Hermitage in the Rhône Valley: THE hill

By Pierrick Jegu

A legendary terroir, classic estates, iconic cuvées… There is no shortage of superlatives to describe these almost 140 hectares (346 acres) in the northern Rhône Valley, south of Lyon. And with good reason!   

Hermitage: THE hill

Grand terroir 

“Terroir”: it’s the word on everyone’s lips. It describes the combination of climatology, exposure, soil, sub-soil, and, some would say, the efforts of the grower to enhance their expression… However, it's not quite so easy to pin down what is meant by “grand terroir”. How might we define it? A grand terroir would be one which puts its positive stamp on the wines, for example by influencing the varietal aspect of the grapes. It gives all the wines produced there a common hallmark. In the wine-making world, few terroirs enjoy this particular prestige. In France, there is one whose reputation extends far beyond our borders: Hermitage. 

Exposure, soils, and sectors 

Situated in the northern Rhône Valley, it occupies a hill with a southern exposure, overlooking the Rhône and the village of Tain-L’Hermitage. On these 137 hectares (339 acres), different geologies combine, with variations between the soils of the decomposed granite in the western section of the hill, and more recent formations from the Quarternary Period, more common in the eastern part. As a result, there are several distinct sector, like Les Bessards, where the wines are quite robust, Varogne, with its slightly more austere cuvées, and Les Greffieux, which produces delicate wines that don’t necessarily have the same aging potential as the others. 

Exceptional, in more way than one 

Despite these differences, all Hermitage wines share a rare elegance and a rare underlying freshness. Even more amazing is the fact that the Hermitage terroir has become as popular for its reds as for its whites. Syrah remains the iconic red grape variety – although a very small quantity of white grapes can sometimes be blended with it – whilst Marsanne, which enjoys the chalkiest ground, is the dominant white variety, producing wines with impressive longevity. The grandeur of the Hermitage terroir(s) is universally acknowledged. And it comes at a price! No young winemaker could imagine going into business in this region without a sponsor – here, a hectare (2.5 acres) of vines goes for millions of euros. Nothing is for sale anyway! And with the most expensive bottles often stretching to hundreds, the average consumer would struggle to afford its wines, too. Exceptional wine at exceptional prices!  

Taste France Magazine’s selection 

Domaine Marc Sorrel - Hermitage blanc – “Les Rocoules” 2016 
On the nose, this wine has beeswax and fresh almond notes. It tastes rich yet precise, developing toward an impressive finish defined by a lovely bitterness.  

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave - Hermitage 2015 
Keep it in the cellar for a few years, and this wine will express its full potential. Well-mastered generosity, a fine tannin structure, a silky mouth feel and a very subtle aromatic balance of fresh black fruit and spices. 

Domaine Yann Chave - Hermitage 2016 
Dominant in the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, this estate also has a few vines in Hermitage. And its winemaker makes good use of them. This wine proves it, with a profile tending more towards cleanness than showiness. Everything we love! 

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