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stirring the lees with james molesworth

An Old-School Lesson in Cornas

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 2, 2006 6:37pm ET

We were rummaging around in Jean-Luc Colombo’s cellar, trying to find something to go with the grilled entrecote du boeuf that was being served for dinner. Well, I was in Cornas, so why not an older Cornas, I suggested?

I should’ve bit my tongue, since Jean-Luc decided to go old-school on me, and show me a bit of Cornas history. He wound up pulling out the following wines:

1998 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets
1998 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas La Louvée
1995 Alain Voge Cornas Cuvée Vieilles Vignes
1995 T. Allemand Cornas Reynard
1995 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets
1994 Alain Voge Cornas Cuvée Vieilles Vignes
1994 J.-L. & F Thiers Cornas
1994 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets
1991 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets
1990 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets
1989 Jean Lionnet Cornas Domaine de Rochepertuis
1987 Jean Lionnet Cornas Domaine de Rochepertuis
1985 Jean Lionnet Cornas (the non-Rochepertuis label)
1980 Robert Michel Cornas

Handicapping it going in, I was expecting the ’95 Allemand and ’90 Colombo to shine. Yet the hands-down winner was the ’87 Lionnet, which showed beautiful balance and elegance—it’s still holding up very well. The Allemand was a bit high-toned on the nose, with a trim finish, but the ’90 Colombo is still very solid, with olive paste and a tarry core, thanks to the power of the vintage. Neither the ’85 Lionnet nor ’80 Michel was dead, both with lacy textures and notes of cedar, dried fruit and minerals.

There was clear commonality to the wines—olive, briar and tobacco flavors, followed by a vibrant, sometimes firm, chalky minerality. Yet within the group, each wine was different. Cornas is not a supple or generous wine—it has a severity to it. But ripeness has increased in recent years—13.5 percent alcohol is the norm now, when 15 years ago, chaptalizing (adding sugar to the fermenting wine) to add a half or even a full degree was the norm. “Global warming for sure,” says Colombo.

Cornas is a difficult appellation to get a handle on—it's just more than 100 hectares (about 250 acres), but within those 100 hectares is a lot of diversity. There can be up to two weeks difference in ripening among parcels, when in Hermitage, which is three times the size, the entire hill typically ripens within a week.

Cornas—it's an old-school appellation that's moving into the new age of wine. And it's worth checking out if you like rugged, powerful Syrah.

Hector Almeida
NY —  November 3, 2006 11:08am ET
Hi JamesThis tasting sounds fantastic, I love Cornas as well. I have some bottles aging in my cellar. The last one that I had was actually an atypical one (from a cool year), but I thought it was wonderful (the 2002 Michel). It was delicate and detailed, with an amazing minerality. Syrah for Loire lovers!
Phil Roberts
Palatine, IL —  November 3, 2006 1:38pm ET
Hmmm. 14 bottles for just the two of you for dinner? Sounds like you need someone to help you with the drinking part of your task. I'd like to volunteer for your next trip.
James Molesworth
November 14, 2006 2:18pm ET
Phil: As at a few California wineries, the waiting list is long...;-)

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