- Rating: 95 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $0
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: Recommended but not required
With the exception of Guigal, it would not be a stretch to say that Chapoutier was the winery I was most looking forward to in the Northern Rhone. I knew the views in Hermitage would be extraordinary (they still somehow surpassed my expectations), but the moment I saw Chapoutier’s name on the wall after arriving at Tain l’Hermitage, I knew I needed to drop off my bags and rush over there ASAP. After a tour of their vineyards and a tasting of their wines, it’s hard to do anything else the rest of the day except find some amazing food, enjoy a bottle of their wine, and stare at the river (or the vines opposite the train station if you are lucky with your view).
While Cote Rotie / Ampuis was a bit difficult for a tourist to setup tastings and navigate the area, Hermitage was very easy. The four largest wineries in town are easy to reach on foot and even easier to taste at (each welcomed walk-ins). Even though Hermitage is a famous wine location and easy to access via train, M. Chapoutier had less visitors/tourists than I expected, at the height of summer no less!! Truly, a perfect two day stop in paradise on any trip along the eastern side of France…
After checking into my hotel, I rushed over to the Chapoutier storefront (nearly forgetting my wallet in the process). After arriving, I realized that it was literally a block or two from the train station - very convenient for the on-the-go customer looking for their cellar restock. As you can see in the photo below, I arrived at an opportune time and was able to get both a tour of the vineyard and a tasting. NOTE: I highly recommend that you don’t wing it like me and instead make a reservation before visiting so they can ensure that an English-speaking wine expert (conseiller en vins) is awaiting your arrival. Luckily enough, one happened to be working that day and didn’t have another appointment until after lunch.
It wasn’t hard to appreciate the history in the store. After all, the family business was started in 1879! How many bottles have passed through here over the years? Though, it wasn’t until the 1980s when Michel Chapoutier took the reins of the vineyards and winemaking facilities that M. Chapoutier underwent a drastic improvement to its wine quality. International acclaim from wine critics followed and have remained these past 40 years… This is the reason why their 20€ bottles don’t taste like 20€ (they taste like 30-40€ bottles). It’s also the reason why I pondered whether I could get a case of each wine.
Taking a bottle in hand, you’ll notice that there’s brail embedded in the wine labels. Chapoutier was the first producer to do this in the mid-90s when Michel heard his blind friend explain that he needed to take someone with him to the store to identify each bottle of wine before he made his purchase. After all, everyone is allowed to be picky with their wine choices! I had to ask someone at the store, but apparently the Braille lists the producer, wine color, vineyard, vintage, and AOC region. Pretty much everything you need to decide if you want it or not (remember: in France, listing the AOC gives you info about what grapes may have been used for the wine). Chapoutier makes it even easier for the consumers. Most of their wines are single varietal, so even if it lists an AOC only, you’ll know what you are getting in the bottle. For example, their Châteauneuf-du-Papes are mostly varietal Grenaches, their red Hermitages are Syrahs and their white Hermitages are Marsanne only.
Learning about all of this history inside the store and on my walk to the vineyards was really fascinating. I have my conseiller en vins to thank for that: Julien Dreveton. Julien has been working for Chapoutier for a while and just started his own wine label too: Domaine Des Louis. Really excited for him and hope to be able follow in his footsteps… NOTE: If you setup a tour-and-tasting instead of just doing the free tasting in the wine store, Chapoutier staff will walk you under the train station out into the actual vineyards. I was surprised to hear that people are free to hike about the vines, so long as they do not interfere with them while doing so.
After taking some pictures of the amazing view behind us, we discussed history of the land (Hermitage), the terroir, the uniqueness of the vines’ growth (second only to Cote Rotie), and the biodynamic viticultural practices of the winery. I began to salivate and daydream of what the wines must taste like. Half of that urge was likely due to the scorching sun and the reflected heat off of the stones beneath the vines. We made our way back to the winery and quenched our thirst with a vast array of their wines. We didn’t open any bottles of the really good stuff, but I’ve found some back in the states and have those bottles under lock-and-key until they are ready to fully express themselves.
- 2017 St. Peray (14€)
- 95% Marsanne, 5% Roussane. 50% demi-muit (400L) 50% Steel Tank. The nose is very light with crisp yellow and green fruit notes. Has a medium/medium(+) mouthfeel with medium(+) acid and pronounced intensity of flavors on the palate. It is very impressive how balanced this wine is, even when served a little warmer. The flavors on the palate are a softer stonefruit that has no residual pyrazines. Really nice white wine.
- 2017 Les Meysonniers (16€)
- 100% Marsanne from Croze-Hermitage. Compared to the St. Peray, this wine has less minerality, a brighter/riper nose, a similar rich mouthfeel, and slightly less acidity. The flavors on the palate achieve a level of ripeness that approaches Viognier and finishes with some bitterness and unripe green flavors that can be found in some Viogniers as well. This is just a bit more balanced than a ripe Condrieu, though less intense and concentrated too. The medium finish lingers with light tropical notes.
- 2015 St. Joseph Les Granilites (28€)
- 100% Marsanne with 80% aged in barrels and 20% in tank. There slight more butter and cream aromas because of the MLF and barrel exposure. 2015 was a hot year too, so there is even more ripeness and less acidity than traditional vintages. Aromas of high pitched floral notes with tropical notes woven in. A lighter body than the other two with medium(-) acidity. On the palate, the rich, creamy butter adds an opulence to the ripe stonefruit and tropical notes of the fruit. I was afraid this wine would end flat but it has a clean finish.
- 2016 Chante-Alouette (Hermitage) (48€)
- 18 months in barrels, of which 20% is new french oak. By calling it a Hermitage, Chapoutier implies that it’s 100% Marsanne and a blend of different plots (L’Ermitage would be a single plot). This wine is a bit more reserved on the nose than the last wine with medium(+) acid and body, giving it a balance of refreshing crispness, elegance, and solid body. The palate has fresh, ripe yellow fruit and stone fruit flavors that finishes very cleanly. The integration makes this one a bit harder to describe, but that’s a good thing. The acid also tingles a bit on the finish in a fun way.
- 2016 Invitare (Condrieu) (34€)
- 100% Viognier that spends 8 months in barrels ageing on the lees which adds complexity. But by using 15% new french oak and 85% previously-used demi-muids, they are also able to preserve freshness and the fruity varietal character. Medium body with medium(+) acid with flavors that range closer to stonefruit than the tropical category. This wine also sacrifices a bit of intensity for elegance and balance, but I think that was the right call as it makes it easy to have multiple glasses of this wine.
- 2017 Les Meysonniers (13.45€)
- 100% Syrah from Croze-Hermitage that is 20% aged in barrels and 80% aged in concrete foudre. The aromas were focused on deep red fruit mingled with some black fruit and enough spice and smoke to add complexity. The structure was fascinating, having medium(+) acid and tannin, yet sporting a medium(-) body. The palate emulates the nose but with a ton of black pepper added to the mix that sticks with you through the finish. It’s drinkable now, but can improve with a year or two. The black pepper is just too dominant for me on the palate.
- 2015 Les Granilites (22€)
- 100% Syrah from St. Joseph that is aged 50% in barrels and 50% in concrete. Due to the warmer weather in 2015, the fruit displayed more black fruit than red fruit, but still feels fresh and lively thanks to its medium(+) acid and medium body. But this wine needs at least 5 years because of its high level of tannins that are both coarse and grippy. This wine felt like it could age forever, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to wait that long for this wine.
- 2015 Les Arenes (28€)
- 100% Syrah grown in Cornas, just south of St. Joseph. The nose was very fragrant with raspberry jam as the dominant aroma. Again the structure was peculiar with its medium(-) body yet medium(+) tannin and medium(+) acid. The palate is a continuation of the nose, but there is also a lot of wood character: cedar, earth, baking spices, and other pieces. This is probably the most complete red I’d tasted so far at Chapoutier, regarding characteristics across the spectrum. This wine still could age a little bit, but is very nice right now. This is the bottle I purchased from Chapoutier as my momento.
- 2016 Les Becasses (44€)
- 100% Syrah from Cote Rotie aged 12 months in barrels. This wine is very indicative of Cote Rotie. Soft red fruit aromas waft from the glass. The structure is solid with medium(+) acid and tannin with a medium body. On the palate, the garrigue and black pepper just speak to you, with red fruit playing a background role. This wine is Well integrated and softer than I expected at this point in its life, but make no mistake, you can definitely taste the wild animal character. I love that unique Cote Rotie character…
- 2012 Sizeranne (54€)
- 100% Syrah from Hermitage with 85% coming from barrels and 15% from concrete. In additional to traditional Syrah red fruit notes, this wine has some character from aging (e.g. earth, mushroom) present as well. The palate is balanced and integrated with a softer acid and tannin profile that give the wine an elegance without neglecting the structure. The garrigue character of northern Rhone Syrah is also integrated well with the tertiary character and red fruit. This wine is drinking really well right now and is vying with the Les Arenes for the title of my favorite from the tasting.
What a tasting to begin my stay in Hermitage… It was everything I could ask for except being able to try their creme de la creme. However, I definitely saw enough from their affordable selection to convince me that those wines would be a safe investment. If you are traveling through the area, there is no reason not to stop here for a tasting. If you don’t think you’ll make it out to Hermitage anytime soon, you can try to find their wines at your local wine shop or contact their distributor in the USA to get access to the wines directly (email@example.com / 646-630-4540). I know I will… Cheers!!
Rating: 95 out of 100