J.L. Chave is Northern's Rhone super-star producer, widely recognized as the best in Hermitage, which itself is considered the finest appellation in Rhone. Both reds and whites are world-famous. While Cote-Rotie and Cornas are reaching heights as well, Hermitage is still and always the king of Rhone. For reds, the syrah, one of world's most popular red grape varieties, finds its utmost expression here. Chave's Hermitage rouge is a wine of supreme polish, complexity and longevity, and will run you upwards of $400/bottle. But he also makes a line of less expensive syrah bottlings called "Offerus". The story goes - he knew some old-timers, locals he had gone to school with, who had tucked among their orchards in the Saint Joseph appellation an acre or two of spectacularly-sited, old-vine, hillside syrah. These became the basis of Offerus.
The other day I got an opportunity to taste a vertical of Offerus. Here are the notes:
2010 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - dusty pepper, high acid, dense, spicy bitter herbs and black olives, a bit of plum. Expressive, relatively high-toned, quite serious but rustic. Kind of dense, thick and lacking elegance, but with very good balance and energy nonetheless. Relatively soft but persistent tannins.
2009 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - meat, solid acid but less than 2010, dusty tannins, a bit of char, painfully intense and slightly richer texture and warmer mouthfeel than 2010. Aftertaste almost like I just had Moroccan couscous.
2005 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - tea, plum, good balance, kind of dense and monolithic, somewhat lacking nuance and excitement.
1999 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" - out of a magnum. Warm coffee, roasty toasty nose, relatively juicy, high acid, but a touch of sweetness makes this pleasant. Dusty spice, leather, tiny bit of caramelization, all well integrated. The silkiest texture of the wines in the vertical. The tastiest and most pleasant of the bunch. Much more elegant (but still rustic) than the rest. Clearly you can see the benefits of aging here. This wine was head and shoulders more enjoyable than the rest, finding a good place between elegance and rusticity. I feel that the 2009 has similar structure, and is just a much younger version of the 1999.
In the end, I liked all of the wines for their tremendous character and distinctive syrah accents that I have only ever detected in Northern Rhone. These wines are certainly rustic, evoking images of wild boar, herb-crusted grilled lamb, black olives, burning fires and hearty casseroles, enjoyed in country-style setting, horses waiting outside. They seem to age slowly and worthily, mellowing out to secondary flavors and silkier textures. With mouth-watering acidity and complex savory notes, they are like an "educated villager", rough skin and hands, but with good hearts, sharp minds, and regularly showered. The 1999 clearly stood out for me as the tastiest of the bunch, but the 2010 was perhaps the highest-quality, the most vibrant and promising wine. The 2009 was richer, heavier, and of high-quality too. While the 2005 was my least favorite, it was still good. At $30-40/bottle, these are certainly worth checking out for an honest expression of Northern Rhone syrah.