It's an excedingly rare opportunity to taste this wine and an even rarer treat to share a whole bottle with great friends in the best cafe in the world, Chez Panisse. Thanks to my frequent gastro-traveling companion "O", of Notes and Scones fame, there was a reunion of sorts with our friend Joe with whom we went to France in 2005 on the tasting trip of a lifetime.
One of the highlights of that trip was to visit Gérard Chave in Mauves and taste through the 2003s in the component barrels as well as his stunning White Hermitages and the finished 2002 Hermitage out of the tank. As generous as M. Chave is, he wasn't about to break out the Cuvée Cathelin for us. He only makes 2500 bottles or so and as such, the prices have reached the heavens.
The Cuvée Cathelin is named for the artist who created the label, and M. Chave actually claims that it was the artist's idea first and Chave made the wine for the label! It's a different beast than J. L. Chave's regular Hermitage, more profound and influenced by new oak, which is usually eschewed by the domaine. I have read that M. Chave has mixed feelings about these wines as he generally eschews new oak. As we were tasting through the barrels in 2005 he said "I hate new oak! Here...let's try some!" Funny guy. I suspect this went into the Cathelin.
Here's a good link to a profile of Chave in Decanter.
2001 Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage "Cuvée Cathelin"
A great wine holds within it a sense of place. Because I'm lucky enough to have visited the cave where this wine was created, my memories of the scent of the place came rushing back to me with one whiff. This is a wildly exotic wine, filled with cocao dust, coffee, and earthy minerality, bifurcated by gushes of ripe fruit and mouth-watering acidity. Spiced notes of black pepper and 5-spice powder mix with a dense flavor of raspberries. The finish goes on for minutes. Probably the most perfect bottle of wine I have ever tasted. It has layers upon layers of complexity with nothing and everything popping out to the forefront. Stunning.
Dinner was delicious as usual at Chez P. We started with some amazing chicory salad with persimmens and pomegrate, then the beautiful nettle and ricotta salata pizza (which has become a cafe staple, like the goat cheese salad).
We had a mid-course treat from the kitchen --the featured dish was sausages with saurkraut and crispy potatoes. Since this would have been a wine-killer, the kitchen made us the sausages with chanterelles, celery root, and kale. Our friend, Jonathan, picked out a beauiful white for us from the Loire:
2006Domaine de Bellivière "Les Rosiers" It's almost briny. I could smell the flinty soil it was grown in. Organic, small amount of new oak. 10 year old vines, fruits and flowers. 100% Chenin Blanc. A lovely and extremely complex wine. Recommended.
With the Chave, all three of us had a lovely chicken stew with peppers.