The mighty Rhone-based M Chapoutier brand traces its roots back to 1808. The current proprietor, Michel Chapoutier, is 7th generation and transformed Chapoutier from a struggling business into one of the most prominent wine producers in France, if not globally. Just 25 years old when he took the company over, one of his first actions was to make the winery biodynamic. He has been vocal in promoting the virtues of this way in working with the land and the wine making process ever since. Other examples of Michel Chapoutier’s way of thinking differently include the addition of braille writing on all his wine labels since 1996.
M Chapoutier owns plots across around 30% of the Hermitage hill which towers over the little North Rhone town of Tain. The hill is a granite-based extension of the Massif Central, but has an incredible mix of soils, influenced by glacial deposits from the Alps to the east and the north-south running river Rhone, among other factors. Local producers believe the hill is unique as there are so many soil combinations concentrated in such a small area. Broadly speaking, though, the left hand side of the hill tends to have more granite soils and is superior for the reds, whereas the clay mix and sandier slopes on the right is good for the whites.
Now with footholds in Alsace, Roussillon, Portugal and Australia, as well as a burgeoning negociant business, M Chapoutier has a number of different ranges for its north Rhone wines. For example, Hermitage spelt with an H is a blend of grapes from both the granite and clay plots. Then the Ermitage with spelt with an E (the original spelling; the addition of the H came from the English!) denotes wine from single plots and is reflected in the price.
- La Combe Pilate IGP Viognier 2015
The grapes for this wine actually come from the garden of the Chapoutier family home in Crozes Hermitage. It’s labelled as an IGP as the only white grapes permitted within the Crozes Hermitage AOC are Marsanne and Roussanne. The vines are still very young which is reflected in this clean, citrussy Viognier. That said, 2015 was a hot year so it’s weightier than usual. Orchard fruit and almonds with a classy finish.
- Guer Van Alleno & Chapoutier 2013
A collaboration between Chapoutier and a local chef, this white Crozes Hermitage consists only of Marsanne. Michel Chapoutier prefers it to Roussanne for its slightly bitter, mineral and salty characteristics as well as ageing potential. This wine has spent one year in oak, but only 15% new oak. Chapoutier has a very modest approach to oak – in all their wines that have spent some time in barrique, at least half will have stayed in stainless steel (or another inert medium).
On the palate, the wine is refreshing – grapefruit – with quince and ripe pears, but quite rich, vanilla shortbread and a smattering of hazelnuts.
- St Peray Pic et Chapoutier 2015
Grown on the higher slopes of St Peray, the chalky soils give the wine its saltiness. It’s lean and precise, crisp green apples, white flowers, almonds and slightly creamy, from its six months in oak. Impressively balanced between acidity and richness.
- Chante Alouette Hermitage 2015
The Marsanne grapes here are grown on the lower slopes of Hermitage. The warm vintage resulted in a full, rich and ripe wine – abundant peaches and apricots – yet it’s fresh and clean tasting, as it’s so young.
- Invitare Condrieu 2015
Another fresh yet opulent white, with a more intense nose than the Hermitage: lots of baked white stone fruit and honey. On the palate, it’s full of jammy peaches, greengages and honeyed apricots, with a long floral finish.
- Les Meysonniers Crozes Hermitage 2014
Crunchy red berries: red currants and raspberries, with a touch of violet; light but interesting. The grapes are grown on flat, clay-like soils.
- St Joseph Les Granilites 2014
St Joseph tends to produce wines with more structure compared to the average Crozes Hermitage. It benefits from higher slopes and rocks that do not catch the sun constantly throughout the day, whilst the winds keep things fresh.
There’s more black fruit in this wine compared to the entry level Crozes Hermitages. Perfumed blackberries, amongst the concentrated ripe raspberries and sweet redcurrants. The peppery graphite coming from the granite soils is very evident, yet beautifully integrated.
- Les Becasses Cote Rotie 2014
Potentially one of the longest lived red wines in the world, this Cote Rotie is a mere baby but impressively balanced already – in other words, not a chewy tannic monster! On the palate, there’s a scattering of perfumed red berries but what really stood out for us were the non-fruit based aromas: the whack of violets, the mineral streak, the black pepper, the tapenade and bay leaf. So much potential…
- Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne 2012
Made with grapes from the lower slopes of the hill, this Hermitage is powerful, boosted by some spicy black fruit as well as the concentrated – almost jammy – strawberries and ripe raspberries. There’s some baked fig, blackberries and blackcurrants, a smattering of spice – both black pepper and sweet cinnamon – and a hint of liquorice.
- Ermitage Le Pavillon 2012
This is one of M Chapoutier’s top Hermitages, grown from old vines on a steep, granite-based plot of around 4 hectares. Around 6,000 bottles are produced annually.
Intense on both the nose and palate, the wine is smoky and seductive. The array of aromas is incredible; from the tart redcurrants to the rich, sweet strawberries and raspberries, layers of perfumed, smoky blackberries and black cherries. Along with all that dense, ripe yet vibrant fruit, are earthy, tobacco complements, some liquorice and black pepper, ending with a long savoury flourish.