There are some names in the world of wine that everyone seems to know. I’m never quite sure if that is because they are very well-known or because I experienced the wines very early on in my career. Paul Jaboulet is one such name. I remember studying the wines of the northern Rhone valley at the Hotelschool and some of the Jaboulet wines ended up being tasted as benchmark wines of the style. I don’t think we had ‘La Chapelle’, more likely a Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle has always been expensive, one of those top of the range, luxury wines, coming from the best sites on the hill of Hermitage. That’s no different today. In fact, each bottle comes with a special card containing a code which allows access to a VIP part of the website to enhance the exclusive experience. I bet they didn’t have that back in 1834 when Antoine Jaboulet established the first vineyards on the slopes of the Hermitage.
These days Paul Jaboulet Aîné, to give it its full name, is owned by the Frey family, who also make wine in Bordeaux and Champagne. Caroline Frey took over as winemaker in 2006 and she produces a wide range of wines, from both the Southern and Northern Rhone. Wines like the popular Parallèle 45 provide an introduction to Cotes du Rhone with a traditional blend of Grenache and Syrah for example. But the domaine’s history lies further north and with the Syrah variety in particular. And it was those wines we concentrated on during a tasting of the wines with Marie Cordonnier, Paul Jaboulet’s export director. I had a quick chat with her on video and asked her to pick one wine we could discuss. It may seem obvious to go for the luxury end and pick ‘La Chapelle’ but I wanted something a bit more down to earth. Marie picked the Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage 2007. The reason is quite simple, it’s a very tasty wine, silky smooth, ripe fruit and a bit of an earthy edge. But these are also the first vineyards the Jaboulet family ever owned, so in effect this is where it all started.
We managed to taste a few others as well though. I can’t say I have much experience of the white wines from the Northern Rhone. Typical grape varieties are Marsanne and Roussanne for the Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage and Viognier for the Condrieu. For some reason I expected these wines to be bigger, but a couple of times I wrote down ‘delicate’. I liked the ‘delicate’, slightly floral Marsanne/Roussanne blend ‘Mule Blanche’ from Crozes-Hermitage. Mule Blanche means white ass (as in donkey!). It is another of the older vineyards so named because in the early days the hardy donkeys were regularly used as pack animals in the vineyards.
The other wine that really floated my boat was the Cornas Grandes Terrasses 2009. A lovely warm, spicy nose, tasting of sweet black fruit and cocoa powder. As I’m a cheapskate I would chose this wine or the Domaine de Thalabert over the Hermitage La Chapelle. At around about the thirty pound mark for these wines I could get almost six bottles for one of La Chapelle. Only thing is, I really wanted to see what’s going on in the VIP section of the website. I wonder if there is a dress code?