Hermitage La Chapelle Historical Vertical Tasting 2006-2020

Our Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay gives his verdict on a historic vertical of the Hermitage La Chapelle from 2006 to 2020 – made by avant-garde winemaker Caroline Frey.

For an in-depth conversation with Frey, see here.

All the wines were tasted with the winemaker Caroline Frey and the commercial director of Jaboulet JeanLuc Chapel, Le Vineum, Tain L’Hermitage, with wines served in bottles, opened an hour in advance and tasted from the youngest to the oldest then compared.

  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2006 (14% alcohol; only 20% new barrels from this vintage). The very first vintage produced entirely by Caroline Frey (the 2005 has just been blended by her). Charming, sweet and engaging although a bit old school and slightly funky in a millennial La Chapelle genre. Ripe, round and very ready. There is a touch of violet; and with air, a little white truffle; there’s also just a slight hint of damp cellaring about it – but that actually adds to the character. Very seductive. Notes of game, classic truffle and leather – earthy, with a hint of garrigue and wild thyme, slightly ferrous and a bit wild. There’s less obvious minerality and it’s smoother than later vintages that are slightly more concentrated and worthy of ageing. Overall this has a nice grip and forward drive on the palate, although the tannins are a little rough around the edges, especially towards the finish. 92.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2007 (14% alcohol). This one has a lovely nose that, with air, becomes more and more floral; there is a nice subtle touch of trumpets of death and the white truffle too. The 2007 is a little more austere than the 2006 and finer, with a little darker fruit as well. Notes of blackberry, bramble, boysenberry, sour cherry and cherry brandy, a hint of sandalwood, almond and frangipane. This is quite lifted on the nose with a glorious haunting cedar note too. Very soft and caressing with cashmere tannins but also tight and concentrated. The mid-palate is beautifully clear and translucent. Long too, with a pleasant panache 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 this kind of ‘come closer and I’ll reveal my secrets’. Like the cold air in the crypt of a cathedral, it focuses attention; but once it opens up it’s actually a bit more seductive and still a little sweeter and sunnier than the 2010. Quite floral, very soft and sweet at first. Graphite, cedar, a beautiful earthy minerality, blackberry and blackcurrant, a hint of garrigue, fennel seed and liquorice; book to the royal – also smoked meats, game. Compact, dense and wonderfully structured – bold and powerful yet forward-looking and loaded with energy and potential. Still very young. I like the very slight natural sweetness on the mid-palate and the airy, airy, seemingly endless finish. A great wine – the first of a number in this fabulous vertical. 98.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2010 (14% alcohol). A little more open than the 2009 at first glance and more aromatically floral – a bouquet of spring flowers, fresh and bright, and with a lovely palette of intertwining colors and aromas – an impressionistic interpretation of a vase of spring flowers; violets too. Very dark berries and cherries; a hint of orange blossom too. Classically game and with this beautiful graphite minerality from La Chapelle. Gloriously sweet tannins; long, compact and beautifully tapered – still firmly held around a very compact and still impenetrable core. We have the feeling of only touching the surface here (with great hidden depths yet to be discovered). Truly beautifully textured and incredibly youthful. Tight and supremely harmonious. A nice balance and a beginning of evolution towards more concentration and precision. Really excellent. 97.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2011 (14% alcohol). Very fresh, floral again but with slightly darker flowers – violet, lilac, a hint of lavender too and that wild herbaceousness from 2007 too. Mimosa and even a hint of orange blossom. It is in fact the most floral of the vintages tasted so far. It’s a little wider too but bright and clear in the heart, like the 2009. A rolling, undulating and sinuous mid-palate – less linear than the 2010 – and with a wonderful fan-like finish. The tannins are chewy and, especially on the finish, less fine than the two previous vintages. A little austere, but still very seductive and a fine expression of the vintage. 95.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2012 (14.5% alcohol). The fruit here is a little darker. Serious, slightly Protestant and distinctly austere. Blackberry and bramble, a nice blend of loamy earthy elements and wild herbs, it’s rich and gamey too with leather and almost black pudding notes, a bit of smoke too and a delicious Kalamata olive umami. Really excellent. Limpid, luminous and very expressive, with super fine grain tannins. A truly big wine with the most beautiful structure – broad yet concentrated and supremely fresh and focused with plenty of light energy. Dynamic and wonderfully fresh. Not perhaps the tallest structure, but quite magnificent. All in finesse, very complete and supremely harmonious. 96.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2013 (13.5% alcohol). Ferrous and immediately wilder than the other vintages of the flight. It’s earthy and cedar with the dark stone fruits – cooked plums and cherries – playing a bit more of a background role. Dried rose petals, leather too. It smells of oak just a little more and it’s quite spicy, but never sweet. Sinuous and more open, translucent and bright on the mid-palate but without the depth, density and concentration of the greatest vintages here. But it’s still very beautiful and the quality of tannin management is extraordinary. Sapid and fresh finish, although perhaps a little drier than the others. 93.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2014 (13.5% alcohol). More closed at first than many of them. Earthy and stony, with light flinty notes, the fruit has a lighter hue – loganberries and fresh raspberries alongside darker plum stone fruit notes. Aromatically it’s quite floral – but the floral elements come in the form of fine extracts and fragrances rather than being those of fresh flowers per se. Super slender on the attack, with a nice openness in and through the mid-palate; finally quite broad-shouldered but we only see the structure quite slowly. He is still a child, perhaps precocious and with a lot of potential. Built around its cool graphite back, it’s very attractive and one of the surprises of the tasting. 95.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2015 (14.5% alcohol). This has incredible balance and a wonderfully fresh, refined elegance on the nose. Inviting, alluring and seductive but not revealing all of its secrets – an invitation. Beautifully harmonious in its alluring complexity, I find it hard to describe and almost a crime to attempt (it’s hard work but someone has to do it!). To attach descriptors to its considerable charms is to deconstruct that which 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 archetype of La Chapelle wild game, garrigue herbs and aged armchair leather. The texture is fabulous, the epitome of tannin management that marks La Chapelle’s return to form under Caroline Frey. Composed, pure, dense and compact yet incredibly soft and seductive – cashmere more than silk. Quite glorious. The best of these and very special indeed. 100.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2016 (14.5% alcohol). Very different but hardly less deep. It looks like a very young wine on the nose, slow to reveal its identity and charms, but it actually fills out beautifully in that cool, calm way of La Chapelle. The fruit is clearer and purer and lifted than the 2015. Chiselled, refined, less sunny and a little more austere, but at the same time lively, bright and energetic. It’s ultra precise, with a nice tight and dense tension in the mid-palate. Raspberries, loganberries, rub shoulders with notes of blackcurrant and bramble. Less floral, but with a nice subtle touch of garrigue herbs. Fresh and vibrant, lively and energetic – one can feel the conversion to biodynamic agriculture in this added purity and crisp focus and also in the sense of forward momentum across and above the palate. It looks like a subtle style change. very good one wine for laying down 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). It’s still different. A bit sweeter on the nose, with more Asian peppery notes – cracked black peppercorns and crushed green Sichuan peppercorns. Spring flowers on the nose and in the mouth. Very seductive aromatically and signature of the terroirs from which it comes in this vintage. Bright and sunny with a beautiful crisp fruit, this fills well with a bit of air – and would already be accessible with food after decanting. Vibrant and charged and energetic if without the density or concentration of the previous two vintages. Beautiful luminosity and sapidity on the finish. 97.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2018 (15.5% alcohol). Large and smoky, you can smell the sun-scorched southern exposure of the Hermitage hill. Radiant and bright and very aromatically expressive; with violet and wild lavender, wild thyme too; it takes a little while to settle into the glass – it’s almost too exuberant at first. Spicy – with baking spice, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg, a hint of vanilla, alongside cedar and graphite and a very pure fruit of bramble and cassis; tapenade and leather too; dark chocolate and chocolate covered violets reveal themselves as it begins to soak up the air. Massive – very deep, rich and powerful. The most opulent of the wines tasted and indeed a signature of the vintage, even if it perfectly carries and hides the alcohol. Ultra-fresh, impressively chiselled considering the weight and density and surprisingly bright and dynamic. 97.
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 2019 (15.5% alcohol). Supremely pure, with the kind of nose that signals attention in the vineyard and precision that can come with organic and biodynamic practice. Blackcurrant in its purest form, abundant graphite and a lovely stony and flinty character. It’s ultra-shiny and has brilliant precision and focus and incredible intensity, but all in the silkiest of silk gloves! Just amazing. Can it really be 15.5% alcohol – you really don’t notice it at all (and I’m quite sensitive). Surprisingly dense and charged yet like a laser beam of graphite and cassis purity. Incredibly bright and it’s exceptional considering the concentration and density at the heart of the reactor! The fresh fruit lingers on a breathtaking finish. 99.

Read more:

In conversation: Caroline Frey of Château La Lagune and Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Château La Lagune Historical Vertical Tasting 2004-2020

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