Monday, February 14, 2005

A Vertical of La Chapelle and Other Wines

I have a penchant for small, artisinal producers and an admitted prejudice against much of the Goliaths of the wine world. However, houses such as Jaboulet which have been around a long time (in this case 170 years), often have a crowning jewel, that one mythic wine which justifies it’s part in the history of the world’s viticulture. For Jaboulet it is La Chapelle, from the Northern Côtes du Rhone appellation of Hermitage. Thanks to Vincor for arranging this tasting which was animated by Nicolas Jaboulet.

Hermitage Blanc 1999, Chévalier de Stérimberg ($81..saq)
A Classic Marsanne-Rousanne blend and a favorite of the tasting. Brilliant deep gold color, a complex and enticing bouquet of stewed apples, cloves, honey and xeres. It tasted much as it smelt, rich yet still fresh, with an almost pepper like finish. It also worked as a fantastic mouthwash as my taste buds got worked by the big reds.

Crozes Hermitage 2001, Domaine de Thalabert ($31…saq)
Magnificent and ‘meaty’ bouquet with very ripe dark fruit, and just enough of that barnyard twang to make it interesting. Perhaps a touch thin on the finish but extremely elegant.

Crozes Hermitage 2003, Domaine de Thalabert ($31…saq)
The summer of scorching heat which resulted in a 66% drop in production of many of their brands. Only in bottle for 3 weeks, this was a tester Nicolas brought with him. Though still a little edgy, it had deep color, a wonderfully smokey bouquet and rich, ripe fruit backed by a fantastic acidity that kept it fresh. Californian producers should go there and take a course on how to make non-chewey reds with super-ripe grapes.

Hermitage, La Chappelle ($149…saq)
Made with grapes from 40 year old vines from 7 different parcels of land, each with their unique terroir, this is very serious Syrah that can easily live 30-40 years in good vintages. Here’s the vertical in the order it was served.

2001…. Incredibly dense yet with remarkably supple tannins, the bouquet had a complexity that I had a hard time decorticating. There was cassis, chocolate and pepper in the mouth but one had the feeling that there were so many other layers of flavors and spices that it was an injustice to judge it right now. Wow.

2000….Weaker year so I felt much less guilty casting judgement. A brilliant color of red plums and a super sweet bouquet of ripe juicy berries that fit perfectly with an almost sweet strawberry finish. Very pretty but by no means soft, the length was extraordinary alternating from fruit to spice and back to the fruit.

1999…. Another big year but where the 2001 had integrated tannins, the ’99 was a bit astringent, making it difficult to judge. Felt like I was eating cotton.

Here is where I had another glass of the white.

1991…. Very purple with tinges of brown, this is a Chapelle in it’s prime. So much fun to smell, and even more of a delight to drink. Hints of sweet cloves, red peppercorns and a slightly jammy fruit were supported by a smokey, dense bouquet. Really good.

1985…. At 20 years, I felt that this was on it’s way down. Nicolas said it was a ‘fragile’ vintage and has been since bottling. It lacked depth and was veering into those cooked fruit port flavors that I tend to dislike.

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