2017 J. L. Chave Hermitage Rouge

Year: 2017
Appellation: Rhone
Country: France
Wine Advocate: 96-99
Vinous Media: 97
James Suckling: 97-98
Jeb Dunnuck: 96-99
Red Wine
Alcohol by Volume: 15.0%
Price :


"Jean-Louis Chave had done some preblending of the 2017 Hermitage at the time of my visit, meaning several parcels had already been combined with others, so there were fewer components to taste. A sample that included some L'Ermite, Les Beaumes and Péléat was fragrant, loaded with peppery spice and came across as slightly open-knit (93 - 95). A second component, mostly Le Méal, was richer and riper-tasting, with lush fruit and hints of roasted meat (97 - 99). Finally, a sample Jean-Louis described as "more the core of the blend" (mainly Les Bessards) was simultaneously firm and generous, with notes of crushed stone, cassis and licorice (98-100).

Jean-Louis Chave seems increasingly confident at the helm of this legendary domaine. We spent a bit of time discussing the 2018 vintage, which he rates highly. "The wines are not really jammy. They're almost as ripe as 2003, but for some reason the grapes weren't raisiny," he said. "The vines never really stopped. In mid-August, we had 40 millimeters of rain—perfect timing. And at the end of August another little rain." Hermitage shines this year. "In Hermitage, you can push things to the limit and still be OK," Chave said. "Even when it's extreme, the grands terroirs are still the grands terroirs." Looking at recent vintages, Chave summarized the similarities as follows: 2015 he compares to 1990; 2016 to 2010; 2017 to 2000. As for 2018, said Chave, "It wouldn't be right to compare 2018 and 2003. The ripeness is extreme, but at the end, they're very different wines." Hermitage aside, Chave has spent much of his time in recent years working on his vineyards in Saint Joseph. He said he thinks of Saint Joseph as a wine for bistros rather than haute cuisine, but Chave's Saint Joseph's have quickly progressed beyond that in terms of quality (and, unfortunately, price)." (WA)

"Saturated ruby. Displays expansive aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry liqueur, licorice, candied flowers and olive, plus spice and mineral nuances that build as the wine opens up. At once weighty and energetic in character, offering densely packed black/blue fruit preserve flavors and hints of violet candy, star anise, black tea and smoky minerals. Finishes juicy, lively and strikingly long, with repeating spice and floral notes and steadily building tannins." (VM)

"Aromas of graphite, tar, dark chocolate and black cherries abound, as well as ripe dark plums. This is a very convincing and complex edition of this wine. The palate is so concentrated and has a super deep, plush and fleshy stream of fresh plums and blackberries, as well as a swathe of fine tannins. Profoundly rich and velvety with a strong backbone. This will age for more than two decades after release." (JS)

"Not yet bottled, the 2017 Hermitage shows a much sunnier, more exuberant aromatic profile with loads of cassis, kirsch liqueur, toasted spices, cured meats, and dried earth. These give way to a full-bodied Hermitage that has a stacked mid-palate, loads of sweet fruit, and building tannins, all while holding onto the class, elegance, and purity that’s the hallmark of this incredible estate. This is another wine where I question if it will ever shut down, but certainly the safe money is on giving bottle a good decade in a cool cellar.

This bastion of traditionally made wines lies in the tiny village of Mauves, just south of Hermitage, and few wine drinking experiences compare to an evening spent in Jean-Louis Chave’s cellar tasting through the different terroirs of Hermitage and Saint Joseph. It has unquestionably been one of the highlights of my year going on a decade now. Founded in 1481 and with over 500 years of winemaking history, Domaine Chave has seen an incredible succession of talented vignerons, with Gérard Chave, who was born in 1935, managing the estate brilliantly up through 1990. Gérard slowly began handing the reins of the estate over to his son, Jean-Louis (born in 1968), in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While Gérard is still involved, the weight of this historic estate falls firm on the shoulder of the more than capable Jean-Louis Chave today. While this family has always stayed firmly planted in tradition, they’re far from dogmatic, nor do they rest on their laurels or reputation. They’ve recently completed work on a new cellar (just across the street from their existing cellar and connected via a tunnel) in 2014, and have resurrected new vineyard sites in Saint Joseph. While the new cellar includes a state-of-the-art lab, Jean-Louis has always been quick to point out, “You don’t need a lab to make great wine.” Along with the help of Jean-Louis’ wife, Erin Cannon-Chave, they also continued to grow their négoçiant label, Chave Selection, which offers fabulous bang-for-the-buck and includes both Northern and Southern Rhônes. While this estate is rightly known for its Hermitage, Jean-Louis has invested the past ten years or more in resurrecting older vineyards in Saint Joseph, with some sites just now coming online. They currently release an Estate Saint Joseph, which comes from a mix of their estate terroirs, and a Saint Joseph Le Clos, which is a single vineyard located just south of Mauves. The Estate Saint Joseph is a classic example of the appellation and offers ample dark, blacker fruits, minerality, and peppery characteristics as well as a touch of austerity and building structure. The Saint Joseph Le Clos comes from a warmer, earlier terroir and is always more refined, elegant, and seamless, with redder fruits and a perfumed, spice-driven style. Both are brilliant, singular wines, and I’ve no doubt the best is still to come here. Looking at Chave’s Hermitage releases, all the grapes are destemmed (I believe some stems were included before the 1980s) and the individual terroirs are vinified separately. Starting in 1990 and 1991, the Chaves replaced their old concrete fermenters with stainless steel tanks. They continue today to use their three larger oak uprights for vinification as well, due to the ability to perform punch-downs. Aging occurs in small French oak barrels with the amount of new oak falling in the 20-30% range. The wines are then blended in tank and bottled without being filtered. If needed, the wines can see a light egg-white fining before bottling. In addition to the classic Hermitage, Chave can release a small production Cuvée Cathelin, which generally comes all from the Les Bessards lieu-dit and sees slightly more time in oak. Only made in the great vintages (1990, 1991, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2009, 2010, and 2015), it’s almost impossible to find bottles of this elixir, but it’s usually a more opulent, powerful wine compared to the classically styled Hermitage release. Regardless of the wine, the style here is beautifully transparent, and the wines always show the vintage characteristics clearly (which Jean-Louis likes to describe as either a “Granite” year or a “Sun” year). While the wines have the balance and purity to dish out plenty of pleasure in their youth, they age beautifully, with Jean-Louis recommending at least 15 years of cellaring for most vintages of his Hermitage. With more and more of Hermitage going to giant corporations these days, it’s inspiring to see this small, family-owned estate still sitting at the top of the hierarchy, both in Hermitage and the entire world of wine. Jean-Louis is still young (and has a young son who takes after him, and a daredevil daughter who takes after Erin), so the future is very bright at this estate! " (JD)