Hermitage is a small, but highly regarded French wine region (AOC) in the northern Rhône wine region - south of the city of Lyon. It produces mostly red wine from the Syrah grape; however, small quantities of white wine are also produced from Roussanne and Marsanne grapes. The hill which overlooks the village of Tain-l'Hermitage, is by some seen as the spiritual home of the Syrah grape variety.
Hermitage AOC being established in its modern form in 1937 - is known for classic Syrah wines that rival the best Cru Classes wines of Bordeaux. While the appellation allows for up to 15% of Marsanne and Roussanne to be added to the blend - the best wines are 100% Syrah which balance, power and weight with finesse and elegance.
According to legend, the Knight Gaspard de Stérimberg returned home wounded in 1224 from the Albigensian Crusade and was given permission by the Queen of France to build a small shelter to recover in, where he remained living as a hermit. The chapel on top was built in honor of Saint Christopher and today is owned by the negociant Paul Jaboulet Âiné.
During the 19th century wines from Bordeaux during very cool, poor vintages were often ‘hermitaged’ (blended with wine from Hermitage) and could fetch higher prices.
The appellation fans out from the town of Tain l'Hermitage. The vines grow on the south west side of a steep granite hill facing the afternoon sun and can be divided into a number of smaller vineyards. These are ‘Les Bessards’ to the west, ‘L'Hermite’ and ‘La Chapelle’ on the top of the hill, with 345 acres of vines in total, in soil composed greatly of granite and gravels, Hermitage produces 730,000 bottles of mostly red wines, annually.
Hermitage reds tend toward being very earthy, with aromas of leather, red berries, earth, and cocoa and coffee. Because of the high levels of tannin they are usually aged longer than or Australian or South American Syrah; and are often cellared up to 40 years. Rich, dry white wines are also produced from a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. These complex white wines are also usually left to age, for up to 10-15 years.