“Chapoutier and co. may have arrived with many questions, that may or may not have been resolved on the night, but we all went away with many convictions – uppermost was the understanding that this fabled hill on the left bank of the Rhône is clearly one of the choicest places to make wine from, on the planet,” writes Dean about the Hermitage event.
The old adage ‘if you’re going to do something, do it properly’ could not have been more apt to describe the Legendary (H)ermitage event held at London’s Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square. It was one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments that will live long in the minds of all who were lucky enough to receive a ‘golden ticket’.
This was the first time that Hermitage AOC had done a generic event in London and the first time they had come together to collectively celebrate Syrah since 1991.
The evening started with a 90-minute free pour tasting of the latest vintages of white and red from 12 producers – with all the big guns present, bringing along back vintages for good measure. A dinner followed, curated by Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic, and accompanied by simply the best Hermitage you could imagine from the best vintages – think La Chappelle rouge 1969, Chave rouge 1988, Guigal blanc 1990, La Chapelle blanc 2010 and you start getting the picture.
Michel Chapoutier, president of the Hermitage AOC, said that the event was partly inspired by a series of questions that the winemakers here have been collectively asking themselves and which, presumably with the enforced COVID lay-off, have become more acute: should the wine be blended or express the specific character of each terroir? Should they produce white wine or the dessert wine Vin de Paille? Should the region be spelled with or without an H, hence the event being called Legendary (H)ermitage.
Having talked to the 12 producers present at the free-pour session I would add to Chapoutier’s list these questions: many prompted by climate change and rising alcohol levels – one white on pour was 15.5% abv and felt like it. So what future role should Rousanne be playing in the blend against Marsanne, especially in a hot vintage like 2019? Should new oak be used? Should oak be used at all? Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné, for example made the new 2020 La Chapelle blanc with no oak where previously it used 15% new oak for the wine to age in for 10 months.
Of course freshness is a thing with wines worldwide and, to my taste, the white Hermitage wines that were most successful at the free-pour tasting were the ones that felt like they had the legs to age well – which with these wines you most certainly do want – rather than the ones that already have ‘legs’ on the sides of the glass.
A couple of other takeaways from the tasting were that there are indeed some lower price points to be had (Hermitage being generally at premium) with Ferraton Père & Fils red and white 2019s both superb and the cooperative Cave de Tain which, at 30 hectares is the second largest of all Hermitage producers, having an excellent Nobles Rives 2018 at free-pour and Au Coeur des Siècles blanc 2017 at dinner.
My picks from the new vintages tasting
Les Miaux 2019, Ferraton Père & Fils
Light straw, pretty, this had perfect balance and weight; lots of dense quince and yellow stone fruit but a lovely clean, mineral-charged backbone of acidity which will see it age beautifully.
Hermitage blanc 2019, Jean-Louis Chave
15% abv it may be but from the first nose to the end of the long finish this was clean, fresh and pure. It had some ripe roundness on the mid-palate but had terrific register and great balance.
Hermitage blanc 2020, Domaine des Martinelles
Like the Ferraton this white had more structure than many of the more well-known names; deep golden, hints of herbs and savoury touches, this was lighter weight and better for it. 14% abv.
Nobles Rives 2020, Cave de Tain
Also deep golden yellow, this boasted a lovely ‘aged’ nose with mui cuit apricots, in the mouth it was more oleaginous than the previous wines, but nicely balanced with an attractive spicy finish.
Hermitage rouge 2019, Jean-Louis Chave
The wine of the tasting and even possibly the whole evening, this just stood out a country mile from the other wines on show as a sheer, brilliant piece of winemaking. There is intensity and concentration as you might expect from the vintage but the purity of the fruit is staggering. Deep purple, alluring aromas, dense, textured, mineral-charged with such amazing balance. Chapeau.
Les Miaux 2019, Ferraton Père & Fils
A powerhouse of a wine, big and chunky with spicy black fruit, but with an impressive stony, crushed rock quality underneath, ending with a slight chalky note. 15% abv but you wouldn’t know it.
Hermitage rouge 2019, E.Guigal
The nose was dumber than many on show but nothing shy about the palate which had ripe and textured tannins to hold all that fruit together. Dark and broody and good value at the £40-50 mark.
La Chapelle 2020, Paul Jaboulet Aîné
Hugely memorable wine – blood red with purple edging and pretty violet notes; in the mouth surprisingly light on its feet, textured, juicy with a lovely grip to the ripe tannins and great balance. Structured, elegant – this will just keep getting better.
Le Gréal 2020, Marc Sorrel
Inviting with its dark fruit and smoky, gamey notes, this more than delivers on the palate with ripe, rounded tannins that still have a grippy edge to them. It’s a mouthful at 15% abv but a wonderful mélange of flavours and sensations – salty liquorice, wild bramble, tapenade, black raspberry. Pretty stunning.
Maison M.Chapoutier showed the white De L’Orée 2014 and the red Le Pavillon 2011 at free pour – both of them outstanding but not noted above because theY were not from the current vintages.
A dinner that was an embarrassment of riches
Dinner followed with 12 tables hosted by the 12 producers, myself seated at the Cave de Tain table which was a nice eye-opener to a producer I did not know well before. I particularly like the Au Coeur des Siècles white 2017 that was served with a crab dish, although their premium cuvée Epsilon in the 2009 vintage was very impressive, as was their Vin de Paille 2001 served with a pretty astonishing dessert of Guanaja chocolate, pine tree infused cocoa nibs mousse and beeswax panna cotta.
Seeing what was on display that the sommeliers’ were serving on the other 11 tables there was a big sense of FOMO, allayed at the end of dinner when we were all invited to sample the likes of La Chappelle rouge 1969, Chave rouge 1988 and so on. If ever there was an example of how the reds gain in finesse and complexity and how the whites develop nutty depths of creamy loveliness then this was that occasion.
It is at these events that I find I miss the recently-departed legends of the wine world most keenly. Gerard Basset, Steven Spurrier – I could just picture them at Legendary H(ermitage), a twinkle in the eye and that smile that would have re-emphasised that indeed this was drinking at the very highest table.
Chapoutier and co. may have arrived with many questions, that may or may not have been resolved on the night, but we all went away with many convictions – uppermost was the understanding that this fabled hill on the left bank of the Rhône is clearly one of the choicest places to make wine from, on the planet.
If you want to discover more about Hermitage, its history, soils and lieu dits then the section on Inter Rhône’s website has excellent summaries. Click here