A small appellation on the east bank of the Rhône river in the northern half of the valley, Hermitage is responsible for some of the finest and most long-lived wines in the world. Hermitage has been producing wine for at least two millennia, and the wines have had great fame for at least 500 years. A notable stop in Hermitage by King Louis XIII only increased the fame of these wines.
Hermitage is produced from a high percentage of Syrah, with up to 15% of the white varietals Marsanne and Roussanne allowed in the mix, though most producers use very litle of these. Hermitage is noted for its intense, inky depths of black fruits, tar, smokey earth and game. The wines can be tannic and austere in their youth, but will reward patience with a melange of warm fruits, power, weight, complexity and gracefullness that is unrivaled by any other Syrah-based wine, or indeed any variety. The better examples have been known to last for decades.
White Hermitage can be compelling as well. A blend of Marsanne and Roussanne the wines were once oaky, oily and flat, but in recent years the combination of careful vinification and lower yields has allowed these wines to remain fresh and fruity in their youth and rich and complex as they age. Floral components, honey, rich fruits, and a nutty oxidative note are all common. A delicious Vin de Paille is also produced from these varietals. The grapes are dried on straw mats before fermentation to create a rich, nutty, honeyed and complex treat that is as rare as it is wonderful.
Hermitage consists of one long hill that strecthes up from the town of Tain l'Hermitage and the banks of the Rhône. The land is steep and hard to work, with long terraced vineyards still tended mostly by hand. The soil is granite-based with small amounts of flint and chalk. The vineyards are divided into small named plots of land and face due south to collect the suns rays. Most wines are a blend of several different plots, though some of the better wines are produced form the single plots of Les Bressards, Les Meal, Les Greffieux and the small hill where La Chapelle of Jaboulet has stood quietly since the 13th century.