Hermitage La Chapelle Historical Vertical Tasting 2006-2020
Our Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay gives his verdict on a historical vertical of Hermitage La Chapelle from 2006-2020 – made by cutting-edge winemaker Caroline Frey.
For an in-depth conversation with Frey, see here.
All the wines were tasted with winemaker Caroline Frey and commercial director at Jaboulet Jean–Luc Chapel at Le Vineum in Tain L’Hermitage. The wines were served from bottle, having been opened an hour beforehand. They were tasted youngest to oldest and then compared.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2006 (14% alcohol; just 20% new oak from this vintage on). The very first vintage entirely produced by Caroline Frey (the 2005 was just assembled by her). Lovely, soft and engaging if a little old school and slightly funky in a millennial La Chapelle kind of a way. Ripe, round and very much ready. There’s a touch of violet; and with air, a little white truffle; there’s also just a slight hint of the damp cellar about this too – but it actually adds to the character. Very seductive. Gamey notes, classic truffle and leather – earthy, with a hint of garrigue and wild thyme, slightly ferrous and a little feral. There’s less obvious minerality and this is softer than the slightly more focused and age-worthy later vintages. Overall, this has a pleasing grip and forward march across the palate, even if the tannins are a little rough around the edges, especially towards the finish. 92.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2007 (14% alcohol). This has a delightful nose which, with air, becomes more and more floral; there’s a lovely subtle hint of trompettes de la mort and white truffle too. The 2007 is a touch more austere than the 2006 and finer, with the fruit a shade darker too. Blackberry, bramble, boysenberry, griotte cherry and cherry brandy notes, a hint of sandalwood, almonds and frangipane. This is quite lifted on the nose with a hauntingly glorious cedary note too. Very soft and caressing with cashmere tannins yet also tight and focussed. This has lovely clarity and translucence in the mid-palate. Long, too, with a pleasing plume on the finish. Very attractive. 94.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2008 – no wine produced.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2009 (14% alcohol). Cool, calm and collected; a little closed but in that ‘come up close and I’ll reveal my secrets’ kind of a way. Like the cold air of the crypt of a cathedral, it focuses the attention; but once it opens, it is in fact a little more seductive and ever so slightly sweeter and sunnier than the 2010. Quite floral, very soft and gentle at first. Graphite, cedar, a lovely earthy minerality, blackberries and cassis, a little hint of garrigue, fennel seed and liquorice; lièvre à la royale – smoked charcuterie too, gamey. Compact, dense and wonderfully structured – bold and powerful but forward-oriented and charged with energy and potential. Still very young. I love the very slight natural sweetness in the mid-palate and the lifted, ethereal and seemingly endless finish. Un grand vin – the first of a number in this fabulous vertical. 98.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2010 (14% alcohol). Slightly more open than the 2009 at first and more aromatically floral – a bunch of spring flowers, fresh and bright, and with a lovely range of colours and interweaving aromas – an impressionist rendition of a vase of spring flowers; violets too. Very dark berry and cherry fruit; a hint of orange blossom too. Classically gamey and with that lovely La Chapelle graphite minerality. Gloriously soft tannins; long, compact and beautifully tapering – always tightly held around a very compact and still impenetrable core. One has very much the sensation that one is touching only the surface here (with great hidden depths still to be revealed). Really beautifully textured and incredibly youthful. Tense and supremely harmonious. A lovely sense of balance and the start of the evolution towards more focus and precision. Truly excellent. 97.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2011 (14% alcohol). Very fresh, floral again but with slightly darker shaded flowers – violets, lilacs, a hint of lavender too and that wild herbyness of the 2007 too. Mimosa and even a little hint of orange blossom. This is the most floral in fact of the vintages tasted thus far. It is a little broader-shouldered too but luminous and clear at the core, like the 2009. A rolling, rippling, sinuous mid-palate – less linear than the 2010 – and with a wondrous fantail finish. The tannins are chewy and, on the finish especially, not quite as fine-grained as the two previous vintages. Somewhat austere, but still very attractive and a lovely expression of the vintage. 95.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2012 (14.5% alcohol). The fruit is a shade darker here. Serious, slightly protestant and distinctly austere. Blackberry and bramble, a lovely blend of loamy earthy and wild herbal elements, this is rich and gamey too with leather and almost boudin noir notes, a little smokiness too and a delightful Kalamata olive umami-ness. Really excellent. Limpid, luminous and very expressive, with super-fine-grained tannins. A truly great wine with the most beautiful structure – broad yet focused and supremely fresh and precise with loads of bright energy. Dynamic and wonderfully fresh. Not perhaps the biggest structure, but utterly beautiful. All in finesse, very complete and supremely harmonious. 96.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2013 (13,5% alcohol). Ferrous and immediately more feral that the other vintages in the flight. This is earthy and cedary with the dark stone fruit – baked plums and cherries – playing a little more of a background role. Dried rose petals, leather too. One senses the oak just a little more and this is quite spicy, though never sweet. Sinuous and more open-textured, translucent and radiant in the mid-palate but without the depth, density and concentration of the greatest vintages here. But it is still very gorgeous and the quality of the tannin management is extraordinary. Sapid and fresh on the finish, if perhaps a little more dry than the others. 93.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2014 (13.5% alcohol). More closed at first than many of these. Earthy and stony, with slight flinty hints, the fruit a shade lighter in hue – loganberries and fresh raspberries alongside the darker plum stone fruit notes. Aromatically this is quite floral – but the floral elements come in the form of extracts and fine perfumes rather than being those of fresh flowers per se. Super-svelte on the attack, with a lovely opening out in and through the mid-palate; ultimately quite broad-shouldered but we only get to see the structure quite slowly. This is still an infant, precocious perhaps and with lots of potential. Built around its cool graphite spine, this is very attractive and one of surprises of the tasting. 95.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2015 (14.5% alcohol). This has an incredible poise and a wondrously cool, refined elegance on the nose. Inviting, enticing and alluring but not giving away all of its secrets – an invitation. Beautifully harmonious in its beguiling complexity, I find this difficult to describe and almost a crime to seek do so (it’s a tough job but someone has to!). Attaching descriptors to its considerable charms is like deconstructing what is entirely holistic and in perfect unity. Very dark chocolate, fennel seeds, lilac and just a hint of candied violet; there is a trace of cinnamon and nutmeg, that archetypally La Chapelle wild gamey-ness, garrigue herbs and aged armchair leather. The texture is fabulous – the epitome of the tannin management that marks the return to form of La Chapelle under Caroline Frey. Composed, pure, dense and compact but incredibly soft and seductive – cashmere more than silk. Utterly glorious. The best of these and very special indeed. 100.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2016 (14.5% alcohol). Very different but scarcely less profound. This feels like a very young wine on the nose, slow to reveal its identity and its charms, but it actually fills out beautifully in that cool, calm La Chapelle way. The fruit is lighter in shade and, if anything, more pure and lifted than the 2015. Chiselled, refined, less sunny and a little more austere, though at the same time vivid, bright and energetic. This is ultra-focussed, with a lovely tight, dense tautness to the mid-palate. Raspberries, loganberries, alongside the cassis and bramble notes. Less floral, though with a lovely subtle hint of garrigue herbs. Fresh and vibrant, lively and energetic – one can feel the conversion to biodynamic farming in that extra purity and crisp focus and also in the sense of forward momentum across and over the palate. It feels like a subtle change in style. Very much a vin de garde and showing only a little of its full potential, but what potential there is here! Fabulous and a little different. 98+.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2017 (14.5% alcohol). This is different again. Slightly sweeter on the nose, with more Asiatic peppery notes – cracked black pepper and crushed green Szechuan peppercorns. Spring flowers on the nose and on the palate too. Very seductive aromatically and a signature of the terroirs from which it comes in this vintage. Bright and sunny with a lovely croquant fruit, this fills out nicely with a little air – and would already be approachable with food after decanting. Vibrant and charged and energetic if without the density or concentration of the two previous vintages. A lovely luminosity and sapidity on the finish. 97.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2018 (15.5% alcohol). Big and smoky, one can feel the sun-baked southern exposition of the hill of Hermitage. Radiant and bright and very aromatically expressive; with violets and wild lavender, wild thyme too; this takes a little time to settle in the glass – it’s almost overly exuberant at first. Spicy – with baking spices, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg, a hint of vanilla, alongside the cedar and graphite and a very pure bramble and blackcurrant fruit; tapenade and leather too; dark chocolate and chocolate coated violets reveal themselves as it starts to imbibe the air. Massive – very deep, rich and powerful. The most opulent of the wines tasted and very much a signature of the vintage, though it carries and hides the alcohol supremely well. Ultra-fresh, impressively chiselled given the weight and density and amazingly bright and dynamic. 97.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2019 (15.5% alcohol). Supremely pure, with the kind of nose that signals the attention in the vineyard and the precision that can come with organic and biodynamic practice. Blackcurrant in its purest form, graphite in abundance and a lovely stony, flinty character. This is ultra-glossy and has brilliant precision and focus and such amazing intensity but all in the silkiest of silk gloves! Just amazing. Can it really be 15.5% of alcohol – you really don’t notice it at all (and I am quite sensitive). Amazingly dense and charged but like a laser beam of graphite and cassis purity. Incredibly luminous and that is exceptional given the concentration and density at the reactor’s core! The fresh fruit goes on forever on the breath-taking finish. 99.
- Hermitage La Chapelle 2020 (15% alcohol). Gloriously limpid and viscous, jet black at the core and glass-stainingly purple at the rim. Silky, soft, seductive and velour-textured on both the nose and on the palate. Sublime tannins with the finest beading. Brambles and graphite, a touch of black cherry too; the darkest fruit profile of the entire tasting. Incredibly soft and caressing for a wine so young. The texture and finesse is incredible here. This is a little more open and marginally less dense and compact than the 2019 but, if anything, even more pure and beautiful for that. A baby but with staggering potential. I really love this. Others may wish for a little more power, but for me the purity, precision and vivid focus is more than adequate compensation. Vibrant and genuinely exciting. 98
In conversation: Caroline Frey of Château La Lagune and Paul Jaboulet Aîné