Tasting Reviews

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitge 2013 – 1989

Chapoutier’s ’Le Pavillon’ Ermitage is arguably the greatest red Hermitage wine in current times. It has as its peers and rivals the Chave Hermitage and Chave’s ‘Cuvee Cathelin’, and Jaboulet ‘La Chapelle’. All of these wines are different; they have evolved and developed their own style over the years to varying degrees and have had varying fortunes, but are nevertheless regarded as the best wines of the appellation. There are plenty of perspectives as to which is best, but the consistency and continued making of ‘Pavillon’ since 1989 makes it a contender as the leader. This wine is supported by Chapoutier’s other great Ermitage wines ‘L’Ermite’, ‘Le Meal’ and ‘Les Greffieux’, making the breadth and depth of the output unmatched. www.chapoutier.fr

‘Le Pavillon’ comes from Syrah vines planted just after the Great War in the ‘Les Bessards’ vineyard, deemed the best of the 140 ha of the Hermitage appellation. The fruit is hand-picked, destemmed and fermented, with 4-6 weeks maceration then aged 18-20 months in approx. 30% new oak. For me, the provenance of the wine is the primary source of its character with growing season and winemaking following. Chapoutier would assert biodynamic winegrowing is a crucial factor to the wine’s style and quality.

I have found the wine beyond what is the stereotype for Hermitage reds and Syrah wines from the northern Rhone. The wine certainly shows its terroir over varietal character, so it sits at the top of the Hermitage style continuum being richer, riper, more complex and savoury-layered with a certain opulence. The vineyard expression is enabled by Chapoutier’s approach to winemaking which I believe is sufficiently sensitive to build very fine structure, and without excessive oakiing The wine is never over-ripe, and indeed can show cooler spectrum character in lesser seasons. I see dark-red and black fruits, with the taste of game and earth, and not sweet and aromatic fruit. Florality grows in a savoury way with bottle-age rather than as youthful perfumes. White pepper does not appear.

Each of the Chapoutier single vineyard Ermitage cuvees has its followers; the ‘L’Ermite’ to me being blacker-fruited, more concentrated and mineral, and certainly more cerebral or intellectual, these attributes making it the more favoured bottling among critics. It often surpasses the ‘Le Pavillon’ ratings. ‘Le Meal’ to me is a more aromatic style, still savoury-terroir based rather than fruit-expressive with more accessibility. It is a delightful wine of understated complexity. And ‘Les Greffieux’ I find in the more structured spectrum, reflecting its place from lower on Hermitage hill. However, ‘Le Pavillon’ is my personal favourite of the Chapoutier ‘Selections Parcellaires’ Ermitage wines for its sensuality and visceral nature. There is the belief that these are wines made for the long-haul (for Rhone), for enjoyment over 30-50 years.

Mike Parker with a Chapoutier 'Le Pavillon' 1990 Magnum

A Personal Trade History and Mike Parker
My formative wine years were in the 1970s when red Bordeaux was ‘King’. Most merchants world-wide (and in New Zealand) put these wines on a pedestal. At the time, the progressive ‘Avalon’ Wines & Spirits in the Hutt Valley of Wellington had some of the best range of imported wines. Their portfolio included great Bordeaux, Drouhin burgundy, Leon Beyer Alsace and Chapoutier Rhone wines. This outlet probably has had an enormous influence on the understanding of fine wine in this country, with John Buck, John Comerford and Geoff Kelly as some of the people who have made a significant contribution to wine appreciation.

When merchants Wilson Neill were formed, they acquired the brands and much expertise. I joined Wilson Neill in Wellington in 1989, and discovered Chapoutier. Already the wines of Michel and Marc Chapoutier, who had taken over the family business were receiving rave reviews by Robert Parker Jr and Clive Coates MW. It did not take long for an impressionable young wine advisor to latch on to these wines. I took an active interest to such an extent that the businesses I was involved with – Wilson Neill, Liquorland, O’Reilly’s Wines & Spirits, then Regional Wines – had its own special allocation of the Chapoutier ‘Selections Parcellaires’. The overall New Zealand distribution went from Wilson Neill to Robard & Butler, Allied Liquor Merchants and then Eurowine. EuroVintage still holds the Chapoutier agency, but the ‘Selections Parcellaires’ are brought in by Wine Direct.

However, Chapoutier’s success in this country depended on the enthusiasm of its purchasers. Mike Parker was one of the first of my clients to actively seek out the top Chapoutier wines (among other fine wines), with ‘Le Pavillon’ as his favourite. Mike has purchased ‘Le Pavillon’ from the inaugural 1989 vintage. His willingness to seek out, follow and purchase the Chapoutier wines, as well as support tastings of them encouraged a whole group of wine lovers to join in. It has been a pleasure to be able to maintain a line of this wine for Mike, for all the time I worked with the wines of Chapoutier. All this might be a bit self-serving, as I had an inkling that Mike would one day hold a vertical tasting of these wines – and he has done so as part of his 60th birthday celebrations.

The Tasting of Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ 2013 – 1989
Mike Parker held his vertical tasting of Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ at the Wine Sentience Hub in Wellington, with the logistical assistance of Stephen Wong MW and Geoff Kelly. Just under 20 tasters attended the event, held after lunch. Among the attendees were followers of the wine, with winemakers, including Peter Cowley from Te Mata Estate and Clive Paton from Ata Rangi, both of whom grow Syrah, and the highly experienced Larry McKenna, and former trade personnel including my partner Sue Davies, who distributed Chapoutier wine, and myself. Most of the attendees had stood on Hermitage hill and had dealings with the Chapoutier family over the years. (There were a number of stories told…) In all respects, this was a historical and significant tasting.

There were 24 wines served, from 2013 back to 1989. Mike was unable to obtain the 2008, which was a lesser-regarded year, and he missed out on purchasing the current 2015 release. The wines were delivered in two flights of 12, the first flight from 2013 to 2001, then the second flight from 2000 to 1989. The wines were served identity-known and in order of ascending age. There were no back-up wines for cork-taint. The 1990 wine was served in 1.5 Litre magnum. There was discussion after each of the flights. Here are my notes and thoughts on the wines. I have leaned towards stylistic expression rather than seeking out technical aspects. Faults if are extremely obvious are noted.

Flight One: 2013 – 2001
Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2013
Dark, deep, black-hearted red colour, a little lighter edged. The nose is elegant, fine and firmly concentrated with primary blackberry fruit with lifted violet florals, black minerals and black pepper unfolding savoury spices. Very fine and still very tightly bound, this has concentrated black fruits and black minerals, the palate with excellent concentration and intensity. This is a wine of finesse with very fine powdery tannins, and the palate has a little acid bite of youth. This is very elegant and very long, still showing primary character. 19.0+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2012
Dark, deep ruby-red colour with black hues, lighter on edge. The nose is elegantly firm but well-concentrated with slight savoury game aromas intermingling with blackberry fruit, earth, minerals and black pepper. The palate is rich and plush, sweet and meaty, juicy, opening with breadth on the palate, and richly mouthfilling. This has lovely layers with the breadth. The fruit is underlined by fine tannins, the flavours piquant and savoury on the finish with good acid freshness. This is excellent for the vintage. 19.0+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2011
Very dark, deep, purple-hued ruby-red colour, with very good intensity. This has a firm and concentrated nose, still retaining a degree of elegance, but showing distinct secondary development, but integrated with the rich and deep fruit. The aromatics unfold and blossom with complexing secondary development characters. Rich and sweet on the palate, with fine concentration and a dense core, the fruit is luscious, with some savoury detail. The fruit grows in breadth, becoming fuller and more open, and showing approachability. The tannins are fine-grained and the acidity soft. This is a plush, open and broader wine. 19.0/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2010
Very full, dark, black-red, nearly saturated, and very youthful in appearance. The nose is rich, dense, concentrated with layers of ripe black fruits, black minerals and slight savoury secondary development, but this exudes freshness, energy and vitality. The palate balances great richness and lusciousness with brilliant acid nervosity and vitality. The fruit is supported by ripe tannins and very fine extraction, the intensity and freshness quite mouthfilling. This is beautifully poised with great fruit richness and acid freshness. A great wine with the potential to develop decades more. 20.0/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2009
Dark, deep, near impenetrable black-red colour with a dense heart. The nose is very full, solid, densely packed and rounded with ripe dark fruits, the aromatics with great presence and volume. Mineral complexities and secondary game notes unfold. On palate, full, rich, concentrated, this has great power, a touch of alcohol too, .the fruit sweetness is matched by underlying vitality. This I a wine of massive weight and extract, with incomparable density. I just wished it had a modicum more freshness to be perfect. It will develop a long time yet. 19.5+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2007
Dark-hearted red with garnet and ruby on the edge. The nose is full, open, broad and accessible with aromas of secondary savoury game, dried herbs a little meat and slight funkiness, all quite acceptable. This builds in intensity and depth with aeration. An elegant wine, with lovely sweet fruit still and a fine core, now showing secondary development complexities with game. The palate has excellent presence, not quite mouthfilling, and not quite the richness and ripeness of great vintage, a little more acidity shows. An elegant wine beginning to show development and the acidity. 18.0+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2006
Dark, deep, black-hued red colour, a little lighter on the rim. This has an intense and powerful core with floral lift, secondary dried herb development complexities and savour aromatics and florals. This exudes fragrance and accessibility with finesse. Elegant on palate with a concentrated core, this combines richness, power and acid bite . Black fruits, minerals, savoury secondary notes, but still very lively with fine tannin structure. This has freshness, power, fragrance and cut. 19.0-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2005
Dark, deep, black-hued red, a little lighter on the edge. The nose is firm and densely packed with beautifully ripened black fruits with mineral notes and piquant garrigue herbs. The aromatics show great concentration and depth. On palate immensely rich and plush, mouthfilling and generous, the fruit showing wonderful vitality and vibrancy. The wine is actually quite elegant in structure, the sweet fruit underlined by very fine-grained powdery tannin extraction, with fine, balanced acidity enhancing a fragrant and aromatic lift. A wine of great vitality, freshness, but now developing a little secondary complexity, all held by the beautiful structure. 20.0/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2004
Garnet-red colour with a little bricking, showing some development. The bouquet is soft and ethereal with subtle dried herb aromas, dried florals and a little savoury game, a touch funky, but with a core of red fruits. This is in the secondary and tertiary phases. An elegant wine in proportion, moderately rich in fruit with the acidity noticeable, but this has a positive core, unfolding secondary and tertiary earth, dried herb and floral elements. The palate is moderately mouthfilling with balanced fine-grained tannins and acidity. Smaller in scale and becoming mature. 17.5+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2003
Very dark-hearted black-red colour with some garnet hues. The nose is elegantly concentrated with fragrant, savoury aromatic red fruits entwined with dried florals and a very fine layering of secondary complexities of dried herbs and a little earth and game. This has refined intensity. The palate is densely packed and rich with a heart of dark-red and black fruits, the flavours a little reined-in, but underlined with plenty of power. The fruit sweetness and succulence grows and is supported by fine tannins and soft acidity. The fruit richness at the core is the feature here. 19.5-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2002
Deepish ruby-red with garnet hues and a little bricking on the rim. This has a full, soft and dense nose, quite solid in presentation, with a soft robustness, the savoury red fruits and dried herbs quite subtle in aromatic expression, though there is presence. On palate, soft and integrated, quite even flowing with good weight. The fruit flavours are secondary and a little shy, leaving the soft textures to feature. The grip intensifies as it flows and the wine is becoming soft. Still quite solid and deeply presented, the fruit is losing its vitality. 17.5-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2001
Deep garnet-red colour with a good heart, lighter edged. The nose is fulsome in with rich, sweet fruit aromas, but also with plenty of farmyard brettanomyces, with game and meaty funkiness. The aromatics have depth, but the fruit is fading. This has a deep core with power, and vestiges of sweetly ripe black and dark-red fruit, but overlaid by funky, game-like brettanomyces. This has has acid piquancy lending tension, but the palate is getting firm. Despite the brettanomyces, there is underlying fruitiness here. 17.0-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Some Conclusions From Flight One
This was a strong flight of wines, all of them showing ‘Le Pavillon’ character and terroir. These are not fruity expressions, though the youngest wine the 2013 had primary notes, but more wines of savoury richness and earthier notes with garrigue herb and dried florals. The structure of the wines appeared in very good balance with sensitive extraction, though the 2009 showed the nature of the vintage with its size.

Despite the varying growing seasons and vintages, the consistency across all the wines was surprisingly even in character. However, the cooler or lesser vintages came across lighter, more forward and more developed in secondary and tertiary characters.

The comparison between the highly regarded 2010 and 2009 remains fascinating. I personally preferred the greater vitality of the 2010 over the 2009. My other top was, scored at 20.0/20 as with the 2010 was the 2005, for similar reasons, the vitality the key, though a little more bottle-age showing. The 2009 is a massive wine that will continue to evolve slowly. My least preferred wine was the 2001, with its strong brettanomyces influence.

Other tasters noted strong oaking, and oxidation in some wines. Overall as a group, the most preferred wine was the 2003, from one of the hottest and driest years, but clearly handled beautifully, followed by the 2009 with 2005 in third place. The least preferred wine for the group was the 2001.

Flight Two: 2000 – 1989
Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 2000
Dark, deep, garnet hues ruby-red with a black heart. The nose is elegant and tightly bound with excellent proportion, and good concentration at the core. This shows aromas of black and dark-red fruits, black mineral nuances and some secondary savoury interest, along with a touch of resinous oak. On palate quite firm and tight, unfolding black fruits, minerals and spices, the fruit with very good lusciousness and richness. A little savoury complexity emerges. The palate exudes elegance with very fine-grained tannin structure and excellent acid cut. This has a fine and sustained finish. Somewhat more slender in style, this has sweetness and ripeness and fine structure. 19.0-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1999
Dark, black-hued garnet-red colour, a little lighter edged. This is shy and difficult to read on the nose, with ethereal savoury dark-red fruits with black minerals, dried garrigue herbs all contributing. On palate softly taut with richness and some density, showing black fruits with savoury, earthy secondary complexities. The tannins are fine and there is good acidity enhancing the dried lifted florals. This appears in an ‘in-between’ phase and doesn’t quite come together, but has positive componentry. 18.0+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1998
Dark, garnet-hued red with good depth and some brick-brown on the rim. The bouquet is full and layered with complex aromas of savoury red fruits and florals with earth, spices and game. A touch of funkiness, but within limits. This has accessibility and openness. The palate is rich and luscious, the fruit enhanced by subtle acid piquancy, and possessing a fine, tight heart unfolding sweet and savoury dark-red fruits. The fruit is supported by supple tannin extraction, and there is good acid vitality on the finish, contributing to the length. This is luscious and layered and drinking on its accessible plateau. 19.0-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1997
Dark, deep red colour with some bricking on the edge. The bouquet is full, open, broad and accessible, but with good depth, showing savoury secondary and tertiary aromas of dried red fruits, garrigue herb, earth and a little game. This grows in density with aeration, On palate full and savoury, now starting to show a little game and funkiness, but the mouthfeel has plenty of acid vitality and piquancy. The flavours are up-front, broad and accessible now, and the wine is into maturity. The finish is long and complex. Fully accessible now and with well-developed mature flavours. 18.0+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1996
Dark, deep garnet-red colour with brown-mahogany hues on the edge. This has a solid but rounded core with deep and dense aromas of savoury red and brown fruits, dried herbs, game and complexing garrique herb. A touch of funkiness. On palate a little strained in flavour but with plenty of weight and presence. This is not overly powerful or driven, but has a satisfying mouthfeel. The aromatics components are in the background, so the level of complexity is lower. Moderate length. This has plenty of wine here to enjoy now. 17.5+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1995
Dark, deep, brown-hued garnet-red colour, quite full. The bouquet is deep and voluminous and very vigorous and the componentry still needs time to integrate. Strong and bold savoury red and secondary flavours on a fulsome, densely packed, quite ripe, unfolding plum and liquorice, earth and a little game. This surprisingly retains a sense of restraint and style, and the wine carries to a rounded, robust lingering finish. This is a solid, dense are stylish wine with plenty of vigour. It will improve. 19.5-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1994
Dark, deep, black-brown colour with mahogany hues. This is fully mature, even open and accessible with aromas of fading dark-red fruits, savoury red florals, dried herbs, game, earth and cedar, all integrated with some nutty suggestions. The palate is full and still sweetly luscious with complex, savoury game and earthy flavours, along with secondary and tertiary earth and undergrowth and dried herbs. This does not quite have the concentration, but fades somewhat on the finish. This still has length. Some tasters found the oxidation too much for their threshold, but I was not unhappy with its integration. 17.5+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1993
Light coloured with red–brown and faded roses. The bouquet is dominated by brettanomyces, with game, horse, meat and earth, but there are fruit vestiges of secondary dried red fruits with nuances of liquorice and spice and cedar. On palate quite slender now, taut and tight and the fruit fried out largely, but there is a fruit core with layered flavours. The fruit has gone now, but the typical brettanomyces hardness has not yet fully set in. This is faded, the brettanomyces level high, but there is still some fruit.. 16.0-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1992
Deepish garnet-brown colour with tints of red, brick on the rim. The nose is firm and tight with distinctive farmyard and game aromas of brettanomyces dominating. Traces of secondary and tertiary dried earth and undergrowth is present, then the TCA cork taint kicks in giving a hardness. On palate the savoury, farmyard and game flavours of brettanomyces prevail and with the musty cork taint TCA lends hardness. The fruit tannins are still present as is the acidity. But this is spoilt doubly to result in no pleasure. 14.5+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1991
Dark, deep, red-brown colour with a good heart, a little lighter edged. The bouquet is one of elegance and finesse, with a tight core of still sweet and vibrant dark-red, brown-red and black fruits with complexing secondary and tertiary dried herbs, undergrowth and earthy elements. A little gaminess hints at funk, but this is all integrated. On palate, the elegant nature and vibrancy is apparent. Lovely concentration at the core with layers of detail just emerging, and the tannins are fine and powdery, and balanced with a lovely fresh acid thread. If you’re looking for size, this is not it. If you are seeking delicacy, subtlety, finesse and vitality, you have it here. This will continue to age another decade easily. A remarkable wine. 20.0/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1990
Dark, deep, brown-red with garnet hues, lighter on the edge. This has an astonishing array of aromatics with both positive and not so positive attributes. Lovely rich, savoury and spicy secondary and tertiary fruit with undergrowth, and with volume and detail. Hints of decrepit elements and some oxidation and of course a little funkiness, and slight volatile elements. The wine is still densely packed with a layering of dark-red and brown fruits, developed dried herbs and game plus earth. This still has a lusciousness of fruit, which is supported by very fine-grained flowery tannins with acid energy. Liquorice and spices unfold. An amazing wine that could be very controversial. 19.0+/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage 1989
Dark, deep, brown-red colour, still with a dark heart, bricking on the edge. The nose is very concentrated with firm black-red fruits at the core with savoury secondary and tertiary dried herbs and undergrowth with earthy notes. The core is taut and tightly bound with an amalgam of nutty, cedary oak and spices intermingling with TCA cork taint. If you can handle the TCA, this is still alive. The palate is fully mature with savoury earth game and undergrowth, the fruit rather hidden by the oak and TCA. The mouthfeel still has unresolved tannins and acidity showing. Herbs, spices game and meat are present. The wine is firm from the fruit overwhelmed by TCA, leaving oak residue. This had the potential to be in good condition. 17.5-/20 Oct 2018 RRP $N/A

Some Conclusions from Fright Two and the Overall Tasting
For me, this was a continuance of ‘Le Pavillon’ style as could be seen from Flight One. In general the 12 wines in the second flight did not have the consistency of the younger wines; the quality and style more variable, probably pointing to the greater seasonal variations for this period. The first 6 wines of the second flight were more homogeneous than the last 6, making some tasters say it was a "flight of two halves”. I agree with that sentiment, but I also found the overall tasting was one of two halves, the first 12 and the second 12.

My interpretation of the wider variability of the earliest wines is the Michel Chapoutier and his winegrowing team were still "finding their feet” in coming to grips with the fruit and how to handle it. The variable growing seasons contributed to the lesser consistency too.

There were more wines with technical faults in the second twelve, the most obvious being brettanomyces. There was an element of this fault in many of the wines, but a good number managed to incorporate it into the character and style of the wines. Clearly how the team approaches handling the fruit in the vineyard is of importance and concern. The increased secondary and tertiary characteristics were apparent in the older wines, which is to be expected, and the brettanomyces component is part of it. It is a matter of personal preference on how acceptable this is. Also noted were TCA, oxidation and microbiological spoilage, these aspects noted by the technical winemaker tasters.

I don’t think that most of the wines are 30-50 year wines as has been suggested by critics, enthusiasts and even the Chapoutiers. The maturity level of the second half of Flight Two indicated that the fruit generally fades. The wine may be 20 year wines, but of course, there are always wines which perform well above what is expected, such as the 2010 and 1991 are examples of wines that could and should keep 30-50 years.

It was wonderful to compare the great "three years in a row” of 1998, 1999 and 2000, as well as 1989, 1990 and 1991, vintages regarded as very special in the Rhone. Some of each of these trios looked better than others, but their acclaim can be justified from my taste. My top wine was the 1991 with the 1995 rated second. The least wine was the 1992 with double faults. Overall for the second flight for the group, the 1991 came top and a draw with 1999, 1997 and 1990 for second place. The group thought the 1993 and 1992 equally bad.

If I were to choose a wine of the tasting, it would be the 1991 for its incredible elegance and longevity, then this followed by the 2010.

Thank You Mike Parker
This tasting was truly a great one and historical one. It has taken more than two decades of collecting and the foresight and passion of Mike Parker to make it happen. A heartfelt thank you from all of the attendees for including us in the experience.

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