Since 1481, there have been 16 generations of unbroken lineage at the Chave estate along the Rhone River's towering granite slopes. When we look closely at the birthplace of Syrah, there's no name more respected than that of Jean-Louis Chave.
Jean-Louis Chave joined his father Gérard in 1992 after completing his studies in enology at UC Davis. Once home, his primary mission was to re-plant the steep slopes of Saint Joseph—the same hillside where the domaine first began, but the vineyards laid fallow since the 19th century when phylloxera decimated them. Jean-Louis knew these treacherously steep hillsides in Saint Joseph were capable of producing a magnificent yet value-conscious alternative to Hermitage.
Saint-Joseph's boundaries have expanded immensely since the appellation gained AOC status in 1956, but Chave's choice parcels still represent the best and most serious terroir. Here, there's an underlying mineral component that provides the backbone to their wines, and it's this definition that allows them to age effortlessly. Examples of Saint Joseph from the late 1990s have floored me with their sense of vivacity, freshness, and regal structure.
It's been nearly three decades since these terraces were re-built by hand, and vines were re-planted among traditional échalas stakes. Today, the results are stunning wines that remind us the root of Rhone's success comes from hands-on work and attention to detail, something the Chave family has personified for hundreds of years.
From "the last of the Mohicans" to "wise old man of the hill," there are many ways importer Kermit Lynch can describe the guru of whole cluster Hermitage, Bernard Faurie. My July 2018 visit with Bernard was one I'll never forget. Primarily because of our rapid ascent up his parcels of Hermitage where I tried to keep pace with the spry and seasoned vigneron. If Hermitage is the world's most regal expression of Syrah, Bernard Faurie is surely its most ardent traditionalist.
Today, I'm happy to offer a range of Bernard Faurie's Hermitage stretching from 2001 through 2017.
The greatest selling point of Faurie's Hermitage comes down to Bernard's minuscule holdings of just 1.7 hectares, all comprised of vines over 100 years of age. While labels may look identical, Bernard separates Hermitage's parcels into distinct bottlings differentiated by capsule color.
Cream capsule: Gréffieux/Bessards
Gold capsule: Bessards/Méal
Gold capsule with 'M': Méal
Gold capsule w/ unique lot number: Greffieux/Bessards/Méal
Red capsule: Bessards
Smoke, roasted meats, black pepper, violets, blackberry, plum, and olive tapenade are quintessential descriptors of Northern Rhône Syrah. In Faurie's hands, through the most old school methods of vinification and élevage, his Hermitage captures a haunting and understated style that can floor you as much for its intensity as for its floral vitality and granitic mineral delicacy. Though shy early on, there's no Syrah that holds the freshness of fruit for decades in bottle like Bernard Faurie. A stunning bottle of 1988 made clear just what kind of glacial pace we can expect in the aging curve.
Whole cluster Hermitage is a rarity. Many feel the true reflection of the great hill of the Northern Rhône should have a suave finesse and a clear sense of nobility. After all, the spice and accentuated tannin from 100% whole cluster Syrah can be formidable here, but that is why Faurie is in a league of his own. Bernard eschews gloss and a forward fruit style, instead targeting a savory Syrah profile with chiseled structure.
Annual allocations from Faurie have been extremely limited due to the size of production, and that's why today I'm happy to offer this deep collection from Hermitage's old guard.