Famous hill and appellation in the Northern Rhône, Hermitage is limited to 132ha (about the size of one large Bordeaux property) making long-lived red and white wine, roughly two thirds the former and one third the latter. It was one of the most expensive wines in France during the 18th and 19th Centuries excepting, perhaps, Bordeaux's First Growths, and its wines were often used by Bordeaux and Burgundy producers to strengthen their wines. Hermitage was known to England as far back as the 17th Century when it was quoted in a Thomas Shadwell play. It is a steep south-facing hill that contains a marble of clay and limestone top soils based on granite rock. The hill is split into various vineyards with their own individual terroirs or "climats." These range from the sandy gravel over granite soils of Les Bessards, where some of the hills most muscular wines are made; Le Méal with its high limestone content that produces finer more floral wines, to l'Hermite at the top of the hill with its poor sandy soils with large stones on the surface. Clay dominates the lower-lying vineyards. Other famous sites include Maison Blanche, Péléat, Les Murets, Rocoule, La Croix, and Les Signeaux. White grapes are best suited to the limestone-dominated sites.
The red wines are almost always Syrah even if in theory 15% white grapes can be added, whilst the white wines are made from Marsanne and Roussanne grapes. The reds are the main event here, typically they should be deeply coloured, violet-scented, rich, spicy and long-lived. The best can age over 20-30 years. White wines vary more in style and quality depending where on the hill the grapes are grown, the ageing and the percentage of oak used if at all, the grape blend and how much of the malolactic fermentation is allowed to take place, however they should always be full-bodied and complex. They are famous for going into a bit of a trough at about 4-5 years of bottle age however they do emerge, the finest examples are up their with some of the best, most long-lived whites of France. Chave is particularly renowned for producing whites that are every bit as good as his reds. The hill is dominated by the big houses such as Guigal, Jaboulet and Chapoutier, so there is only ever a finite amount of high quality artisan grower-winemakers. Most people's pick of the bunch is Chave, whose wines are outstanding, however there are some excellent examples also made by Marc Sorrel, Domaine du Colombier, Bernard Faurie and Chapoutier.