Jean-Louis Chave in person for E&R's 20th Anniversary, with 22 of his wines!

E&R Wine Shop, Portland OR

Tasted August 16, 2019 by dbp with 135 views

Introduction



What a lovely opportunity to get to drink all these wonderful wines with Jean-Louis himself! And an incredibly rare opportunity... only possible due to the personal friendship started nearly three decades ago between Jean-Louis and E&R wine shop owner, Ed. Back then it was possible to score visits to Chave just by asking... these days, with the cult of personality of both the man and these wines themselves, that's just not possible. Jean-Louis was quite remiss about this, but it's just not possible with the time available in a day. I really appreciated his humble nature about his wines, always commenting that it's simply the land that makes the wines special, not him. He's just the current generation presiding over this land, and he seemed nearly annoyed at the attention and certainly the prices his wines are commanding these days.

"We are where we are because we have what we have." -- Jean-Louis Chave regarding making wine in Hermitage.

Flight 1 - St. Joseph (3 notes)

During Jean-Louis' introduction to these wines he commented that "Saint Joseph" means nothing due to the massive size of this region compared to others in the Northern Rhone. The wines are hugely variable so you never know what you're going to get with that designation. He mentioned that back in the day, when the water wasn't safe to drink and everyone in the area had to drink wine all the time, Saint Joseph was their go-to. It was never supposed to be a noble wine.

Jean-Louis also mentioned, though, that since the region is so large and variable, much of which isn't planted, there's lots to learn about what works best here. He said who knows... maybe in a few generations they will find the next Chateau Grillet in the middle of it... he says "time is nothing" with these vineyards... he's been spending upwards of 30 years now planting one particular compelling, but insane slope in Saint Joseph. He seems quite interested in the potential here, despite the appellation designation not implying any particularly quality assurance.

Red
2016 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
92 points
Rich, thick and lush aromas. Really fat and thickly fruited on the nose, with just the slightest bit of pleasing funk present as well. The palate entry is very rich, round, and thick, offering rich tannins and sweet fruit. Quite pretty in the mouth. Wow, what a beautiful bloom of vibrant red and black fruit on the finish. Elegant acidity and beautiful structure. Really lovely how lithe this is considering how large the weight is on the nose. Very very lovey!
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Red
2015 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph Clos Florentin France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
89 points
Very dark color. Aromas are light in flavor, but certainly have a weight to them; just a bit hard to delineate. Soft and pretty on palate entry, with a nice round texture. Thickly fruited, with soft, very voluptuous nature with nice acidity and good cut. Quite darkly complected, though; more so than the regular St. Joseph. Rich acid on the finish, with thick, plummy fruit on the finish, but the acid is what really takes over and carries long into the finish. Feels quite young, but too darkly complected for full enjoyment.
Red
1990 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
91 points
Smells of a funky old book; perhaps fermenting raisins. Really funky and rich. Smooth palate entry, and more of that old book is present. The mouth is quite a bit prettier than expected from that funky nose, showing lovely old red fruit as well. Raspberries. Lovely mature acidity and very light tannins are felt in the mouth as well. Wow, a massive dial up of acidity on the finish which is quite rich and pretty, and the flavor itself tastes a bit like an overcooked egg yolk. That sounds weird, but it's in a very good way. Thee acid carries it very long into thee finish. I love how that lingers. I was almost put off by this wine to start, but it evolved into something quite pretty. Before even trying this wine, Jean-Louis said this was a wine meant to be drunk long, long ago. He says it has been decades since he has had this wine as he doesn't keep Saint Joseph... it's a wine meant to be drunk young, so he just plows through his stash in the early years.
1 person found this helpful Comments (3)

Flight 2 - Hermitage Blanc (9 notes)



Jean-Louis mentioned that, particularly for the white Hermitage, the light on the vines itself is every bit as important as the heat of the day. He also mentioned that while Syrah can generally work anywhere in Hermitage, the white grapes are quite a bit more particular about where they like to be planted, and do not work well in granite. Further, he commented about how much people focus on the acidity in white wine these days, basically implying that acidity is the thing that makes a white wine lovely. I can admit I sometimes find myself mostly in love with acidity in white wine, but as he comments, white Hermitage is "NOT about the acidity; it is about the fruit." These wines "have very low acidity and very long ferments." They "age on glycerol because they don't have acidity, and they need time to find balance and definition." He says these wines need food, and they need rich food. Not light fish like people like to pair with white wines. White Hermitage requires "richly texture dishes." Like the wines, I say! He says "a two hour lunch" is perfect to consume these wines, with fat food like sweetbreads and veal. This is a white for the main course, not an appetizer, and it's a white for the winter, not summer. The wines should be served near room temperature, because "served too cold they lose texture and that's a problem."

Another thing he mentioned was how often these wines have an oxidative note, and this should not be considered a flaw. He says, "you can't expect a white wine to age without a patine." That is just what happens with these wines and adds to the character, he mentioned. He says they are often raised with quite a bit of oxidation, so it's natural. Back in the day they'd leave these wines aging in barrel for 4 years. These days it's more like 18 to 24 months, but he knows they could handle 30 months in most vintages.

There are 5 hectares of white Hermitage under vine.

White
2014 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
91 points
Lovely transition to the Hermitage Blancs, so I immediately appreciate the gorgeous aroma, which is rich and pretty, with some buttered popcorn note (but not in a Cali Chard way). It's pretty, and quite penetrating in its impression. Very round and pure sweet white fruits on the palate. It feels interestingly sweet in flavor, but of course without any real sugar. Elegant and lovely in the mouth, with round texture and just the right bit of acidity cutting through. You can keep this in the mouth forever. The finish is rich and soft, but then a surprising bloom of acidity comes in. Quite lovely depth is shows, but you can't see details right now... it's all covered in its baby fat, but I expect this one to become quite good. When I came back to this wine at the end of the night the oak had come even more forward. Again, just give this a couple decades.
White
2005 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
Jean-Louis mentioned that the grapes for this vintage were actually quite shriveled up at harvest time due to the heat of the year. The aromas are pretty; quite a lot of nuttiness and some butter notes. Really elegant texture in the mouth, with more of this almond nuttiness. Some oxidative notes, and a bitterness present as well. The oxidation is getting in the way here. Beautiful bloom of richness on the finish, showing some acidity cutting through, but again, there's an oxidative note here. This bottle is not right, but still drinkable. I won't score it due to the oxidation, but it still drinks around 90.
White
2004 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
92 points
Vs. the heat shriveled up grapes of 2005, this vintage had quite a bit of botrytis. The aromas here were very, very pretty; gorgeous and elegant, with a wonderful confidence to it, with pure minerality and apple skins. Nuttiness on palate entry, with a nice purity and round texture. Pretty, rich and pure. Rich and lovely on the finish, with moderate pretty acidity and a very lovely lingering impression on the tongue that carries it wonderfully for some time.
White
2000 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
93 points
The aromas are rich, nutty, and elegant. Apple skins. Very pretty. This wine is soft and pretty in the mouth, with decent acidity, a killer richness and depth. It's very elegant and pretty in the mouth, but honestly still feels not yet fully developed. Killer, rich and beautiful body presents itself on the finish, and this one does have a bit of acidity to carry it. Really incredible and fleshiness is what carries it deep into the finish. It feels quite a bit younger than the prior two bottles (2004 and 2005). This is going to be a great wine!
White
1999 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
93 points
Jean-Louis said this was a very good vintage in terms of both quality and volume. Soft and round aroma, with an elegant, composed impression. Really gorgeous stuff. The palate entry is rich and round, with wonderful purity, showing minerals and apple skins. It's very thickly fruited and textured in the mouth, but also comes across as young. Very nice fleshy apple skin notion. Beautiful dialup of intensity on the finish, with pretty killer length. Very elegant, calming sensation it leaves me with.
White
1995 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
92 points
Jean-Louis said 1995 had very rich, but small berries for the white. The aromas here were soft, offering sweet fruit. The aromas are light, but it still comes across as "more ready" than the younger vintages. It's elegant for sure, but not as expressive as many of these. The palate offers a beautiful body, and again, shows more development. Rich and pretty. Rich on the finish, with a pretty dial up of light acidity, but the overall flavors are a little short. The textures that linger, though, are unique and impressive. This bottle is the fully resolved, but impressive.
White
1990 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
94 points
Wow, a very pretty aroma! It gives off a soft impression, but it's quite rich and voluminous in its aroma. Beautiful palate entry and quickly develops quite a lot of rich texture and round flavors. Very composed and quite pretty, showing tons of preserved lemon notes that are gorgeous. Lovely finish as well, with more flavors of preserved lemon on an elegant, gorgeous fruit bed. Quite piercing flavors. This is the white of the night.
White
1989 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
92 points
Soft aroma, but still showing that typical white Hermitage richness. It's pretty, and smells younger than the last two. Palate entry is pretty, soft and rich, with some slight oxidative notes and a soft nuttiness. Some bitter notes on the finish, coupled with nice minerals. The finish still feels a bit young, with thick structure. Intense, and needs time.
White
1985 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
flawed
Aroma is entirely muted. Palate is muted too in the sense of flavors, but shows the typical wonderful texture. Muted finish, but that wonderful lingering texture is still present. Jean-Louis said the bottle was corked but he found it still drinkable. I agree... I don't taste or smell any TCA note, but that muted sensation throughout is certainly the giveaway. If I opened this at home I'd be sad, but I'd still drink it. That texture alone is wonderful!

Flight 3 - Hermitage Rouge (9 notes)



Jean-Louis has 10 hectares of red under vine in Hermitage. He also mentioned that global warming is most certainly present in the vineyards, but to be honest, thus far it has had a positive benefit on the recent vintages. That said, he does seem to fear for the future. Some folks were asking about irrigation, which is supposed to not be allowed in the AOC, but it seems like some folks may be doing that to cope with the weather in less idea locals, which he did not seem to be a fan of. Someone asked how he will cope with it if the temperature does get too hot... he says they won't do anything. They certainly won't irrigate. He says, "We will just continue." If it looks like it would require irrigation to make the wine, he said then his continuing would not include any wine production.

We kept coming back to an interesting conversation regarding stem inclusion in the red. Jean-Louis mentioned that he has "never had a great Cornas without the stem and never had a great Hermitage with the stem." That said, before the winery was rich, they couldn't always destem as they didn't have the equipment, so some vintages (like the 1979 we had here) had quite a lot of stem inclusion. He did say that they sometimes tune certain vintages with a bit of stems, but generally they go without these days. He says that in Hermitage the stems often take over the wine, just as oak in some wines can overpower the wine. I liked this analogy... as he mentions, some wines can handle 100% new oak no problem, just as some wines can handle 100% whole cluster and some cannot integrate it well. Hermitage, he believes, does not integrate the whole cluster as well as Cornas.

Red
2010 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
94 points
A little funky on the nose and it feels alive in the glass. Give it a few swirls and it softens up a bit and shows its more elegant side. It's nice; very composed and pretty. The palate is rich, soft, and impactful, but still tight, not revealing too much. Certainly lots of tannins build in the mouth and it gets quite tense as its held in the mouth. Bitter tannins attack on the finish, but it's so beautiful, elegant, and rich. Very pretty acidity goes a long way. This wine has wonderful composure but it needs a lot more time. This will be a spectacular Rouge!
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Red
2003 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
88 points
Crazy black color compared to everything else on the table. The aromas are rich and vibrant, with impenetrably dark fruit that still comes across as pretty despite the heft. Very fat and round in the mouth. Hefty, creamy and luscious. There's tons of fruit extract here but not really anything present to balance it. It's very dark and rich, and shows slight bits of alcohol poking through. Bitter and over ripe on the finish. The flavors here are nearly over-ripe, rotting plums. The fruit tastes stewed and old. Really way too overripe. This is the third time I've had this wine and its been consistent for me each and every time, though this one wasn't as enjoyable as the prior (despite similar notes). I'm just floored that people enjoy this vintage (more than those around it). It seems to be the anti-thesis of what I love about the Northern Rhone.
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
2001 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
96 points
The 2001 Rouge is rich and soft on the nose; elegant, but lighter than the prior two for sure. It is certainly beautiful and together, though. Oh wow, but after that quieter aroma I was not prepared for the crazy beauty that immediately attacked my palate on entry. It's just a beauty! Immediate requires concentration with its purity. It's youthful, but so richly fruited. The texture is round and complete. It's fine and refined in every way, with rich acidity. What a wonderful impression! The finish is so beautiful and complex. A real beauty. So lovely with lingering notions of vibrant acidity that beams long into the finish. Overall, a killer impression... the wine of the night! This is drinking much better than the last bottle 5 years ago (though that bottle may have been suspect, in retrospect) and I wouldn't hesitate to drive into these at this point.
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
1998 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
95 points
Much darker in color and aroma than the 2001. Very rich and thick; dark fruit. It's pretty, but the difference is a little challenging at first. This darker complexion carries into the palate, but it's quite pretty, with a rich darker fruit eruption, but it remains composed in its overall balance. Actually, the longer I hold it in the mouth the better it gets. Again, a WOW finish! What a dial up of volume! Who turned it up to 11? It's gorgeous, with a long beautiful fruit laced, acid driven finish that lasts a minute. So beautiful and rich. I was initially fearful of the ripeness, but I think that was just in comparison to the 2001 that preceded it. In the end, this too is a beauty of Hermitage! Every time I've had this over the last 10 years each bottle has just been better and better.
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
1991 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage Cuvée Cathelin France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
93 points
Elegant and round on the nose. Beautiful round structure, and showing quite a lot of fruit and completeness, though still not as much depth on the nose as the best vintages tonight... it just feels a little slight. So, so soft texture on palate entry. Yes, the texture is crazy complete and perhaps the best of the night with its unique body. The flavors are rich, with some slightly oxidative notes and round luscious plums. It's rich and pretty in the mouth, but a bit ripe compared to the best vintages of the normale. Still beautiful flavors in the mouth, for sure. The finish has a beautiful dial up of acidity and balanced structure. Really lovely acidity with a round impression left for some time. A pretty wine, but not the world beater I had hoped for.
Red
1990 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
91 points
Very pretty aroma, showing tons of roses, which is the first for the night. Soft and elegant. The palate entry is soft and mild, with sweet fruit flavors, but it feels less intense than what came prior, and I find myself wishing for a bit more attack. The finish shows tart acidity that's nice and cutting, with slightly bitter tannins still present. Nice, but not as complete as the other wines tonight, and not as good as the previous bottles I've had of this vintage (where it has previously been my WOTN).
Red
1983 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
89 points
Gorgeous, stewed old fruit on the nose. Meaty notion. The first "old" smelling wine of the night, but old in the beautiful sense. Very nice. The palate is rich in texture, but mellow in flavor. Certainly "older" notes here, and not quite as pure as it should be. Feels it may be losing itself a bit. Very nice acidity on the rich and round finish. Very pretty here, with a tartness that wasn't expected due to the older notes prior.
Red
1979 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
93 points
Jean-Louis kept referencing how hipsters (my word) these days are all about the "old school" in wine, but that it's very hard to pin down what that even means, and if that really is a good thing. Lots of old school things caused wine to be "worse", and not nearly as consistent as today. It kind of became a running joke throughout the night. When he brought the 1979 to his nose he said this is, "too old school," with some greenness. He indeed said the 1979 did have some stem inclusion and that, "it is what it is with the stem. It's fine. It accepted the stems."

I was particularly interested in this wines inclusion in the lineup because 1979 is my birth year and a sweet friend was kind enough to open up a 1979 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc near my 40th birthday earlier this year and it completely blew my head off in its loveliness. This didn't quite reach those heights, but I found it entirely compelling tonight, and certainly better than the 1971 that followed it. The aromas are quite pretty. Beautiful, in fact, with an wonderful aged character without any "oldness," still showing plentiful exuberant red fruits paired with the mature aroma. Palate entry is also lovely, with gorgeous stuffing. A bit lighter in body than the other vintages tonight, but this still has wonderful rich tannins and acid purity that keeps the wine nicely composed. The finish is a bit bitter with stronger tannins than expected, but as these fade you are left with a beautiful impression lingering long into the finish. Absolutely lovely.
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
1971 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
89 points
Very stewed and older smelling, but somehow it's still presented in a pretty way. Luscious palate entry at first, but it's paired with some bitter soil notes and strong tannins, and it comes across lacking a bit of fruit. Bitter at first on the finish, but that recoils leaving a prettier sensation at first. Still, it's certainly feeling long in the tooth and the fruit isn't quite keeping pace with the tannins that will long outlive the rest of the flavor components.

Flight 4 (1 note)

White - Sweet/Dessert
1990 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Vin de Paille France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
92 points
A tiny pour is the result of splitting a 375ml bottle among ~22 friends, so hard to get a proper impression, but still an incredible honor to get to try this. Most people aren't even aware Jean-Louis Chave makes a Vin de Paille... let alone get to ever see a bottle... let alone get to ever try a bottle... of 1990! This guy is far more rare than the highly collected and sought after Ermitage Cuvée Cathelin. Anyway, the aromas are certainly gorgeously fruited, and show slight notions of an old book, which is interesting in a dessert wine. Very pretty palate entry, with beautiful richness. So pretty and elegant palate textures... one of the most elegantly textured dessert wines I've had, but the flavors are not as complex or delineated as the best. The finish also offers beautiful elegance and it comes across as ageless. Very pretty. 29 years old you say? You'd never know it, and I bet you'd never know it when it's 50 years old, either.

Closing

As always, E&R kills it with this event. What a treat to get to have Jean-Louis here in person! He is just a joy to listen to, and I just love how humble he is. I brought some bottles which I had purchased at E&R to have him sign them. It will be super fun cracking these particular bottles open in a few decades when they're ready!



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