Hermitage Blanc. Why? Just why? It is often more expensive than its red sibling, whilst not being a conventionally nice drink. It has an awfully unpredictable ageing profile, that makes them almost impossible to know when to open. There is usually bugger all acidity to them, making them seem like a frumpy schoolgirl looking sulky at the dinner table. Why the hell do I keep buying them?
I buy them because, when they shine, they are one of the world’s great white wines. I also buy Hermitage Blanc almost exclusively from Domaine du Colombier. Colombier Hermitage Blanc has the most accessible ageing profile of any of the genre. It is also keenly priced, which helps we struggling wine writers with virtually no income, And, as the note below will show, they are fucking brilliant.
Shitting fuck! This says 13.5% on the label and they lie! They lie! That is about 2-2.5% less than it actually is. That is of no concern, beyond meaning I will get paralytic drinking my half of the bottle, because the nose is grand, impressive and wonderful in the extreme!
OK, there is only a hint of pear/apple fruit and a powerful reek of Airfix glue, but there is a power, weight and density to this nose which is utterly beguiling. It means business; with all that booze and all that hugeness it demands you take it very seriously.
As I swirl the wine vigorously in the glass more flavours develop: a kind of damp, fungal character (I’m sure some of the booze level comes from this wine having a hint of Botrytis). This may sound repulsive but with its profound stoniness there is something of that other grand, underappreciated wine, Savennieres, to it. It is strikingly impressive, with complexities of other-worldly intricacy and compelling mystery. You need to think about this wine – if you do not you are doing it a disservice.
I do have to say, that if you are not a member of the wine illuminati (I am ranked as Grand Wizard) you would smell this and say it was disgusting. It is undeniably true this wine is strictly for the deeply initiated in wine, or ‘wine perverts’ as The Editor likes to call us. Pah! Call me pervert if you wish but I know I exist on a higher vinous plain than most people can imagine.
There is also no denying that the palate has a lingering afterburn. It is not just the alcohol, but (would you believe it?!?) the stunning level acidity in the wine. A Mosel Kabinett would be most pleasing with this level of acidity.
However, it is far from being out of balance. The palate is huge, with alcohol, pear-y fruit, a damp stoniness and regal, intense power and density. This wine feels so thick in your mouth that it almost feels like you need to chew it.
One character it does have, which one normally does not associate with white wine to this extent, is that it has amazing, awe-inspiring structure. There is more than a hint of astringency to the palate, it is pseudo-tannic! There is all that acidity, the fruit and stony characteristics and I am sure I can detect a hint of new wood as it burns its way down my palate. It is a terrifically well-constructed wine.
Now let us get one thing totally clear, whilst this is an incredibly fine white Hermitage of great character and class, the uninitiated just would not like it. It is that wine pervert-thing again (I give The Editor a hard stare on behalf of all wine illuminati). It is not obviously appealing, you have to fundamentally understand what makes a wine great in order to see that this is a truly great wine. This is up there with Gerard Chave’s supreme Hermitage Blanc 1990 as one of the very best Hermitage Blancs I have tasted.
Alas, I have promised The Editor I will never buy Hermitage Blanc again as he simply finds the red a more versatile and generally more useful drink, as your mind does not have to be constructed of an ever expanding number of clinking bottles to know the brilliance of this wine. However, still I love white Hermitage and I hope someone who is reading this has a bottle of Chave 1990 they would be willing to share. After this wine, and another taste of Chave 1990, I will have ‘done’ Hermitage Blanc (including Vin de Paille going back to 1976).
If you are inducted member of the wine illuminati, a wine anorak or a wine pervert, pop over to Lay and Wheeler’s website, score a bottle, and prepare to be stunned (and really whammed). I should add I purchased this bottle myself and I get no money from Lay and Wheeler for pimping their wines.