Chocolate and Wine- who can think of a more sinful combination? The town of T’ain L’Hermitage, as we discovered, offers precisely this with oodles of French charm!
The spectacular sight of the steep green vineyards of Paul Jaboulet and M.Chapoutier greeted us on our arrival in the train station of T’ain. Much has been written about the wines of Northern Rhone, the spiritual home of Syrah or Shiraz(as its known to the new world) Northern Rhone is a region whose wines are often overshadowed by its famous sisters- Bordeaux & Burgundy. Make no mistake; the Hermitage wines are exceptional- intense fruit, plump, coffee, chocolates,peppery & full bodied( will need to age for at least 3-4 years before being approachable)
The region of Condrieu, on the Northern most tip of Rhone, produces the most divine white wines made entirely from the Viognier grape (think of perfumed apricots, peaches, sprinkles of nutmeg) Our initial choice was the Cotie-Rotie (meaning “roasted slopes” due to the ample sunshine) to pay our homage to legendary winemaker Ernesto Guigal, whose wines are the stuff dreams are made off, and who was responsible for putting Northern Rhone wines on the wine lovers map. Bad train connections meant we had to give it a miss (Note to self: please carry an international driver’s license in the next trip)
Our next and obvious choice was T’ain L’Hermitage. It’s hard not to fall in love with T’ain- unmistakably picturesque because of the surrounding vineyards lining the steep slopes, the Rhone River, easily accessible by foot, friendly people, great food & finally home to Valrhona- the legendary French chocolate maker. I remember a time in Singapore when every restaurant & patisserie was going through a Valrhona phase- warm fondant, chocolate tart, dulce de leche ice cream….it seemed very surreal that we were finally here
After a super fast check in at our B&B, we decided to hit the streets, starting with a delicious lunch at a breezy café by the river side- Andouilette sausages served with salad & Homemade ravioli stuffed with spinach, broccoli and cheese, all washed down with a carafe of local spicy Hermitage( Syrah) wine.
As if that wasn’t enough, we made our way to the Valrhona shop boutique to have a look at over a 100 different types of chocolate (okay 100 maybe exaggerated, more like 50!) all available for sampling. The staff members were ever so friendly in offering us endless chocolate squares: my personal favorite being Guanaja( 70%Cocoa, extra bitter) If you’re not too keen on dark bitter chocolate, try Caraibe( 66% cocoa) or Manjari( 64% cocoa) Their never ending range of chocolate related products ranged from chocolate pearls & cooking chocolate to hot chocolate, ice cream & pralines. Happily digging our way through(what seemed like)a zillion samples we rightfully agreed that it was enough and we had to burn it off the extra calories. Our punishment was declared: climbing up the sunny L’Hermitage hill to the vineyards.
Cave Du T’ain, an excellent wine cooperative at the bottom of the hill, offers an informative self guided Discovery route map, allowing you to explore the vine laden hill at your own pace. Cave Du Tain also organizes wine tastings, giving visitors a chance to sample many wines from the Northern Rhone region
Armed with the map and decent walking shoes, we made our way uphill, huffing and puffing along the way, promising never to overindulge! The scenic walk starts at the bottom of the hill and slowly ascends upwards taking you through the famous “La Chapelle” vineyard of Paul Jaboulet, picturesque country estates (owned by the winemakers) and the granite terraces which took almost 20 years to build to retain the granite sand (crucial for rendering power and structure to the Syrah grapes) Those that make it uphill are rightfully rewarded with panoramic views of the Rhone river, the vineyards of Saint Joseph( across the Rhone river) and the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. The walk takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and is a must for absolutely everybody interested in knowing more about this venerated region.
It was early evening as we slowly made our way down the Hermitage hill, admiring the sheer beauty of the vines and terroir, we had to end our evening with a wine tasting stop at the house of Paul Jaboulet, famous winemakers of the Hermitage region, now known the world over. Wines from their La Chapelle vineyard in the L’Hermitage Hill are considered by many to be among the greatest. Our complimentary tasting session of 3 wines comprised of: Le Cassines Condrieu( Viognier), La Petit Chapelle Hermitage( Syrah) and Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage( Syrah) giving us a good insight into the structure & taste
Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and this time we decided to go easy and tuck into a salad and yoghurt! I would recommend T’ain as a night stay, make sure you arrive in the morning to ensure you can leisurely see the Valrhona boutique, Cave du Tain walk & picturesque town center on the banks of the Rhone. For wine tastings I will recommend Cave du Tain and Paul Jaboulet who offer complimentary tastings( especially if you are two people) Do note that while it isn’t obligatory to buy a bottle of wine, it is recommended you do buy (it would be polite) as they are also priced at a bargain! M Chapoutier also organizes wine tastings, prior appointment will need to be made( they are located in the main street off the station and beside our B&B- Le Castel)
UNDERSTANDING THE WINES OF HERMITAGE
SYRAH- is the principal grape grown here. In fact it is here in Northern Rhone that Syrah was born. Majority of the red wines contain 100% Syrah, however producers can add a small percentage of Marsanne and Roussane. The wines of Hermitage display intense notes of berries, plum, chocolate, pepper and have a full bodied finish. They often need to be approached after 5 years and stay perfect upto 20 years!
MARSANNE- is the main white varietal of the Northern Rhone, It displays exceptional longetivity in the warm, pebbly soil of Northern Rhone. The picture taken above is from Cave du Tain’s vineyard containing 100 year old Marsanne grapes! Chante-Alouette, a vineyard owned by M Chapoutier, produces exceptional full bodied white wine, green gold in colour, honey and almonds in the palate with a rounded finish- a must try…
ROUSSANNE- is the other white varietal of Northern Rhone
Main Producers- Paul Jaboulet, M.Chopoutier, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Cave du Tain & Delas
Crozes Hermitage– refers to the appellation situated beneath and behind the L’Hermitage Hill. It is a fairly large appellation with many producers. Offers good value for money. The red wines are best drunk young.
Saint Joseph- refers to the appellation situated across the Rhone river in the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. Again, the wines here offer great value for money and age well
( upto 4 years)