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An interview and tasting with Jean-Louis Chave

Family-owned Domaine Jean-Louis Chave is one of the finest and oldest estates in the northern Rhône. John Livingstone-Learmonth catches up with the man himself...

Jean-Louis Chave is vexed. ‘Why would anyone want to drink what is a grand vin, and find it is skinny, not rich?’, he asks.

He is referring to the current trend to make white Rhônes in a pared-back manner, as if they can be successful as aperitif wines, for immediate drinking.

‘Whites have drastically changed,’ Chave continues. ‘How people talk about them, using Burgundian vocabulary; words like “taut” and “tense”, words that used to be “honey-like”, “soft” and “rich”.’ He says white Hermitage is a wine based on glycerol, suited to drinking with a meal: ‘You can’t disconnect it from the food’.

These insights into white Hermitage are almost more revealing than when discussing the red. The blending process, to which the Chave family has been wedded for ever, with no trendy, plot-specific micro-cuvées, is very delicate when applied to the white. Achieving balance in a wine that is rich, but also low in acidity, is a stimulating challenge for him, as it was for his father Gérard.

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Abridged version of an article in the June 2017 issue of Decanter

Edited by James Button