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Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine “Hermitage La Chapelle” 1976-2007

May 2, 2010

In the midst of a mad week where endless items jostled for my immediate attention (not least the impending Residency programme where, perhaps, the best solution between revolutionary change and utter despair lies in a good bottle of red), I found some sanity at a fabulous vertical of the famous Hermitage La Chapelle wines of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine on 20 April 2010 at St Regis, presided by the venerable Dr N K Yong and M. Christophe Brunet, account manager of the estate, as well as Ms Lisa Perotti-Brown, MW. Boasting a full attendance that was remarkably punctual, we wasted no time tasting the first flight, consisting of recent releases.

The 2007, of which we were reliably informed by M. Brunet that we were amongst the privileged few to taste this yet-to-be-released vintage, displayed a dull ruby red with flavours of red and dark berries of cool climate fruit, marked by a significant note of undergrowth and earthiness, distinctly oaky but unobtrusive. Medium-full, producing a silky smooth  mouthfeel with fine tannins, slightly medicinal towards its moderately long finish without any trace of astringency. A fine example of a wine that’s already quite well-integrated at such an early stage. In contrast, the 2005 was a significant leap forward, brighter in color and much more lifted and expressive on the nose, hinting at once of predominantly red fruits and glycerin offering sweet fragrance. Its medium-bodied, mellow nature was highly appealing, revealing a rich core of ripe fruit. Absolutely harmonious and elegant without sacrificing power, although its finish was rather short. But a lovely wine it is. Excellent. The 2004 that followed, a dull ruby red, seemed a bit manic, initially very open on the nose with bright cherries before suddenly turning rather reticent, more austere on the palate than the preceding 2005 with a touch of earth, dull minerality, game and dank undergrowth. Certainly the fruit was less forward. But as if the wine had sensed that it had delivered negative vibes, its character changed again, becoming more expressive, more nutty with overtones of dried mushrooms and Chinese herbs, undeniably quite attractive in its own way.

The second flight, taking us back more than 10 years, was a major advancement. Here, at last, was the splendour of northern Rhone syrah laid out in all its glory. The 1997, showing an evolved red, was highly expressive, deeply scented with red fruits and perfume. Mellow, soft, revealing excellent levels of concentration with a rich core, layered with complexity, absolutely harmonious and integrated. Slightly dry on the finish but still retaining excellent freshness. Powerful, yet beautifully balanced. The 1991, fully matured, was initially sullen. No doubt there was plenty of glycerin, tropical fruits, cherries and raspberries but it was less exuberant than the 1997. Mellow, but somewhat sharp on the mid-palate and slightly hollow towards the short finish. Within the next hour, however, it staged the most amazing transformation, snapping into sharp focus with superb delineation and definition, the flavours more developed and expansive (whereas by then the 1997 seemed to be fading), becoming absolutely harmonious and infinitely complex. A great syrah, and definitely the Wine of The Night, an opinion shared by the majority. The 1988 that followed, extremely mellow, was marked by tremendous depth, complexity and finesse but in a most feminine manner, giving the impression of utmost delicacy, as if the wine would threaten to fall apart any time. Totally seamless and pure, but its power is yielding. This had definitely been great at one time.

The final flight was interesting for the way these ageing wines still held up to scrutiny. Drinking the 1985 was to taste the distilled essence of the syrah fruit, still showing good concentration and intensity with a sweet finish, although its bouquet was highly elusive where only aromas of kumquat was discernible. The 1982 surprised with a deep vein of orange-scented fruit, still quite full-bodied although clearly fading in freshness. And still hanging on to its last legs was the 1976, minty and bravely defiant, but faded, bringing this wonderful tasting to a most dignified close.

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