In a new piece for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Jeb Dunnuck presents a retrospective of 1996 northern Rhônes from Michel Chapoutier, with a Châteauneuf du Pape and a few 1995s thrown in for good measure. In his introduction, he writes:
Looking at the 1996 vintage, this was a cooler, late vintage that favored those with patience, and these releases from Chapoutier are all still fresh and lively, with good concentration and beautiful, granite-influenced characters. They’re in direct opposition to his larger, more concentrated and decadently styled 1995s. This was a much warmer vintage, and while the 1995s don’t have the same purity or granite feel, they have more flesh and texture. While all of these wines are fully mature, and I don’t see any upside, the top cuvées certainly have plenty of prime drinking ahead of them.
Here are Dunnuck’s scores and tasting notes based on his tasting from May this year:
1995 Chapoutier • Ermitage le Pavillon
Still a youngster, the blockbuster 1995 Ermitage le Pavillon is a quintessential Hermitage in every way. Full-bodied, powerful, thick and unctuous, with tons of smoky, black, black fruits, tar, saddle leather and peppery herbs, this perfect wine is massively concentrated, rich and stacked, with masses of ripe tannin hiding under its still lively and fresh fruit. And while it’s a brilliant drink today, it’s still not yet fully mature. This tour de Force beauty will see its 50th birthday in fine form!
1996 Chapoutier • Ermitage l’Ermite
As granite as granite gets, with an almost liquid rock character that’s almost impossible to find outside of Hermitage, the sensational 1996 Ermitage l’Ermite offers a complex array of ripe dark fruits, olive, game and graphite in a full-bodied, fresh, incredibly delineated and focused style. Massively concentrated, structured, and rich on the palate, yet as seamless as they come, enjoy this utterly heavenly wine over the coming two to three decades. Once the tasting was over and the drinking began, this was the first glass drained, and I couldn’t imagine a wine being better.
1996 Chapoutier • Ermitage le Pavillon
A wine that just screams “Granite!” is the sensational 1996 Ermitage le Pavillon, which comes all from the les Bessards lieu-dit on the western side of Hermitage hill. As fine, seamless and layered as they come, this beauty offers classic notes of powdered rocks, cassis, graphite, burning embers and flowers. Full-bodied, concentrated and massive on the palate, you can almost feel the rocky soils this wine comes from on the palate, and it still, even at age 20, has loads of mouth-coasting, sweet tannin emerging on the finish. It’s a tiny step back from the mammoth 1995, yet is still an incredible wine that has another two decades of prime drinking, and will keep even longer.
1995 Chapoutier • St Joseph les Granits
A bigger, richer wine than the ’96, the 1995 Saint Joseph Les Granits offers tons of ripe fruit, garrigue, saddle leather and spice as well as full-bodied richness, a voluptuous, layered texture and sweet tannin on the finish. It shows less obvious minerality compared to the ’96, but is loaded with fruit and texture. Drink this fabulous St Joseph anytime over the coming decade.
1996 Chapoutier • Ermitage le Meal
A completely different beast from the Pavillon, the 1996 Ermitage Le Meal is a sexy, layered unctuously textured beauty that offers the classic sweetness and silkiness that’s the hallmark of this site. Black raspberries, blackberries, dried flowers, herbes des Provence and sweet spice all emerge from this full-bodied, layered and beautifully proportioned Hermitage. Like all of the 1996s from Michel, it shows a lively, fresh and pure character, and is a joy to drink. It also opens up nicely with time in the glass and has another decade or two of longevity.
1996 Chapoutier • Crozes Hermitage les Varonniers
A beautiful showing from what’s certainly one of the top examples of this appellation, the 1996 Crozes Hermitage les Varonniers is 100% Syrah that comes from a cool, pure granite terroir located just behind Hermitage Hill. Its deep ruby color is followed by terrific Granite-induced aromas of damp earth, crushed rocks, smoke and hints of meatiness. Medium to full-bodied, rich, nicely concentrated and balanced, it’s fully mature, yet should easily keep for another decade. This has to easily be one of the most impressive, age-worthy Crozes Hermitage made today.
1996 Chapoutier • Chateauneuf du Pape Barbe Rac
Starting with the 1996 Chateauneuf du Pape Barbe Rac, this single vineyard effort is 100% Grenache that comes from a site in the western portion of the appellation. Starting out a touch funky, it cleaned up beautifully with time in the glass and offers a perfumed, complex and sweetly fruited bouquet of ripe cherries, black raspberries, rose petals and flowers. Pure, fully mature, silky and perfectly balanced, it is a fabulous example of mature Grenache to enjoy over the coming 4-5 years.
1996 Chapoutier • St Joseph les Granits
What would easily pass for a top Hermitage, the 1996 Saint Joseph Les Granits is more elegant and finesse-driven than the Varonniers, and offers an exotic, perfumed style in its blackberry, crushed flowers, raspberry and mineral-laced bouquet. The tannin quality here is first rate, and this medium to full-bodied beauty is fresh, elegant and layered, with terrific length. It’s fully mature, yet drinking brilliantly.