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Re-post: Affordable Luxuries of the Wine World: Crozes-Hermitage versus Hermitage

February 7, 2013 5 comments

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…

MChapoutier Hermitage 2004Let’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.

Crozes_Hermitage_1992_label1992 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!

The Wines To Dream Of

December 25, 2010 1 comment

What do you think I plan to talk about? No, we are not going to talk about “best in the world wines” – we did it before, and that discussion is closed for now. In general, does it make sense to dream about some particular wine? There is such an abundance in each and every wine store, what’s that dreaming is all about? Well, first, it is a special time of the year – Holidays, Friends, New Year resolutions, new hopes and new desires – so a little dreaming is appropriate, right? Second, reality is often made out of things which were dreams before. Wine is as good of a material for the dreams as any other object – once you have an opportunity to taste, to experience the wine which YOU will deem “amazing”, it will give you a happy memory you can always come back to. And that is the great quality of the great experiences – they serve as an object of desire, and once achieved, they become a staple for the happy state of mind.

How one can come up with the list of “dream” wines? There are multiple ways to go about it, but for now, let’s just use wine ratings as a reference. More specifically, let’s use wine ratings from the major wine publications – Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. Both use 100 points rating systems, with 100 being an absolute top rating (many other wine publications use the same 100-points scale). And if we are dreaming, let’s aim high – let only look at 100 point wines.

I can safely assume that you know perfectly well by now my approach to the wine ratings – you are The One who has final say on the wine – good or bad. However, when I look at 100 points ratings from magazines which rate tens of thousands of wines per year, I believe the 100 points represent some higher level of truth. Such ratings are not assigned left and right. If you will search on the Wine Spectator web site, you will find only 73 wines rated at 100 points – so I think this is something we can rely on. To connect the dreams with the reality, at least a little bit, I used one of the recent e-mails form Benchmark Wine  Group, which listed available 100 point wines:

Chapoutier Hermitage Le Pavillon 2003 ~  WA100
Chateau d`Yquem 2001 ~ WA100, WS100
Domaine Romanee-Conti La Tache 1990 ~  WA100
Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne 1999 ~ WA100, WS98
Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne 2003 ~ WA100, WS98
Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline 1983 ~ WA100
Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque 2003 ~ WA100, WS98
Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 ~ WA100, WS99
Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 ~  WA100
La Clusiere St. Emilion 2000 ~ WA100
La Mission Haut Brion 1982 ~ WA100
La Mission Haut Brion 2000 ~ WA100
Lafleur 1982 ~ WA100, WS99
Le Macchiole Messorio 2004 ~ WS100
Margaux 1990 ~ WA100, WS98, IWC98
Mouton Rothschild 1982 ~ WA100
Mouton Rothschild 1986 ~ WA100, WS99
Rieussec 2001 ~ WS100
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 ~ WA100
Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 2002 ~ WA100
Taylor Port 1992 ~ WA100
Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano 2001 ~ WS100

If you are interested in prices, you should check them out on the Benchmark Wine Group web site. Just to give you a range, the cheapest wine in this list is Rieussec at $154 and the most expensive is Domaine Romanee-Conti at $4200.

Will this wines be really amazing? Who knows? Are they worth seeking and dreaming about? You bet. Don’t know about you, but my wish list is ready! Keep on dreaming…

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