Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Hermitage, the most famous northern rhône appellation of all, producing extremely limited quantities of seriously long-lived reds and about a third as much full-bodied dry white wine which some believe is even more distinguished. Although the appellation is only the size of a large Bordeaux estate, Hermitage was one of France’s most famous wines in the 18th and 19th centuries when the name alone was sufficient to justify prices higher than any wine other than a first growth bordeaux (which were sometimes strengthened by the addition of some Hermitage until the mid 19th century). The origin of the name Hermitage is not so much shrouded in mystery as obscured by many conflicting legends, most of them concerning a hermit, ermite in French. Not least of the puzzles is how and when Ermitage acquired its H (dropped for some modern bottlings, notably by chapoutier), although there was no shortage of English-speaking enthusiasts of the wine in the 18th century (including Thomas jefferson). The first recorded mention of Hermitage in English was in Thomas Shadwell’s 1680 play The Woman-Captain, ‘Vin de Bon, Vin Celestine, and Hermitage, and all the Wines upon the fruitful Rhône’. These ‘manly’ wines were also a great favourite with the Russian imperial court, but the economic upheavals of the first half of the 20th century affected Hermitage as much as any Rhône appellation. While the surrounding appellation crozes-hermitage has, like most of the Rhône valley, seen considerable changes and extension over the last 20 years, Hermitage is a constant, give or take a winemaking tweak or two.