M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal Blanc 2008
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
The history of the Chapoutier family stretches back to the early nineteenth century when current owner Michel Chapoutier’s great-, great-, great-grandfather Marius purchased an estate and some vineyards in the now famous village of Tain l’Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley. Marius Chapoutier made history in the region when he became the first grape grower there to vinify his own fruit. Marius had tasted wines other winemakers produced using his fruit and he realized that something was lost in translation, so to speak. He knew that he owned some of the best growing sites in the appellation and he believed — rightly — that the grapes grown in his vineyards could produce long-lived world-class wines. In a move unusual at the time, he decided that he should make the wine himself. Not only did the quality of the wines increase greatly, but this move provided the capital to expand the Chapoutiers’ already legendary estate.
A visionary and pioneer in biodynamic winemaking, his restless energy and unconditional commitment to quality have produced tremendous success, with the most 90+ point ratings of all Rhône producers and 16 "100 point" rated wines.
One of the smallest and most important Syrah regions of northern Rhone, Hermitage is practically one single south-facing slope of crushed granite, thinly covered with varied, yet well-charted soil types. Many climats (well identified parcels) exist within Hermitage and while some smaller producers make single climat Syrahs, some larger ones blend to make one balanced expression of the appellation.
Though the AC regulations allow the addition of up to 15% white grapes to a red Hermitage, in practice it is usually made from Syrah alone. Winemaking is pretty traditional—or you might say historic—with hot fermentations and aging in older barrels of various sizes. The best wines, characterized by deep, dense and sexy flavors of black fruit, cocoa, licorice and tobacco, have massive textures and a solid 10-20 years aging potential.
The region of Hermitage is totally enclosed; the only place it could go really is to literally fall down its own hill into the city of Tain or the Rhone River. Soil erosion is a problem and terraces exist alongside the hill in order to keep the earth in place. Crozes-Hermitage encloses the region entirely to its north and south.
While Hermitage seems synonymous with some of the best Syrah on the planet, actually about one third of the wine produced here comes from white grapes. The full, lush and robust Marsanne or the less common, but almost more charming, Roussanne create wonderful whites in which the best have great potential for aging, like the reds.
One of the star whites of the Rhône Valley and ubiquitous throughout southern France, historically vignerons have favored Marsanne for its hardy and productive vines but it is not merely a workhorse variety. It actually produces some of the finest and most age-worthy whites available in the world today. Marsanne can make a fruity and delicious single varietal wine as well as a serious, full-bodied version with amazing aging potential. Its best examples come from the northern Rhone appellations of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St.-Joseph, where it is also blended with Roussanne. Throughout the south of France, Marsanne is often found in blends with Viognier, Rolle and even Chardonnay.
In the Glass
Marsanne has a great deal of depth and texture. Common characteristics include sweet pear, white peach, roasted nuts, white flowers and spice. When aged well it can have an attractive, silky and somewhat oily texture.
Lobster, Alaskan King Crab, grilled shrimp, any pork, chicken or veal will be delicious with Marsanne or Marsanne blends. You can also try it with cream sauces and spicy dishes!
Some of the oldest Marsanne vines in the entire world exist not in France but in Australia, in the Victoria region (in southeast Australia where the climate is relatively cool). Settlers called the grape “white Hermitage” and planted it in the mid to late 1800s.