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Reminiscing a great wine and a dear friend
A WINE drunk at dinner a few evenings ago struck a chord in my memory bank. It was Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chappelle 1982. I was reminded of Gerard Jaboulet, general manager and a member of the family that owned Paul Jaboulet Aine, in Tain L'Hermitage in the Rhone Valley.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, he was the roving ambassador for his family company, travelling tirelessly throughout the world. And no more amiable and congenial an ambassador it would be hard to find. Singapore was on his world itinerary, and around mid-year, we would expect a telephone call or fax - no e-mail then! - to inform us of the dates that he would be in Singapore, and which date he would be free to have lunch with us. That was a permanent fixture on his calendar and ours.
He introduced Rhone Valley wines, in particular Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chappelle, a more fitting introduction to Rhone it would be hard to fine. Fortunately, I had also, by the time of his first visit, become acquainted with the story and history of Hermitage La Chappelle 1961, a legendary wine, which made him an even more distinguished vintner to know as personal friend.
Sadly, Gerard died from a heart attack on Sept 15 1997, a huge loss to the world of wine. Fortuitously, he had in June that year visited Singapore and as customary, had lunch with us at home. And even more fortuitously, visiting Singapore at the same time was Serena Sutcliffe, who also came to lunch with Gerard. And one of the wines we served at lunch was Hermitage La Chappelle 1961!
Gerard was not only a most congenial wine visitor and friend, he was also a generous human being. He received us most warmly at the Jaboulet winery in Tain L'Hermitage when we paid him our very first visit in 1987. He ensconced us in the tasting room to taste the winery's latest releases, a very wide range it was and still is.
After about an hour, Gerard entered the room holding an unlabelled bottle of red wine in his hand. "Blind tasting!" he said. We tasted in silence, concentrating hard on the wine. After a long while, "What is the wine?" Gerard asked. None of us had the right answer, except Melina my wife. "La Chappelle 1961!" Spot on! Gerard was most impressed.
The bottle was from his personal cellar. We were in rapt attention, to be drinking a La Chapelle 1961. Not only is it rare. At the time then and even now, it happens to be the most expensive red wine in the world.
That was Gerard Jaboulet. His sad demise at the young age of 55 was a huge loss to the world. God rest his soul!
Hermitage La Chapelle 1976, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Jan 9, 2008, dinner at home for Nicolas Jaboulet
A deeper colour than the 1979, much deeper red-brown; heavier nose of very ripe fruit with very heavy flavours, very rich and ripe, surprisingly fresh for the age. Very very good.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1979, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Jan 9, 2008, dinner at home for Nicolas Jaboulet
A transparent medium-hued reddish brown colour. Distinct pronounced shiraz nose, dense, spicy, very ripe tropical fruit. Medium-bodied in density and concentration, took on a little more weight in the glass. Good mature condition, holding well.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1982, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Nov 28, 2016 at Imperial Treasure, Teochew cuisine.
Medium-hued brownish red. A full nose of still fresh ripe fruit but with traces of truffles detected. On the palate, signs that the wine is beginning to dry out. Still drank well, with good fruit and ripe savoury notes. Medium length.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1983, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Nov 22, 2016, at Chinese dinner, Teochew cuisine. Brought by a fellow-guest.
Medium-hued, brownish red. Very fresh aroma of nicely ripened peaches, with caramel notes.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1985, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Aug 5, 2011, Chinese dinner, Cantonese cuisine.
Medium-hued, reddish-brown; a lovely mature nose, soft rich ripe fruit aromas, rounded, rich ripe fruit, with savoury tones, beautiful texture. Still very much alive. Lovely wine.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1991, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Sept 19, 2012. Dinner at home.
Dense black-red colour with brownish tints; lovely bouquet of very ripe tropical fruit. Very fresh on the palate with very dense concentrated flavours of very ripe black and red berries, beautifully balanced, very complex, very long and lingering. Lovely wine, almost as good as the La Chapelle 1990.
Sadly, I have no notes of La Chapelle 1961. My first La Chapelle 1961 was drunk at Brussels' famous Comme Chez Sois. We knew the restaurant had that wine on its wine list, so en route to London in October 1996 we made a pit-stop at Brussels just to be able to drink that wine. Sadly, I was then not in the habit of making notes, nor in 1999 when we drank the 1961 for lunch at home with Gerard Jaboulet and Serena Sutcliffe.
Paul Jaboulet Aine was acquired in 1996 by the Frey family, owners of Château La Lagune in Bordeaux. I am afraid I do not have any tasting notes of La Chapelle since the change of ownership.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1961 remains firmly established as one of the most important benchmarks of fine wine to this day. During one of Gerard's annual trade visits to Singapore, we talked about La Chapelle 1961 and discussed which of the vintages of the wine since then had the potential of becoming 1961's successor.
The candidates for this honour we discussed were 1978, 1983, and 1990. It became finally a choice between 1978 and 1990. Gerard preferred 1990. I plumped for 1978. I have not tasted this for a long time. Perhaps it is time to make good that gap in my memory bank!
As a matter of interest, the going price for Hermitage La Chapelle 1961 averages a staggering 14,000 euros. For comparison, Château Cheval Blanc 1947, another all-time great, averages 7,800 euros. Château Latour 1961, 4,100 euros. A 60 ml tasting portion of La Chapelle 1961 averages 1,200 euros. Staggering.