Re-post: Affordable Luxuries of the Wine World: Crozes-Hermitage versus Hermitage
During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed and even web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Affordable Luxuries” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.
Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…
Let’s once again put aside the “secrets” series (we’ve explored a lot just recently – South Africa, Georgia, Amarone…), and let’s take a look at the “affordable luxuries” of the wine world. I have to admit that I’m not absolutely sure that “affordable luxuries” is such a great name for the series (of course it will be more than one post), so if you will come up with the better name, please let me know!
And to make it clear, here is what I want to talk about. Let’s start from analogy using cars as an example. There are a number of cars which commonly referred to as “luxury”. Looking at Japanese cars, we have Lexus, Acura and Infinity as main luxury brands in US. These three brands listed above are off-shoots of Toyota, Honda and Nissan respectively. Now, talking about “affordable luxuries”, you can buy Toyota Camry instead of Lexus ES, and spend about $10,000 less. Similarly, you can buy Toyota Avalon instead of Lexus GS, and again spend about $10,000 less. Will you know you are driving Toyota instead of a Lexus? Of course you will. Will it bother you all the time? Chances are, it will not – as one of the main traits, reliability, is shared between both brands, in a long run you will most likely be happy with your choice and all the money you saved.
Taking this analogy to the wine world (we are done talking about cars), we can find lots of similar situations – and this is what we will be talking about in this series. When it comes to wine, some of the “affordable luxuries” will be based on the similarities of the “place”, and some of them might be based on the similarities of the “style”. To illustrate “place”-based comparison, we can look for instance, at Chateau Petrus. One of the most coveted wineries in Pomerol area in Bordeaux, France makes Merlot-based wine, which typically costs about $3000 per bottle, of course if you can get one. Alternatively, you can look, for instance, at Chateau Hosanna (Number 5 in my Top Dozen wines of 2010), which borders Chateau Petrus property in Pomerol. Chateau Hosanna is also made of out of Merlot (remember, from the neighboring vineyard) and retails for about $100. Is it going to taste the same – I’m sure it will not (while I loved Chateau Hosanna, I didn’t have a chance to try Chateau Petrus yet). Does it make sense to spend 30-fold to drink Chateau Petrus and not Chateau Hosanna? Unless you live in China, or otherwise financially set for life, I believe it does not.
For the “style” comparison, we can look at the wines made from the same grape, but in the different places, like late harvest wines and BA or TBA Rieslings and/or Sauternes. There are many different “affordable luxuries” for us to explore and enjoy the differences and similarities – so let’s start.
I don’t know if you heard of Hermitage – it is one of the most famous appellations in Northern Rhone area in France. The wines had being produced there since the 10th century, and in 17th-18th centuries, Hermitage wines had being a favorite of Russian Tsar. Hermitage wines are produced from the Syrah grape (small addition of white grapes Marsanne and Roussane is allowed), and known to age extremely well, lasting 50 years or even longer.
If we will look at some basic facts (here is the link), Hermitage is a tiny area of 345 acres, producing less than 800,000 bottles a year of mostly red wines. It is almost impossible to buy Hermitage wines for under $70.
Hermitage appellation is essentially surrounded from all sides by another appellation called Crozes-Hermitage, which uses exact same grape combinations (Syrah + possibly Marsanne and Roussane) and essentially has the same type of soil and very similar climate. Interestingly enough, Crozes-Hermitage appellation is about 10 times bigger (3200 acres), and produces about 10 times more wine (8 million bottles per year). If you want to see more basic facts, you can use this link. Crozes-Hermitage wine prices usually start at about $12 and go up from there.
So here is our pair for comparison – similar soil and climate, the same grapes – does it make sense to spend 5 times more on a bottle of Hermitage than on a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage? Let our palates be the judge. Let’s compare 2004 M. Chapoutier La Sizeranne Hermitage with 1992 Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. Both wines are made by very reputable producers (M. Chapoutier and Paul Jaboulet), which is a good start.
Looking at 2004 La Sizeranne Hermitage, the wine appears very dense and concentrated on the palate, with very clear expression of black pepper profile of Syrah grape, with lots of dark red fruit (but the wine is not fruit forward at all). The wine also shows very good balance of tannins and acidity. It needs time to really shine – it would probably taste much better in 10 years or so. You can buy this wine for about $90.
1992 Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage already has some good age on it, and it showed outstanding in the tasting. Very playful, soft with lots of good fruit and refreshing acidity. This wine will probably continue aging well for another 5 years or so, but it is perfectly enjoyable right now. I was able to get it for $20 now, not ten years ago – but it is not easy to find it.
So, what can we conclude from this? Of course tasting just two bottles can’t be really used as a solid basis for comparison, but I would gladly drink that Crozes-Hermitage now, instead of waiting for Hermitage to mature, especially considering that you can get 4 bottles instead of one. Does it mean that Hermitage doesn’t worth the price? I wouldn’t squarely put it like this – probably the next experiment will need to include Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage from the same year – then we will be in a better shape to conclude on something.
But – it is time to conclude this post, and if I can make a recommendation, go find the bottle of either wine, and be the judge yourself – and please don’t forget to share your thoughts. Cheers!