(Jancis Robinson MW - jancisrobinson.com - 1 Mar 2012)
About this WINE
Domaine Marc Sorrel
Marc retired at the end of 2018, and son Guillaume is now firmly at the helm of this 3.5-hectare domaine, comprising parcels of old vines on the uncompromisingly steep slopes of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage. For this talented and dedicated grower, simplicity and tradition are key: the wines made with low intervention, minimal de-stemming, and no new wood is to be found in his charmingly unassuming cellar in the centre of Tain-l’Hermitage.
Guillaume describes 2019 as “solaire” and likens it to 2003. He tells us how vine age and terroir enabled his vines to weather the year’s heat successfully, and for this to express itself in the wines as power, concentration and elegance, without excess. In addition, he believes his use of whole bunches in fermentation ensured an additional burst of aromatic freshness and clarity. The quantity is, as always, regretfully small, but those lucky enough to get their hands on a case will not be disappointed. This domaine continues to excel year on year, and the wines prove themselves to be exceptionally age worthy.
Hermitage is the most famous of all the northern Rhône appellations. The hill of Hermitage is situated above the town of Tain and overlooks the town of Tournon, just across the river. Hermitage has 120 hectares and produces tiny quantities of very long-lived reds.The vines were grown in Roman times, although local folklore claims their origins to be nearly 600 years earlier. The name ‘Hermitage’ first appeared in the 16th century, derived from a legend of the 13th century Crusade, involving a wounded knight called Gaspard de Stérimberg, who made refuge on the hill, planted vines and became a hermit.
During the 17th century Hermitage was recognised as one of the finest in Europe. In 1775, Ch. Lafite was blended with Hermitage and was one of the greatest wines of its day. In the late 19th century, however, Phylloxera wiped out all the vineyards.
The wines are powerful, with a deep colour and firm tannins, developing into some of the finest examples in France, with the potential to age for many decades. The best Hermitage is produced from several climats or more, blended together. The main climats are Les Bessards, Le Meal, L’Hermite, Les Greffieux and Les Diognieres. Most of the finest climats face broadly south, giving maximum sunshine. Most growers only have one or two climats and they might not complement each other; Hermitage quality can therefore vary hugely. Only the top producers have extensive diversified holdings.
Eighty percent of the wine produced is red, however up to 15 percent of white grapes can be used in the blend. Most growers use 100 percent Syrah and utilise the white grapes to make white wines only. Chapoutier, Jaboulet and Tain l’Hermitage Co-operative are the principle proprietors of the appellation’s vineyards.
The white wines are made from the Marsanne and Roussanne grapes. Great white Hermitage has the ability to age, taking on the fruit characters of apricots and peaches, often giving a very nutty finish. The best examples in great vintages can last 50 years.
Mature red Hermitage can be confused with old Bordeaux. In a blind tasting of 1961 First Growth Clarets, the famous 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle was included. Most people, including its owner, Gerard Jaboulet, mistook it for Ch. Margaux.
Recommended producers: Chave, Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Ferraton, Colombier
Best vintages: 2006, 2005, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1997, 1991, 1990, 1985
Marsanne is the predominant white grape variety grown in the Northern Rhône where it is used to produce white St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage. It is a tricky grape to cultivate, being susceptible to diseases and being particularly sensitive to extreme climatic changes - if growing conditions are too cool, then it fails to ripen fully and produces thin, insipid wines, while, if too hot, the resultant wines are blowsy, overblown and out of balance.
In the Northern Rhône it tends to be blended with around 15% Rousanne and produces richly aromatic, nutty wines which age marvellously - the best examples are from Hermitage and particularly from Chapoutier. Increasingly it is being grown in the Southern Rhône and Languedoc Roussillon where it is bottled as a single varietal or blended with Roussanne, Viognier, and sometimes Chardonnay. It is also grown very successfully in Victoria in Australia where some of the world`s oldest Marsanne vines are to be found.