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stirring the lees with james molesworth

More Cornas and Hermitage, and the Buzz in the Valley

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 2, 2006 3:55am ET

Today was another day of Cornas and Hermitage. I started at Domaine Courbis whose ‘05s are looking very good—in particular, Laurent Courbis’ Cornas La Sabarotte, a plush, smoky powerhouse filled with iron, olive and spice flavors. This likable and easygoing vigneron is quietly turning out some very serious wines.

After that, it was on to a little domaine named Chave, Jean-Louis Chave. It’s hard to follow up a performance like the ’03 Hermitage this domaine produced, but that was a freak of a vintage. On a side note, if you’re waiting for the release of the Cathelin cuvée in ’03, don’t hold your breath. Chave produced the usual amount—nine barrels—but the frenzied speculation over the regular bottling, which hit $500 at retail in the United States, turned the down-to-earth Chave off. If  (emphasis on if) he releases it through the normal channels, he is considering taking a more active roll in seeing who gets the wine. That’s if he doesn't keep it all at the domaine, which he is considering.

The 2004 red at Chave is far more restrained, but it has put on weight in the last year, and should easily compete for one of the wines of the vintage. While the white Hermitage is often overlooked here, it surpasses the red in ’04. (The vintage in general favored whites in the north; you can check out my most recent report in the Nov. 15 issue).

The ’05 red and white Hermitage are another duo of classics in the making. Chave expects to age the red longer than its usual two-year period though, to wrestle with the increased tannins of the vintage.

Chave’s négociant line is also solid, and getting better. The vats of ’05 destined for the Côtes du Rhône Mon Coeur are delicious, and it should offer terrific value.

After Chave, it was on to Jean-Luc Colombo, the ‘modernist’ of sleepy, traditional Cornas. His ‘05s are among some of his best wines yet, both his estate Cornas and his négociant line. Keep an eye out for his ’05 Côtes du Rhône Les Abeilles (equal parts Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre sourced from Southern Rhône vineyards) and his ’05 Côtes du Rhône Les Forots, a 100 percent Syrah sourced from 65- to 70-year-old vines planted just across the border from his Cornas vines.

As for the buzz among some of the vignerons I spoke to, the firing of Laurent Jaboulet as winemaker at Paul Jaboulet Aîné—just as he was leaving for his August vacation—is a hot topic. The surprise move left the Jaboulet house without a winemaker as it headed into harvest this year. And the venerable house (which was recently sold) has greatly reduced the amount of wine it is buying, leaving a number of growers scrambling for new customers.

Combined with the recent bankruptcy of the Caves de St.-Desirat co-op, one of the largest in the valley, suddenly means there is a lot of juice sitting around looking for buyers. Some savvy négociants are picking it up at reduced prices, and gaining market share with the Jaboulet pull-back—but the tough nature of the business here (apart from the handful of famous, well-known estates) is palpable.

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