Hermitage, a French wine Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC), is one of the most sought-after wines in the world.
In fact, one Hermitage, the Hermitage La Chapelle 1961, is often one of the top sellers (and most expensive bottles) at wine auctions, claiming nearly fifteen thousand dollars for a single bottle.
To enjoy a taste of Hermitage wine is to enjoy a taste of the good life. A French, full-bodied, rich, tannic Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC), it is made from both red and white grapes. It is grown atop the Hermitage hill along the banks of the Northern Rhône in a space of only about 320 acres, where it thrives in a Mediterranean climate. It is also found on the eastern side of the river, making it the only major Northern Rhône appellation that is not found on the western side of the river.
With flavor notes of blackberries, spices and herbs, a glass of red Hermitage comes from the red Syrah grape and intoxicates all the senses. Reds pair particularly strongly with various meat dishes—along with both hard and soft cheeses and even bacon—but are versatile enough to pair with poultry and fish. The heartier the better for this potent wine, which pairs exceptionally well with beef, lamb or a rich hearty stew. Entrées with a sturdy marinade of herbs and spices also compliment the strong Northern Rhône wine.
White wine produced from the Roussane and Marsanne grapes are available in more limited quantities as well and produce a lighter taste with floral notes, a touch of vanilla and nutty aromas. Fish is a particularly well-suited compliment to these white wines—everything from lobster and crab to sea bass. Cheeses and spicy food also pair beautifully.
In either case, both the red and white varietals are best enjoyed matured. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty years or even longer! Young Hermitage wines are too intensely flavored—not to mention tannic and unformed. But with age, the flavors blend beautifully producing the delicate notes that Hermitage wine is renowned for.
The history of the wine is something to toast to as well. The Ancient Greeks and Romans began planting Syrah grapes in the region around 600 BC. A millennium later, France’s King Louis XIII made Hermitage his official wine of choice. The Sun King, King Louis XIV, followed suit. Demand remained intense, finding another famous devotee in oenophile Thomas Jefferson. For a time—and it is now strictly forbidden by French law—Hermitage was even added to some Bordeaux wines to give them an extra body, tannins and color.