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Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1998

Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1998My Weekend Wine has never been about wine recommendations, but rather merely a chance to turn the spotlight on a particular wine which I find of interest. With that in mind, for me (and I suspect many others), this is a fascinating wine to look at. There are so many facets to this wine; some, such as the reported downturn in quality of the usually stalwart and reliable Hermitage La Chapelle from Jaboulet, will be of interest to all Rhône fans, whereas others are quite personal to me, as 1998 was the year that saw the birth of my first son. On the look out for suitable wines with which to celebrate in the future, the obvious choices were Bordeaux (the right bank) and the Rhône Valley, the vintage being well received in the south, and with some good reports from the north as well. I bought a few from each region, starting with these bottles from the Northern Rhône.

Subsequently, it became apparent that some of my purchases were not quite of the quality that might be expected. Over the years there have been many reports that, during the years immediately following the death of Gérard Jaboulet, quality took a nose dive. The wines have been described as close to undrinkable if some critics are to be taken at their word. Eventually, the business was purchased by the Frey family, who sold Ayala to Bollinger in order to finance the purchase, and there are hopes (and indeed early reports) of a recovery. But only time will tell. In the meantime, I have several bottles of 1998 La Chapelle (as well as some of the 1999 vintage) with which to amuse myself.

Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1998I opened this on a Sunday afternoon, and decanted it immediately, leaving it for an hour or so, but then drinking it over the course of the evening, watching to see how it evolved, if at all. There was a little sediment in the bottle, and also a little fine powder which escaped into the decanter, which never bothers me. It has a nice depth of colour, although it is by no means opaque, and here begins my litany of qualifications. This wine has an attractive depth of pigment, but when one considers that this is a Hermitage, reputedly one of the top examples of the appellation, at eight years of age, and from a very good vintage, the intensity of colour is perhaps not all that we would expect. The nose is never exuberant, but has an appealing nature, with a reserved, admittedly slightly dusty, smoky-meaty character. It certainly has a feel of maturity, with what primary fruit ever existed already long gone. The palate has a creamy, milky feel to it, and again a mature, gamey, dusty character. There is a diffuse, chalky tannic presence, as well as rather firm acidity, backing up a nice, middleweight presence. It seems a little coarsely put together at the finish, with a lots of structure showing, and just a little length. But overall this was better than I expected, no doubt reflecting my low expectations. I have seen this described as thin, dusty and emaciated, in fact as rather undrinkable. Those words are too harsh. This is a wine which is showing rather advanced maturity (bearing in mind how other vintages have fared over the years), although it is still very much on the way up judging by the structure of the wine, and which offers hope that in a few years time it will be nicely integrated and pleasant to drink. It will not, however, be a long-lived example of the appellation. Was it worth the money? No. Is it a great Hermitage? No. Does it bring back memories of the events of 1998, which these were bought to commemorate? Yes. And for that reason alone I suspect I will continue drinking these with my very own personal pleasure. 16.5+/20 (2/4/07)

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