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Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 2015 750ml

France, Rhone, Hermitage

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The label today reads Domaine JL Chave. But the story of this Rhone producer doesn't start here. It goes a long way back. In fact, the Chave family is one of the oldest names in the world of wine. They have been producing one of the world's greatest wines since 1481! The label bears an inscription commemorating this achievement, Vignerons de Père en Fils depuis 1481?, which is translated to, Vine growers from father to son since 1481! The Chave family began cultivating vineyards and making wine in what we now know as the St. Joseph appellation. The land and family business of making great Rhone wine continues being passed from generation to generation. Most recently from father to son with Gerard Chave to Jean Louis Chave.
The Chave family made the move to Hermitage following the attack of phylloxera hit in the late 19th century. The began producing wine in Mauves. In fact, this is where still produce their Hermitage wine today.
The Domaine of Jean Louis Chave produces 3 northern Rhone, Hermitage wines. Two red wines come from 9.3 hectares of Syrah vines with an average age of close to 50 years, JL Chave, Chave Cuvee Cathelin and an Hermitage Blanc from a blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. The grapes for the white wine are old. On average those vines are close to 60 years of age.
The key to the beauty and complexity found in JL Chave Hermitage comes their mastery of blending. While for the red wines, the only grape used is Syrah, the wine is produced from a melange of fruit sources that come out of some of the best plots in the entire Hermitage appellation. The vines are planted in Bessards, Lâ??Hermite, Peleat, Meal, Beaume, Diognieres and Vercandiered. Bessards is considered by many people to be the heart and soul of the JL Chave wine. With the wide variety of soils the wine vines of JL Chave are planted in, as expected, the types of soils are equally varied. The vineyards are planted in rocky soils ranging from limestone, schist, granite and sandstone.
The plots are vinified separately. Since 1991, JL Chave has been using mostly stainless steel, along with 3 wooden open top fermenters for alcoholic fermentation. The fruit is destemmed. Interestingly, this practice took place during the production of wines during the 1800's, but that fell out of favor until late in the 20th century. The fruit from each terroir are vinified separately. Once fermentation has been completed, the wine is moved the large 228 liter oak barrels for ageing. The wines of Jean Louis Chave are aged in barrel for about 18 months. The amount of new oak varies from 10-20%, depending on the vintage. The other barrels range in age from 1-5 years. Jean Louis Chave has been reducing the amount of new oak with time. His logic is, with refined tannins, the wine does not need that much new oak. The wine is blended after 18 months in barrel, usually in July. Jean Louis Chave waits for 60-90 days after blending before bottling.
For this traditional domaine, itâ??s interesting that they produce a luxury wine, Cuvee Cathelin, named after their close friend, Bernard Cathelin. The wine is produced from a different blend of the same fruit that is used for JL Chave. The wine is intended to have more concentration and finesse. This 200 case production wine sells for a massive premium in the market. Itâ??s not worth the extra money. In some vintages, for example 1990, I preferred the regular JL Chave Hermitage.
Jean Louis Chave also produces a miniscule amount of Vin de Paille, a dessert wine made from grapes left to dry on straw mats. They also make a wine from vines they own in the St. Joseph appellation.
JL Chave Hermitage is considered by many people to be the best wine produced in the appellation. In select vintages, they are 100% right. The wine is concentrated, rich, deep, elegant, balanced and has finesse that few other wines offer. The wine is not much fun to drink young. Chave Hermitage drinks best with at least 20 years of bottle age.
From the most recent vintages, the wine to own is the other worldly 2003 JL Chave. The wine is so thick, rich and intense, with a tidal wave of perfectly, ripe, dense, pure fruit. Itâ??s not a traditional style of Jean Louis Chave. The wine has not budged an inch since it was bottled. In time, this will offer an unparalleled tasting experience. For a fully mature vintage of JL Chave, 1990 is sublime. It has everything a great wine needs.