Although the Northern Rhône is responsible for less than 10% of the Rhône wine production, its wines equal the quality of their southern sisters. The north has eight appellations, of which Hermitage is the most famous one. The appellation is known for its Syrah wines with layered flavours and long-ageing quality.
Hermitage is merely 140 hectares large. In comparison to size, Châteauneuf du Pape is approximately 3.200 hectares. While other appellations in Northern Rhône have expanded over the years, Hermitage was not able to do this because of its natural boundaries set by the Hermitage hill. But this might not be a bad thing for the winemakers in Hermitage: due to the small productions, prices for top Hermitage wines can be pricey.
The history of Hermitage
The first vines were probably planted during the times of ancient Greece (500 B.C), but there are no real records before the 17th century. Back then, the Hermitage wines were served in aristocratic circles. Especially the whites wines were served during gatherings as the red wines were mostly used to fortify Bordeaux wines, and this until the 19th century.
It was only in the 1980’s, people recognised the importance of the Hermitage appellation. And prices went up. La Maison Chapoutier owns most of the vineyards in Hermitage, followed by Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Domaine Jean Louis Chave.
For a long time, the wines of Hermitage were called ‘Saint Christopher’s hill wines’, after the chapel dedicated to the saint. The name ‘Hermitage’ appeared only later and is derived from the hermitage founded by Gaspard de Stérimberg in 1224. He was a knight who took refuge from the world on this granite hill and soon, others followed him and started a community. When Gaspard de Stérimberg replanted the vineyard, he initiated the very beginning of the Hermitage AOC.
The terroir and climate of Hermitage
Most appellations in Northern Rhône are located on the west bank of the Rhône, but not Hermitage. The famous hill is an extension of the Massif Central and a set of 3 adjacent south-facing hills.
The soil is mostly granitic and changes over small distances. This type of soil is perfect for the vines on the steep terraces to cling to. In the east, the soil is mixed with glacial stone, clay and chalk. Closer to the river we find alluvial deposits mixed with granite.
Most vineyards are planted with the red grape variety Syrah as it favours the granite soil. Only a quarter is planted with Marsanne and Roussanne. In general, white grape varieties are preferably planted in the eastern part of Hermitage, which is flatter and has more clay and chalk in the soil.
With the rest of Northern Rhône, Hermitage has a continental climate, which differs from the Mediterranean climate of the Southern Rhône. The hillside vineyards in Hermitage enjoy a southern sun exposure and are protected from the northerly winds.
The lieux dits of Hermitage
Hermitage is divided into 20 separate lieux-dits or climats:
On the steep slopes of the west, we find Les Bessards and Les Grandes Vignes. The wines produced here have power and structure.
L’Homme, Maison Blanche and L’Hermite are just a few climats located on the high terraces in the centre and east. The soil is ideal for Marsanne and Roussanne to grow.
The mid and lower terraces are the home base of many different climats, among them: Le Méal, Beaume, Le Péléat, Les Gréffieux, Diognières et Torras, Rocoule. The soil is a mix of granite and alluvial material, deposited by the Rhône.
We take a closer look at five of these lieux dits: Chante Alouette, Doignières et Torras, Les Bessards, Les Grandes Vignes and L’Hermite.
The fine layer of clay and limestone of this plot is ideal for Marsanne. Chapoutier’s wine Chante Alouette is one of the wines whose grapes are grown here.
Doignières et Torras
Here you’ll only find Marsanne. Jaboulet own 1.3 hectares of this plot.
Most vineyards are planted with Syrah, only a small plot by Delas is planted with Marsanne. The grapes used for Chapoutier's Le Pavillon, Chave's Hermitage Cuvée Cathelin and Jabloulet's La Chapelle are planted in Les Bessards.
Les Grandes Vignes
This plot is not only planted with Syrah but also Marsanne ànd Roussanne. Chave owns the majority of the plot. Their vineyard is located at the top of the Hermitage hill and has vines that are almost 100 years old. La Chapelle owns a Syrah vineyard within L’Hermite.
The wines of Hermitage
Hermitage wines are full-bodied, rich wines and often a blend of wines from different climats. Domaine Jean-Louis Chave for example owns vineyards spread through eight different climats. Before they create the perfect blend, the grapes of each vineyard are aged separately.
The red wines, predominately Syrah, reveal both intensity and finesse and hints of spices and dark fruits. They can contain up to 15% Marsanne and/or Roussanne grapes. The red Hermitage wines become more elegant over time and are at their best after 15 to 20 years of ageing.
The white wines, predominantly Marsanne, reveal floral notes and a touch of vanilla and roasted nuts. They are known for their beautiful yellow colour and can be stored in your wine cellar for decades.
The perfect gem for your wine cellar
Are you looking for a wine that ages gracefully and only tastes better with age? Discover our wide range Hermitage wines in our online shop. Don’t hesitate to contact us for personal assistance.