Cornas Wine Fair

December sees a little flurry of wine fairs as the producers gear up for the local Christmas and New Year trade, so a trip up to the Marché aux Vins in Cornas, where some half a dozen Rhône Wine Tours’ winemakers have vineyards, was always going to be on the cards.

First stop was Alain Verset. Alain is the most “traditional” of the Cornas winemakers I work with – there’s no de-stemming of the grapes; he uses open fermentation tanks and a basket press; ageing is in used (if not downright old) barrels and the wines are held for a few years before release to let the resulting naturally high tannins soften and mellow.

Alain Verset

Alain Verset

Alain was showing his Cornas 2012 for the first time. Frankly, I was surprised at how approachable it was, how tasty it is right now. Black cherry on the nose, bright and fruity, with flavours of bramble, black olive and grilled meat. Mid-weight and not at all aggressive, although the young tannnins are still a little dry on the finish. You could drink it now, but it would be worth waiting a year or two. His Cornas 2010, on the other hand, still needs plenty of time. Classic, old-school, strapping Cornas.

Next up was Xavier Gérard‘s stand, where Xavier was busy chatting with another RWT grower, Mika Bourg. Xavier doesn’t actually produce Cornas but had travelled down from Condrieu to show off his wines.

Xavier Gerard

Xavier Gérard

Xavier’s Viognier 2012 is perfect right now. This mini-Condrieu plays up viognier’s peach fruit with unusual clarity and poise. His vrai Condrieu 2012 goes less for fruit and more for the “terroir” – the wine is broader, richer, more mineral (almost volcanic).  Xavier said that he would be officially releasing the ’13 version at his local wine fair in the village of Chavanay the following weekend. But as I had a sneak preview a couple of months ago I can tell you that the Condrieu 2013 is a bigger animal again, with maturity pushed to the max. Lush, I think, is the right word.

Xavier’s St. Joseph “Le Blanchard” 2012 rouge is typical of a well-made wine from the northern sector of the appellation – the vineyard is in Chavanay – with peppery, bright raspberry and cherry fruit, whilst the Côte-Rôtie 2011 is really starting to get into its stride. The vineyards are further north again, but more sheltered, facing south rather than east. No surprise then that it has warmer fruit – damson and licorice – rounder tannins, greater depth. Like the St. Jo wrapped in a fur coat.

On to Matthieu Barret’s Domaine du Coulet. Matthieu is one of the leading younger producers in Cornas and a darling of the organic/biodynamic movement. Along with RWT growers Mika Bourg (that name again) and Johann Michel, Matthieu was recently chosen by the main French wine magazine, RVF, to represent the new guard of Cornas.

Matthieu Barret (right)

Matthieu Barret (right)

Petit Ours Brun 2013 is made “in partnership” with another producer. It’s labelled as a Côtes-du-Rhône but, I understand, comes from vines planted in Cornas. 100% syrah with no oak. A very pure style that really brings out syrah’s blackcurrant/floral fruit. I can drink this sort of wine any time. It’s crunchier, not quite as ripe as the last POB I tasted, the ’11, but the purity is there.

Cornas “Brise Cailloux” 2012 makes me think of Côte-Rôtie. Certainly it’s softness, almost gentleness, have very little in common with Cornas of old. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not is down to you, but there’s no doubting that the wine is expertly made.

Domaine Laurent and Dominique Courbis – The estate is celebrated for its Cornas and St. Joseph, so perversely I tasted the Crozes-Hermitage 2013, which I’m afraid did nothing for me at all. Slightly green and dank.

Onwards and upwards. Tasting with Mickaël (“Mika”) Bourg (that man again) was always going to be a treat. Mika had his St. Péray 2013 on show. (The village of St. Péray is just two miles south of Cornas, but whereas Cornas is only ever red, St. P is always white.) Pure marsanne, it smells of ripe pear and quince with finely judged oak. The wine has fantastic tension from the balance between richness, weight, minerality and acidity. Mika agreed when I suggested it was his best St. Péray yet. Pity I’m not such a fan of the new label, but hey, I’m not drinking that.

Mika Bourg

Mika Bourg

Mika’s Cornas 2012 is still very young. Unlike the ’11, which was open from the start, this is stricter, harder-edged, although the fruit on the nose and palate share the same dark fruit purity. Buy now while you can and put it aside for a couple of years.

Next was one of the grandees of Cornas, the Alain Voge estate. I still remember popping the cork on a bottle of his 1998 Vieilles Vignes at the end of a long day in my former life as a wine merchant. What a wine! The domaine is now run by Albéric Mazoyer.

Alberic Mazoyer, Domaine Alain Voge

Albéric Mazoyer, Domaine Alain Voge

Going up through the range, the Cornas “Les Chailles” 2012 has concentrated, slightly medicinal dark fruit. The palate is fresh, peppery, linear, direct. It’s as clean as a whistle and very classy. The Cornas Vieilles Vignes 2012 has the same feel but is a step up again in concentration and dark fruit ripeness. A lovely spicy edge. At 70€, the Vieilles Fontaines 2012 is at the top end of Cornas pricing, but is great wine by any standard. It’s deeply coloured, even for a Cornas, and mixes sloe and raspberry fruit with notes of Parma ham.

Louis Sozet wasn't there when I tasted, so here's a photo of his wine.

Louis Sozet wasn’t there when I tasted, so here’s a photo of his wine.

Louis Sozet is another old producer, but a new one on me. He makes just the one wine, but if the vintage I tasted is anything to go by he’s got that down to a fine art. His Cornas 2013 has a precise, bright nose, refinement and elegance. The kirsch-like aromas carry on to the palate. It isn’t big by any means, but it is delicious. The brightness of fruit makes me think of a great St. Joseph rather than old-school brawny Cornas, but that’s no criticism.

Escaping Cornas for a moment, I then tasted the viognier-based wines of François Corompt, who must be about the most publicity-shy grower I’ve ever met. I tasted his wines at the St. Péray wine fair and really liked them, so when I was in the village of Vérin, where François lives, I thought I would look him up. Sadly, his business card/price list doesn’t give a street number, or street name for that matter, but Vérin is very small and I assumed I would see a sign advertising the estate. Forget it! I couldn’t even find a letterbox with his name on it. I explained my difficulty to François, inviting him, or so I thought, to tell me exactly where I could find him. He agreed that he didn’t have a sign but didn’t elaborate, other than to say that he opens his doors less and less to customers (!) and that if I wanted to come to the estate I would need to telephone ahead (no e-mail, no website). Presumably if you call he will give you directions…

Francois Corompt

François Corompt

Anyway, I started with his Côtes-du-Rhône blanc sec 2013. It’s 100% viognier, from vines planted in Condrieu. But whereas the Condrieu itself is from vines on the mid-slope, the vines for the CdR are lower down. It’s made in a fine, almost delicate style, the flavours clear and fresh. The 2012 version is richer, weightier on the palate, but still has a gentle, unhurried air about it. I lean towards the ’12 and put my money where my mouth is by buying a few bottles.

François’ Condrieu 2012 is in the same gentle register, with no apparent oak presence at all, just a slightly old-fashioned (good!) interpretation of viognier from those hillsides. The Condrieu 2013 is more obviously fruity, with ripe pear and a touch of banana. It’s a bit more “zingy”, if one can ever say that of Condrieu. Although I like the ’12 very much, this time I prefer the ’13.

Remy Nodin's St. Peray - take your pick from the sparkling Extra Brut, "La Beylesse" and the "Vieilles Vignes". There is also a regular cuvee.

Rémy Nodin’s St. Péray – take your pick from the sparkling Extra Brut, “La Beylesse” and the “Vieilles Vignes”. There is also a regular cuvée.

Next was another young guy, Rémy Nodin. Let me declare an interest from the start – I’ve just started to work with Rémy. But that doesn’t stop his wines being great – just the opposite, I would hope. He didn’t have his Cornas at the fair (production is tiny), and I’d tasted everything else recently at the estate, but I did have a quick sip of his delicious, chalky St. Péray Extra Brut. Why anyone would spend more to buy a bottom of the range Champagne I can’t imagine.

Two generations of the Clape family. Pierre on the left and Olivier on the right.

Two generations of the Clape family. Pierre on the far left and Olivier on the right.

Back to Cornas. Domaine Auguste Clape is possibly the most famous of all Cornas producers, with a worldwide following, to the extent that you can’t buy wine at the estate (it’s already allocated) and, although they generously turned up and poured wine, you couldn’t buy any at the wine fair either. So I’ll try to explain why I didn’t like the Cornas 2012 more. The nose is ripe, the palate is rich, ripe and long. So from that perspective, it’s impressive. But I detected a whiff of nail varnish remover (interestingly, I later saw that RVF’s otherwise excellent review of the wine mentions acetate, but says that this disappears with breathing). For me, there was also a charcoal-like bitterness on the finish that I didn’t like.

The last stop of my day was at Johann Michel‘s stand. Johann, too, I work with. But believe me when I say that that has no influence over my view that he made the best Cornas I tasted that day.

Johann Michel

Johann Michel

His Cornas 2013 had only just been bottled, but there was no stopping the dark fruit nose that has touches of grilled meat and coffee about it. The palate is similarly dark with excellent richness. His top wine, Cornas “Cuvée Jana” 2013 was my red of the day (Voge’s Vieille Fontaines was very close). There’s great richness on the nose and palate, with red fruits mixing with mandarin (!) and tapenade. It’s fluid, silky, more flamboyant than the regular bottling, but with fantastic balance. And at 35€ at the cellar door, exactly half the price of the Voge, it has to be seen as a relative bargain.

So there’s my little round-up of what’s hot in Cornas. Dig out some at your local wine merchant (stockists/importers are listed below) and then rustle up a hearty, wintry meal to enjoy your wine at its best. And if you’d like to know more about Cornas, here’s a link to my blog about the wine region itself – http://blog.rhonewinetours.com/?p=1593

Santé

Paul

Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. We may be the unofficial cheerleader for Cornas, but we’re also partial to the rest of the Rhône too, so feel free to browse the blog for other subjects.

If you’d like to see Cornas for yourself (or any other Rhône wine regions, for that matter), just get in touch through info@rhonewinetours.com or have a look at our website, www.RhoneWineTours.com

UK and USA stockists and importers

In the US, you may have to contact the importer to find out your nearest retail supplier. You could also try www.wine-searcher.com

Alain Verset – Not available in the USA, I believe, but you can buy his wine in the UK through the Wine Society and Berry Bros. & Rudd;
Xavier Gérard – UK, Cambridge Wine Merchants; USA, Rosenthal Wine Merchant;
Matthieu Barret/Domaine du Coulet – UK, Dynamic Vines and Oxford Wine Company; USA, Jeff Welburn Selections (their website lists local distributors);
Mickaël Bourg – Wine MC² in New York, not available in the UK;
Alain Voge – Berry Bros. or Goedhuis in the UK; in the USA,  Worldwide Cellars and K&L Wine Merchants are listing Voge;
Louis Sozet – The Winery in London carries his wine;
François Corompt – Cellar door only (if you can find it);
Rémy Nodin – Jeff Morgenthal at Gran Fondo Wine Co in California;
Auguste Clape – Yapp Bros. in the UK, Kermit Lynch in the USA;
Johann Michel – Flint Wines in the UK; Kysela Pere et Fils in the USA (despite the French-sounding name) .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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