Wine Monopole


This tiny appellation in Northern Rhone (only 136 hectares in size) was historically known as “St. Christopher’s hill wines”. It was named after the chapel dedicated to Saint Christopher, the knight Henri Gaspard de Sterimberg.  Upon his return from the Albigenisan Crusades, St. Christopher decided to live as a “hermit” on the hill granted to him by the Queen of Spain. He replanted the vineyard (with Syrah) that would become known as first Ermitage, and then Hermitage.

Hermitage wine is synonymous to the best quality Syrah in the world, mostly using 100% Syrah. While regulation allows the wine to contain up to 15% of Roussanne and Marsanne, producers seldom practice this. The wine presents a deep ruby red colour; as it ages, this strong wine, meaty and robust, acquires a surprising roundness and flexibility. With incredible ageing potential, the best vintages become finer and more harmonious over time, developing exquisite notes of violet, spices, and blackcurrant. 

When Australian’s producers first planted Syrah, they often called their wines “Hermitage”. That’s why you see Penfolds named its best wine “Grange Hermitage”, and only dropped the “Hermitage” in 1989 after they gained their recognition. Not only did the quality and profound influence of Hermitage travel globally, but also historically back to the many centuries before us.

In the 17th century, wine of Hermitage from Northern Rhone was already considered one of the finest in Europe. Many of the Bordeaux wines back then were actually Hermitaged, i.e. they blended their estate wines with wines from Hermitage! Really? Like who? Well, this included Chateau Lafite, which was already one of the greatest wines of its day. Why did these greatest chateaus need anything from their cousins down south?

Few years ago, Chateau Palmer released its historical XIXth Century Blend, which was made from 85% of Palmer’s estate grapes and 15% Syrah from Hermitage. Thomas Duroux, winemaker at Palmer, explained that: "Most of the great names of Bordeaux used to have a little bit of wine from the north of the Rhône to improve the colour and depth of the wine. They had to do this sometimes since they had difficult vintages. We now know how to deal with difficult vintages.

While Hermitage continued its excellence and became wines for the Kings in Europe and the Tsars in Russia, nature kicked in. In the 19th centry, phylloxera wiped out all the vineyards in the area. 

It took the producers many decades to rebuild this holy ground for Syrah and they did it again! In a blind tasting of First Growth Bordeaux in 1961, the famous 1961 Hermitage “La Chapelle” was included. Most people, including its owner, Gerard Jaboulet, mistook it as Chateau Margaux. In fact, high-quality, mature red Hermitage can be confused with the best mature First Growth Bordeaux.

What is this mythical Hermitage “La Chapelle”? Chapelle means Church in English. “La Chapelle” refers to the little church where St. Christopher lived in. The church along the hill of vineyard was acquired by the Jaboulet family and has become the best wine from today’s Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine.

Hopefully, you would enjoy our featured Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage “La Chapelle” 1999. This wine will showcase to you the best Syrah, and also bring you back to history centuries ago.



Written by Wine Monopole — April 15, 2013


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