The legendary terroir of Hermitage
The next tasting was an extraordinary tasting at M Chapoutier. Similar to Guigal, the business was started after the second world war. It has been growing strongly in recent years and stands now at about 8 million bottles per year. The range of wines is wide, with mainly estate wines from the Northern Rhone and a negotiant business from the Southern Rhone (like Guigal).
We start with a 100% Viognier from Condrieu, the 2014 Invitare. The fruit flavours are dominated by peach and exotic fruit, very true to the variety. The wine is obviously quite young, fresh and well balanced (90 points). In contrast, the 2014 Petite Ruche is a 100% Marsanne wine, grown on the flats of Crozes-Hermitage. This wine is also fresh and fruity, with a mouth-coating texture (89 points). The 2012 Payrolles is quite different. This 100% Marsanne, from the less well known area of Saint-Peray, is golden in color. Its notes are quite floral, and the flavours mainly of pear and minerality. Although this wine only sees large old oak vats, I found the oak influence quite noticeable (89 points).
An altogether different proposition is the 2011 Les Granilites from Saint-Joseph, also a 100% Marsanne. This wine has a deeper, golden color. There are floral notes on the nose. The flavours are pear, but also marzipan, quite complex. This is a more powerful wine with a long finish. The potential of Marsanne is coming to the fore here (94 points). We finished the whites with a 2006 Le Méal. This Marsanne comes from a single vineyard site, with the vines at least 50 years old. This is a very big white, quite unfamiliar to me, with roasted almond and toasted flavours. This wine is powerful and needs food (92 points). It was quite fascinating to experience these different expressions of Marsanne, but now I was ready for the reds. I would not be disappointed.
We started with the 2013 Deschants from Saint-Joseph. This is a fruit forward Shiraz, fresh, but a little rough around the edges (86 points). This was followed by the 2012 Les Arènes from Cornas. This wine has a spicy nose, giving away the Northern Rhone origin. The tannins are very powerful, and the fruit struggles against them (89 points). A real step up is the 2011 Les Varonniers from old vines in Crozes-Hermitage. This wine has blackberry and plum flavors, creating an elegant mouthfeel. Soft tannins lead to a fine finish (94 points). The 2008 La Mordorée from the Cote-Rotie borders the famous Cote-Blonde vineyard. The colour of the wine has garnet elements, showing some age. Black fruits are accompanied by secondary flavours, such as forest floor. This is a very seductive, elegant wine, with soft tannins and a long finish (95 points).
We now come to the legendary wines of Hermitage. This site, as shown in the photos above, is a unique terroir. It is on a steep hill, with granite and large rocks soil, and a southern orientation, on the banks of the Rhone. The first wine from here is the 2011 Sizeranne, a blended wine. Red and black fruits combine to an elegant mouthfeel. The tannins are soft, and the wine is a delicious drink (94 points). I then have a chance to drink two of the famous Le Pavillon. This wine comes from a 4ha vineyard on steep slopes, as shown on the top photo on the left hand side. The 2008 Le Pavillon shows an exotic mix of intense raspberry, tobacco and cocoa flavors. This wine is not too powerful, despite the old vines and low yields, but delivers superb balance and elegance with silky tannins and a long finish (96 points). The 1999 Le Pavillon develops this flavour spectrum further. Minerality, such as wet stone, takes over. The wine is still quite intense, with a good structure, and feels very content at its age.
M Chapoutier has received more 100 point scores from Robert Parker than any other winery. This might be due to the special terroir and the respect given to it. This means these wines are quite unique, expressing a rare combination of elegance, intensity and finesse. The winemaking style shows across the range. I left the tasting deeply impressed.