The practise of Hermitaged Bordeaux goes back to 1759 (as dated by John Livingstone-Learmonth in his book Wines of the Northern Rhône). In 1775 Chateau Lafite was blended with Hermitage and was one of the greatest wines of its day. Hermitage is the most famous of all the northern Rhône appellations. The hill of Hermitage is situated above the town of Tain and overlooking the town of Tournon which is just across the river.
The name Hermitage appeared in the 16th Century derived from a legend from the 13th Century Crusade. According to the 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 refuge to recover in, where he remained living as a hermit. The chapel on top was built in honour of Saint Christopher and today is owned by the negociant Paul Jaboulet Âiné.
Mature red Hermitage can be confused with old Bordeaux. In a blind tasting of 1961 1st Growth Clarets, the famous 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle was included. Most people, including its owner, Gerard Jaboulet, mistook it for Chateau. Margaux.
John Livingstone-Learmonth’s book says that it was reported that Hermitage growers found it “hard to keep up with demand from Bordeaux.” In 1819 there is mention that wines from Bénicarlos (Valencia) in Spain were added to the Bordeaux blend as well as those from Côte Rôtie and Cornas. In 1826 there is a report that the best wines of the Gard and Herault in the Languedoc Roussillon were also added.
I am not sure when the practice died out, perhaps sometime around the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1870s but when the Bordeaux appellations were regulated in 1936 the practice was made illegal. It's interesting to think that those ancient bottles of Bordeaux rarely seen at auction may actually contain a very different Bordeaux to what we are used to!