‘The Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonders where the birdie is? The birdie is on the wing.’
It all reminds a little of a trip I made in 2018, pre Wu-flu of course. It was the first of April, the snow a la France had just melted away and I was visiting that beautiful appellation in the Northern Rhone, Tain-L’Hermitage. Visiting, tasting, chatting with various producers including the greatest, the team Jean-Louis Chave (or for our Latin American & Oriental friends, it is pronounced Sharvf). After a good lunch, in Mauves, chez Chave we went up the hill to walk off the outstanding fare and Gerard reminded me again that his family have been growing vines and making wine here, on this same hill, since 1481. Jeeperz!
On our walk he happened to mention that back in 1980, inside one of the terraced vineyard-stone-walls, they buried & hid a couple of cases of six bottles of their now famous 1978 Hermitage Rouge, and some magnums to boot. The magnums are now safe in the family cellars, and when I mentioned or half jokingly said can I have a case of the six bottles, he said ‘well, not the whole case but I can let you have a couple of odd bottles’. I was obviously thrilled and just today, 1st April 2022 they have finally landed in our cellars at London City Bond VT. (photo*). We had to wait not just for the post Wu-flu effect to set in on the shipping to become sensible again, but also the new Brexit rules on wine imports to England that would become a little clearer. (They have not by the way, but we are getting used to it, a bit).
I don’t know if you know how iconic and quite simply great the vintage is of 1978 Red Rhone, especially up in Hermitage. I was, and still am, a member of The Wine Society (since 1874, when they set up that is, not since I have been a member – 1976) when they offered at a very reasonable price, for a 21 year old, Jaboulet’s La Chapelle. They stored for me 2 cases (12bts in each) of 1978 Hermitage La Chapelle PJA and a case of magnums (6/1). The last 2 magnums I drank at my 40th birthday lunch at Gravetye Manor (does it still exist I wonder?). ‘One of greatest great red wines that I have ever drunk’. WPH. Rhone from the 1978 vintage are all quite exquisite and if you follow the points system, most/some of them received the 100/100 golden crowns. If you are as much a 1978 Red Rhone freak as I am, you may want to cast an eye on these two bottles from the hill, that are available today @ LCB:
2 bottles (75cl) 1978 Hermitage J-L Chave @ GBP2.500 per bottle Under Bond/LCB VT
To give you an idea of other 1978 Rhone-gems that we have in stock today, do glance a beady eye on this lot:
Ch.Beaucastel Rouge Chateauneuf Du Pape – 1978 – 5 bottles – £495bt
Cote Rotie ‘Les Jumelles’ Jaboulet Magnums – 1978 – 2 magnums – £450mg
J-L Hermitage Chave (BSL) (100/100pts) – 1978 – 2 bottles – £2.500bt
Hermitage La Chapelle Jaboulet (3.5cm level/loose label) (100/100pts) – 1978 – 1 bottle – £1.100bt
Hermitage ‘Monier de la Sizeranne’ M.Chapoutier – 1978 – 4 bottles – £225bt
Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Les Cedres’ Domaine Jaboulet PJA – 1978 – 4 bottles – £225bt
Now, as it is my immoral duty to share with you some market news. This March-April 2022, I can see a lot of market interest in these top Rhone wines. It has gathered furiously in both the Reds and the Whites. Ch.de Beaucastel’s Hommage a Jacques Perrin, Ch.Rayas (and of course it’s sibblings) both Rayas red & white, and obviously Jean-Louis Chave’s Hermitages. You’ve been warned! Please check our list for updates.
At dinner last monday I got to open & drink some 2009 Hommage a Jacques Perrin. 70% Mourvedre and 10% of Syrah, Grenache & Counoise. Stunning and almost hypnotic. Intense dark fruits on the nose, Boysenberries, Blackberry and Arandano (blue fruit). Similar on the palate and finishing with a to die-for power and silkiness. This is 13 years from the vintage and I would love to drink a lot more of it over the next 20 years.
The whites from J-L Chave are of course to-die for aswell as the reds, and still are just affordable. Here is an example of availability:
Hermitage Blanc – 1993 – 1 bottle – £260bt
Hermitage Blanc – 2006 – 1 bottle – £250bt
Hermitage Blanc – 2008 – 1 bottle – £245bt
Hermitage Blanc – 2010 – 2 bottles – £295bt
Hermitage Blanc – 2012 – 6 bottles – £290bt
Hermitage Blanc – 2013 – 6 bottles – £300bt
Hermitage Blanc – 2014 – 6 bottles – £285bt
Not listed here yet, there is a whole case of 1995 Cuvee Cathelin J-L Chave in OWC. Yes! that is six bottles in our ‘reserves’. If you have interest and deep pockets please drop me a line here and ask me for further details:
Our foreign correspondent (Frank N.Stein) wanted to share some of his Chave vine-history with you. So, from the frontline, he has kindly wired over this message. I hope you find it as informative as I did.
Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Rouge Since 1991, J-L 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 late in the 20th century. The fruit from each terroir is vinified separately.
For the red wine of Chave, the grapes are usually partially, but not always fully destemmed. In very ripe years, a portion, up to 50% of the stems might be left on the grapes. It really varies from vintage to vintage. Vinification takes place in a combination of cement vats, stainless steel and old, open, French oak barrels. Each parcel is vinified and aged separately, until the blending takes place. Depending on the vintage, malolactic fermentation can take place in casks, vats or tank. Once fermentation has been completed, the wine is moved into the large 228 liter oak barrels for ageing. All 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 used barrels range in age from 1 to 5 years which come from Burgundy. 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. Chave then waits for 60-90 days after blending before bottling. The production of Chave Hermitage rouge is around 2,000 cases per vintage.
Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc For the white wine of J-L Chave, the grapes are vinified in a combination of 33% in French oak casks and 67% in stainless steel tanks. The blend for Chave Hermitage Blanc is almost always 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne.
Following fermentation, the wine is racked off it’s fine lees. The wines are then aged in a combination of mostly new and used, French oak barrels, with a small portion that is also aged in stainless steel tanks for up to 18 months before bottling. For J-L Chave Hermitage Blanc, the average production is close to 1,250 cases per year.
Jean Louis Chave Cuvee Cathelin For this traditional domaine, it’s interesting that they produce a luxury wine, Cuvee Cathelin, which made its debut with the 1990 vintage. The wine is named after their close friend, Bernard Cathelin, who is a well-known French artist.
J-L Chave Cuvee Cathelin is produced from a different blend of the same fruit that is used for J-L Chave. Most of the grapes used to produce Chave Cuvee Cathelin come from the Les Bessards lieu-dit. The wine is intended to have more concentration and finesse. It is also distinguished by the fact that Chave Cuvee Cathelin sees much more new, French oak barrels during its aging period. When the wine is produced, and it is not made in every vintage, in fact, the wine is only made in the best years: 1990, 1991, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2009 & 2015. The production of Cuvee Cathelin is close to 200 cases, or 1.200 bottles are filled. Due to the tiny production of Cuvee Cathelin, the wine sells for a massive premium in the market. Some vintages are close to $8,000 per bottle! In some vintages, I have preferred the regular J-L Chave Hermitage. But I have started rethinking my position on Chave Cuvee Cathelin. A bottle of the 1990, tasted in late 2016, blew me away. It was rich, concentrated, lush and showed an incredible, voluptuous character. It as not light, or as refined, but it offered a stunning, fruit profile, with a finish that did not quit. Note sent from F.N.Stein
Postcard from Buenos Aires
Matias and I were visiting a potential customer in Recoleta last week, and produced our complete list of available wines. He, the customer, looked through it and complained: ‘You know, we Argentines are not very good with all these fancy French names. Barton, Palmer, Talbot, Boyd, and so on are all right, but we just can’t manage the French ones.’
I agreed with him: “I know what you mean, some of them are a bit difficult, like Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac St-Emilion.”
‘Do you have any of that one?’ he asked.
Feliz 1er de Abril 2022!