Paul Jaboulet Aîné is one of the great estates of France’s Rhône Valley, and it owes some of that fame to its greatest wine, Hermitage La Chapelle. Hermitage, both the hill and the appellation, gains its name from the small stone chapel built by the knight Gaspard de Sterimberg in 1224, after his return from the Crusades (the current chapel, on the site of the original one, was built in 1864). Wines from the hill have been famous since the era of Louis the XIII—he made it his court wine—and the best are some of the ultimate expressions of the Syrah grape: concentrated, powerful, intensely flavored and able to improve for decades in a cellar.
La Chapelle is one of those. It draws on grapes from all three main sections of the hill: Les Bessards, l’Hermite and Le Méal, with the greatest proportion coming from the latter. I had the good fortune to taste through a lengthy vertical of the wine recently, at the offices of Jaboulet’s new importer, Skurnik Wines, and in the company of its new-ish owner (and winemaker) Caroline Frey. Frey has only been making the wines since 2007, but it’s clear that under her direction the estate has ascended back to its former standards (in the mid-'90s to mid-'00s Jaboulet was adrift in a sort of qualitative doldrums; fine wines, but rarely great).
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Of the current vintages, the 2012 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle ($300) was spectacular, with incredible depth of texture, sweet blackberry fruit, and a long, savory, richly tannic (but not astringent) finish. It was closely followed by the 2013 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle ($275), the current release, a more powerful wine but a touch less seductive, full of smoked meat and spice notes. The 2009 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle shows the warmth of that vintage in its rich black fruit and mocha notes, but for me it didn’t have the structural bones of the above two wines (a modest quibble—it's still very, very good). The 2007 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle keeps that same rich dark fruit with a bit more tannic depth; over the past eight years, though, those tannins have softened into a kind of plush, velvety blanket; it was a joy to taste.