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Hermitage Blanc Chave 2000 & The Silver Tower

Wines so often come with a story and a history. In 2016 we were staying in Ireland with my wife’s family and on the way back we stopped off at Balymaloe House, where our daughter was doing a morning’s cookery class and we were having the Sunday buffet dinner served by the Allen family (tv chefs, cookbook authors and renowned food purveyors). As we checked in, the young sommelier asked if we’d like to see the cellar. Why not? It was not very large, but I spotted a single bottle of Chave Hermitage 1997. At a price a lot less than the retail cost of a recent vintage. Trying not to drool too visibly, I casually asked if we could put it out of its sad loneliness. As you can tell, my altruistic kindness is endless.


It was lovely, not the big brute of a thing you might expect from the world’s most famous Hermitage or syrah, but elegant, with that ‘bloody’ (iron?) taste, blackcurrants, tarry, soft and ripe, the fruit getting melded like fruit cake, earthy and with a finesse that made me think of my beloved Burgundy, not the steep granite slopes of the Rhone. Delicious, a wonderful chance encounter with the magician Jean-Louis Chave.


A couple of years later and I was very kindly invited to lunch by someone I had never even met. In a rather well known Paris restaurant with a wonderful view, starry food, numbered ducks and the world’s best known wine cellar. Indeed, you can take the lift down into it and enter an Aladdin’s cave of wonders. A paradise that in June 1940 had a major problem. The 1867’s. And very loud jack boots marching down les grands avenues. If you read Don and Peter Kladstrup’s fascinating book ‘Wine & War’ you will smile at how 20,000 bottles were bricked up by false walls, mainly to hide the blessed 1867’s, pre-phylloxera wines of legendary grandeur. And much beloved of one Field Marshall H. Goring who sent his emissary of the Third Reich immediately to the restaurant to get them. They seized the other 80,000 bottles, but the 67’s remained hidden behind a newly built wall and artistically moved cobwebs. Wonderful ingenuity in extremis.


It still has the most amazing cellar (but with a lot more botles) and my new friend had access to what I guess were ‘bin ends’ when just a few bottles were left and thus offered for sale at, again, prices that would make you wince today. Sadly, the pricing philosophy seems to have changed lately, and is much closer to market, but before that happened, I managed to grab a couple of bargains. And this was one of them, back to our friend Mr Chave, but this time the white version.

20 years old. After the last post on Le Soula, it seemed a good sequel (& some of the same grape varieties Marsanne and some Rousanne) as it is somewhat in similar vein (but nowadays probably ten times more expensive). The Chaves have been making wine here since the 15th century and I think Jean Louis is the 16th generation.


Which is why I am to be honest rather hesitant to comment. And also why I don't try to score wines, partly because I am not good at it and not sufficiently clinically critical and objective, and partly because it just seems a bit pointless to me - a glass of wine is too ephemeral and taste is too subjective. My desert island wine might be your poison and a wine today may not taste the same tomorrow, and for sure a different bottle of the same wine may not. And I just find that if you try to over-analyse something you destroy the pleasure, and I don't get to taste enough Chave to do that.


But I have to fess up. I have already admitted that I suffer from a northern palate (especially with whites) and what ticks my boxes is that most over (ab)used adjective 'mineral' and the presence of lifting acidity, and southern wines tend to be built of sunshine. So though I do love the fruit, I often find the finish is just a bit hard and lacks cut. Sorry, but I'd rather be honest, I just don't really appreciate them as much as doubtless I should.


So the Hermitage? The colour was a beautiful deep bright yellow. The nose was lovely, oily, waxy and full of baked apples, with a ripe centre. Very impressive for such an old wine, now showing a certain aged maturity but absolutely nothing oxidised. But (those ominous 3 letters) for me at least the finish was a bit hard and abrupt, and I missed the lifting exit of acidity that seems to sharpen your palate and make you salivate for another mouthful.


But if you happen to have any of his twenty year old red, I could help...

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