By Gary Bovagne
Jean-Louis Chave ardently
While many winegrowers from Northern Rhone Valley (French wine region that is particularly close to my heart) are capable of moving me when I taste their wines, one estate in particular, to my mind, is worthy of the term “cult”; the Jean-Louis Chave estate.
Recently awarded the Grand Prix de La Revue du Vin de France as the best winemaker of the year, a prize awarded by winemakers and former prizewinners, Jean-Louis Chave never always puts forward his “winemaker-farmer” approach. There is no doubt that his modest, discreet and affable style comes partly from his family history.
The story begins north of Tournon-sur-Rhône in 1481, when the then lord offered the Chave family a vineyard and a farm (what a rich idea!!) for a “service rendered”, a service which no one remembers any more. Over the centuries from generation to generation, the Chave family, has taken care of their Syrah vines and endeavoured to produce the finest wines in the region. In 1885, the first plots of land were acquired in the majestic Hermitage appellation, which today is one of the most sought-after wines in the world.
A magical terroir with granite soil, this wine is referred to as the Rhodanian Pétrus. The estate owns around 30 ha of vines, including 15 ha on the famous Hermitage hillside (10ha of red Syrah, 5ha of white Marsanne and Roussanne).
Gérard and his son Jean-Louis, who now runs the estate, form one of the most talented duos in the world of French wine. Unlike other producers of the appellation, Jean-Louis harvests, vinifies and matures his different plots separately and then blends them together to extract the full quintessence of the appellation. Most of the reds used to produce Hermitage come from the famous plots of Ermite, Méal and Bessards. The fruit of these three plots is without doubt the most wonderful illustration of the appel- lation thanks to the mineral power of the Bessards wines, derived from the soil which is made up of a block of granite, the velvety and fleshy nature of the Méal wines and the racy silkiness of the Ermite.
For the white Hermitage, the terroirs of Péléat, Rocoule and Maison Blanche produce high quality Marsanne representing 80% of the blend with 20% of Roussanne, which in the glass will translate into a tension and on the palate, a volume that is extremely well balanced. In the wine cellar, Jean-Louis Chave blends these parcels differently from year to year and practices discreet ageing that never exceeds 20% in new barrels. His aim is always to let his terroir speak for itself, and to this he attaches great importance. It is thanks to this that his red Hermitage will give you a rare oenological experience. Depth, balance, freshness and length are all present here to enchant your taste buds.
The confidential star of the appel- lation, the Cuvée Cathelin, takes its name from the painter and friend of the family, Bernard Cathelin. This wine was created in 1990 as a tribute to the painter himself, who incidentally designed the label. It is an ultra-confi- dential cuvée (around 2,000 bottles) and is only produced in the best years. This cuvée needs about ten years to reveal all its charm, as it possesses a fabulous concentration and an incre- dible longevity.
Another gem, Clos Florentin, acquired in 2009 in the Saint-Joseph appellation, also produces a magni- ficent wine. The only walled vineyard in the appellation, it is composed of very old Syrah vines. The estate also produces a very rare vin de paille with noble and refined aromas of candied fruits and an excep- tional generosity with a healthy acidity.