The appellation of Hermitage, in France’s northern Rhône wine region, is a place of wine pilgrimage, because this is where Syrah was born. It sits behind the town of Tain l’Hermitage, and unlike most other appellations in the northern Rhône, Hermitage sits on the east bank of the river. It’s a small appellation, with just 137 hectares of vines. The majority is planted with red grapes (exclusively Syrah), but there are some 30 hectares of white varieties (Marsanne, with a bit of Roussanne).
The history is unclear. It’s though that viticulture here dates back to Roman times, but there are no good records before the 17th century. It was an important region in the 19th century because wines from here were used to fortify Bordeaux, especially for the UK market. Indeed, Chateau Palmer has recently tried to recreate these Hermitagé wines from the past by blending some Hermitage in with one of their cuvées.
Since the 1980s the importance of this appellation has been recognized, and the wines now fetch high prices. Chapoutier is the major land holder here, with 34 hectares of vines, which compares with Jaboulet (22 ha), the co-operative at Tain (22 hectares plus 8 contracted) and Chave (14 ha).
The hill is a granitic outcrop, an extension of the Massif Central. But while granite is the main soil type here, the micro-detail of the Hermitage soils is much more complicated. Towards the western end of the hill, the soils are much more granitic, but towards the east they are more alpine-influenced glacial deposits. The soils change over small distances, so even within the designated lieu dits, soil type is rarely uniform.
Four of the lieu dits are particularly famous. First, we have Les Bessards. This is the most granitic of all parts of the hill, and produces very tannic wines that form the core of many great Hermitages. Most of it is planted to Syrah, and this is where Chapoutier’s Pavillon comes from. Le Méal produces richer, riper wines, in part because of its loose soils with lots of glacier stones. There’s an alluvial influence here. L’Hermite is the vineyard block that surrounds the famous Chapel of St Christopher (La Chapelle). This was built in 1864 on the site of a chapel that had been here from the 12th century. It faces southeast, and has a commanding view of the Rhône and the neighbouring towns of Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage. L’Hermite has a range of soil types with some granite, some loess and some alpine residues. Further down the slope is Les Greffieux, which also has some granite, as well as clay and limestone. Most of the vines here are Syrah.
Viticulture in Hermitage is quite distinctive. Planting is very close: in the steeply sloped plots, it’s at a density of 1m x 1m (10 000 plants a hectare), but this can stretch to 1.3 m x 1 m on flatter plots. The vines are pruned as bush vines (gobelet) with three spurs, three buds per spur. Just two of these buds are kept, and the vines are then trained on single stakes.
I was in the region in April 2022, where I tasted the following wines from Hermitage.
Chapoutier Chante Allouette Ermitage Blanc 2018 Northern Rhône, France (magnum)
100% Marsanne. Layered and textured with fine mineral notes and grainy citrus and pear fruit. Layered and intense with real finesse and detail. 96/100
Chapoutier Ermitage de l’Orée Blanc 2013 Northern Rhône, France
Marsanne. Toast, pear and peach on the nose. Ripe and sweetly fruited, showing crystalline citrus fruit and nice freshness. Mineral and finely spiced, this shows good intensity, and freshness. 93/100
Chapoutier Ermitage de l’Orée Blanc 2014 Northern Rhône, France
Fine, expressive yellow fruits here: so crystalline and delicate with layers of flavour and a lovely mineral edge. This has depth and focus with some salinity. Lovely purity. 96/100
Chapoutier Ermitage Le Méal Blanc 2014 Northern Rhône, France
Powerful and mineral, and nicely textured. This has lovely straw and herb notes with some honey and nuts. Really expressive with depth and potential for development. 96/100
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage Blanc Le Chevalier de Sterimberg 2017 Northern Rhône, France
Fresh and lively with citrus, pear and some citrus pith notes. Bright, modern and fruit driven, with a mandarin edge to the fresh fruit. 91/100
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chappelle Blanc 2020 Northern Rhône, France
Supple and bright with nice citrus fruit and some pear and melon. Has some pithy freshness: very modern in style. 92/100
Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc Les Recoules 2019 Northern Rhône, France
This weighs in at 16% alcohol. Apples, honey and lavender on the nose with ripe pear fruit. The palate is broad and ripe, showing good intensity of apple and melon fruit with honey, spice and melon. Distinctive, finishing warm. 94/100
Cave de Tain l’Hermitage Hermitage Blanc Nobles Rives 2018 Northern Rhône, France
Marsanne. Textured and pure, fine and rounded, with rich pear and peach fruit with fine spiciness and lovely depth. This is really textural and fine, and fruit driven. 94/100
Cave de Tain l’Hermitage Hermitage Blanc Au Coeur des Siecles 2017 Northern Rhône, France
Fresh and textural with fine spices, pure yellow fruits and a bit of structure. Youthful with nice focus and personality. 94/100
Delas Frères Hermitage Blanc Domaine des Tourettes 2020 Northern Rhône,France
Broad, rounded palate is rich and sophisticated with textured fruit and spices, as well as some mineral notes. A really lovely fruit-driven white Hermitage. 93/100
Marc Sorrel Hermitage 2019 Northern Rhône, France
From granite soils. Peppery and firm with a nice depth of raspberry and cherry fruit, showing lovely tannins. Fresh and expressive with nice focus and concentration. Fine, structured and ripe. 95/100
Marc Sorrel Hermitage Le Gréal 2019 Northern Rhône, France
15% alcohol. From argile calcaire soils with 10% white grapes in the blend. Ripe, intense and textural with sweet cherries and plums as well as raspberries and some pepper. Finely spiced with some alcoholic warmth. Very expressive with some liqourice on the finish. 96/100
Cave de Tain L’Hermitage Noble Rives 2017 Northern Rhône, France
Grainy, spicy and dense with sweet black cherry and plum fruit. Vivid with nice depth, and notes of tar, herbs and minerals. Some oak influence. 92/100
Cave de Tain L’Hermitage Gambert de Loche 2015 Northern Rhône, France
Dark, ashy and gravelly with some oak influence. Spicy and quite mineral with nice grip. There’s some juciness, some finesse, but it finishes a little tannic and earthy. 92/100
Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne 2016 Northern Rhône, France (magnum)
This is a blend of three terroirs: Les Greffieux, Les Bessards and La Meal. Midweight and mineral, it’s a textured wine with fine spices and notes of salt, iodine and dried herbs. Lovely weight, showing balance and drinkability, 93/100
Chapoutier Hermitage Les Greffieux 2008 Northern Rhône, France
Some malt, spice, iodine and earth on the nose. The palate is supple and elegant with nice finesse, and notes of earth and spice alongside red cherries and tomato. Very fine, mineral and refined. 96/100
Chapoutier Hermitage Le Pavillon 2011 Northern Rhône, France
This is from Bessards, a granitic southwest-facing terroir. Mineral, fine and spice with some earthy hints, showing development but also elegance. Pure with mineral energy as well as brightness and purity. 95/100
Chapoutier Hermitage L’Hermite 2011 Northern Rhône, France
From around the chapel, at high altitude, with 80-120 year old vines on shallow sandy granitic soils. Very fine mineral nose with spicy red fruits, some pepper and some meat. There’s ripeness here as well as fruit density. Very refined and mineral. 97/100
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Maison Bleue 2020 Northern Rhône, France
Ripe, sweet and modern with lovely pure blackberry and black cherry fruit. Richly textured and showing breadth with some black olives and meat, and freshness on the finish. 93/100
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Maison Bleue 2017 Northern Rhône, France
Dense, sweetly fruited and spicy with some peppery notes. Broad and intense with some juicy notes on the finish. 93/100
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chappelle 2006 Northern Rhône, France
Spice, graphite and mineral with some earth and tomato notes. Supple, showing leather and spice, and notes of iodine and dried herbs. Nicely balanced. 94/100
Delas Frères Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes 2017 Northern Rhône, France
Ripe, sweet and powerful with smooth black cherries and spice, showing generous fruit, together with a savoury, spicy minerality. 92/100
Delas Frères Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes 2018 Northern Rhône, France
Vivid and fresh with spice, iodine, sweet black fruits and a mineral mouthfeel, showing vivid fruit. 93/100
Delas Frères Hermitage Les Bessards 2018 Northern Rhône, France
Rich, deep and intense with black cherries and blackberries. Firm and structured with lovely intensity. Mineral, expressive and fine with good intensity and despite the ripe fruit, a sense of balance. 95/100
Delas Frères Hermitage Lieu dit les Graves Ligne de Crête 2018 Northern Rhône, France
Powerful and intense with lovely sweet cherry and berry fruit. Fine grained and pure with nice density and a distinctive mineral component, showing fine-grained tannic structure. Elegant, pure and powerful. 95/100
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