Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, 14%, France
(£350-500+, see Wine Searcher)
‘As a winemaker, you have to be humble in front of a wine like this,’ muses Caroline Frey, whose family took over historic Rhône producer Paul Jaboulet Aîné in 2006, of the estate’s iconic Hermitage La Chapelle. ‘You have to be patient, but the great terroir of the vineyard asserts itself eventually. At that stage, tasting becomes a kind of meditation.’
This remarkable tasting featured Hermitage La Chapelle back to 1964. (The 1961 is a legendary wine.) It was a fascinating insight not only into the ups and downs of the estate but also the different nature of the vintages. Most significantly, it showcased how this wine, when it is on top form, is an electrifying combination of raw energy, savoury power and dramatic finesse.
It’s a carnivore’s wine, pure and simple. Meaty, peppery, sinewy, muscular: a thoroughbred of awesome power but, when made well, grace too.
The 1964 was fading a little but still carried real energy at its core, a sense of vibrancy and history, relayed in leathery, gravelly tones. I was very taken by the 1982, a beautiful marriage of invigorating freshness with savoury, spicy roundness, a captivating lithe charm with plenty of road left to travel. The 1985 gestured towards Burgundy in its tangy, red-fruited charm, nervey and piercing in style. Also showing well was the 1991, peppery and charming – though the 2003 was, despite some elegantly evolved aromatics, tiring on the palate. Of the more recent vintages, 2012 showed the most vivid, arresting aromatics while 2013 was grippy and inviting.
But it was this 1990 which stole the show. Utterly captivating energy and finesse, with aromas of dried fruit, yellow parchment, leather and warm earth. A wine of flesh and heat that demands patience and commands its audience. The flavour profile is spicy, resonant and elegantly mouth-coating. Still young, with lots more life in it yet. Stunning. (9-9.5/10, Peter, Nov 2016)