On this trip, I finished up where I started. My final visit was in Cornas again, this time with Jean-Luc and Anne Colombo. Before tasting though, I headed out into the brisk mistral with Cyril Courvoisier, the young vineyard manager for Jean-Luc Colombo, and Julien Revillon, who manages just about everything else for the hyperkinetic Colombo.
We hiked our way through some nasty thickets and come upon some long-abandoned terraces. Courvoisier, 26, has been charged with the task of clearing and replanting these terraces that sit a healthy 350 meters above sea level. The mistral really cuts like a knife up here, but the exposure is full south, so despite the blasting wind, the sun is bright. Still, with the poor, sandy granite soils, you wonder how anything can thrive here, but as you look around, green oaks and wild herbs seem to be doing just fine, and you realize that Syrah vines will be joining them soon. While the vineyards of Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage are all planted and well charted at this point, Cornas is still in transition, with new vineyards slowly taking root and some excellent terroir still being unearthed.
Colombo is the modernist of Cornas. After arriving in 1984, he shook things up by using stainless steel tanks and clean, new oak barrels with his first vintage, 1987. Cornas, known for its rugged persona (both its vignerons and wines) resisted for a while. But with a generation of old-school vignerons now recently retired—Marcel Juge, Noël Verset, Jean Lionnet, and Robert Michel—there are openings. And they are quickly being filled by young vignerons who have synthesized a bit of Colombo with a bit of the remaining old guard, producers such as Thierry Allemand and Pierre-Marie Clape. Colombo’s style may not be for everyone, but he deserves a lot of credit for helping to bring Cornas into the modern wine world. Plus, despite his modern image, Colombo is a true terroirist at heart, and he’s working hard to push Cornas to the same level as Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.
Colombo, along with most of the appellation, excelled in 2004. Cornas has a knack for performing well in vintages when the rest of the valley doesn’t, which may partially be why the appellation is so often overlooked (think 2001 as well). As for the 2005, Cornas is in lock step with the vintage, producing ripe, well-structured reds that will benefit from extended cellaring. It may be Colombo’s strongest set of wines to date.
Colombo’s trio of Cornas bottlings is set to expand (more on that below) but, as usual, the portfolio starts with the 2005 Cornas Terres Brûlées, sourced from purchased fruit and rented vineyards. It’s very strong, with kirsch and sweet spice notes and a long, gravelly undertow. The 2005 Cornas Les Ruchets is sourced from a parcel of 90-year-old vines that benefits from a southeastern exposure. The wine is very taut and minerally now, with a strong chalky spine and mouthwatering acidity. The 2005 Cornas La Louvée is sourced from 75-year-old vines with full south exposure, the benefit being additional afternoon sunlight that results in a more powerful wine than the Les Ruchets. The '05 sports a gorgeous core of red currant layered with blazing minerality, sweet tapenade and roasted game bird notes. The two wines should provide a great tandem of cellar-worthy Cornas. Colombo has also added a new cuvée, the 2005 Cornas Force One, of which just two barrels were made. It is sourced from the Verset lieu-dit, a terraced parcel located above the Rochpertuis lieu-dit. Colombo has long wanted to bottle the fruit from these 60-year-old vines separately (they previously went into the Terres Brûlées bottling), and finally felt in '05 that the vintage was strong enough to do so. The wine is really dark, with black forest cake, fig, plum sauce, chalk, graphite, sage and bay leaf notes backed by massive structure. Along with the La Louvée, it’s potentially classic in quality. (Note: The 2005s have just been released to the marketplace, formal reviews based on official blind tastings will appear soon.)
|The rugged terraces of Cornas are now being used by a new generation of vignerons who have combined modernity and tradition.|