2004 Delas Freres, Hermitage Rouge “Les Bessards” Northern Rhone, France.
It’s always a great pleasure to enjoy, at a leisurely pace, a bottle of close to 20 year old Hermitage, and this 2004 Les Bessards Hermitage from Delas really shined on the night, which was spent casually celebrating the great wines of the Rhone Valley in an informal tasting that pitted the North v. South and Grenache v. Syrah, which saw this one regally edging out the competition. Fully developed in the bottle and still a deep garnet in the glass, this vintage seduces with its subtle restraint and length, rather than by force, it fills the mouth with brambly berries, dried blueberries, currants, plums and macerated cherries that are accented by wild herbs, damp earth, cedar, peppery all spice, violet florals and hints of tobacco, tapenade, licorice and charred embers. This wine continued to impress for hours and held court, in the way a Grand Cru Burgundy would against village wines, filling out nicely and showing off silken tannins, and again, providing heavenly length and delicacy. Maybe not on the level of Chave, Jaboulet La Chapelle or the Chapoutier ‘Ermitage cru bottlings, this still was an outstanding wine on the night for which I am grateful to have tried, thanks to a friend that had cellared this bottle since new. Up against younger and vividly expressive or fruit driven Chateauneufs, a particularly good Crozes-Hermitage-Hermitage and a Gigondas on the night, this finely aged wine held its own and was brilliant with a full range of cheeses and grilled meats, no small feat that!

The Hermitage “Les Bessards” one of the region’s most coveted areas for Syrah set on classic granite soils, but with some of what Delas Freres calls, alluvial quaternary delta deposits and Pliocene marl, and is named after a sub-zone of the Hermitage appellation, where, as the winery adds, the steeply terraced hillside vineyards have an excellent southwestern exposure. These cherished vineyard sites, including Chapoutier’s legendary Méal, produce some of the world’s greatest 100% Syrah offerings, with the Delas Les Bessards always being a solid effort, which is prized by savvy collectors. Delas owns 25 acres here, which seems huge by Rhône standards, but they note, that this cuvée is a special selection, with the grapes come exclusively from the oldest parcels of “Les Bessards” that sit in the prime Hermitage slopes. This wine, as the winery reminds me, is only made in the very best years and the Les Bessards is limited to just 6,000 bottles in any given vintage, with this 2004, a lighter more classic year, just making the cut, after two extreme years. To produce this Les Bessards, Delas did pretty much what they always do here, fermenting the Syrah grapes, mostly all de-stemmed, in traditional, open-topped concrete tanks, after they saw two days of cold soaking with skin contact at cool temperatures. During maceration and fermentation the must saw daily cap punching and pumping overs, lasting about 10 days, with a total maceration of up to 20 days. After pressing the evevage lasts between 12 and 14 months in mostly new oak barrels, which softens the wine and allows for a luxurious charm, as seen here to impressive effect.
($100-200 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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