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Spotlight on Cornas, Northern Rhône

The vineyards of Cornas

The most southerly of the Northern Rhône red wine appellations, Cornas is tiny. It has just 94 ha of vines: bear in mind that there are several single estates in Bordeaux that each exceed this size. The granitic south/southeast-facing slopes are planted with just one grape, Syrah. It’s the earliest-ripening of the Northern Rhône appellations – the first to be harvested each year – and the resulting wines are often rich, chunky and tannic.

Despite the excellent potential of the Cornas ‘terroir’, it’s an appellation that has struggled a bit with its image. While Hermitage and Côte Rôtie have become glamorous in recent years, Cornas hasn’t received the same positive press. It seems, though, that there’s now a critical mass of producers making wines impressive enough to turn this situation around. There will never be a lot of Cornas made, but with the twin benefits of the Syrah grape and the wonderful terroirs, there’s no excuse for anyone making wines that are less than interesting. Recent vintages – 1998, 1999, 2000 – have all been very good, and the reports so far on 2001 are promising.

Clape Cornas 1999
Youthful inky purple colour. Pronounced spicy, savoury nose with vivid fruit lurking underneath. Some new wood here? Chunky, rich savoury palate with a minerally edge. Good concentration, but a bit closed and woody at the moment. Very good+

Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose 1999
Youthful deep purple colour. Intense, rich spicy nose is dominated by raspberry fruit. Tasty, rich savoury palate shows good concentration and nice balance. Youthful and quite tannic. Very good/excellent

Domaine Courbis Cornas Les Eygats 1999
Slightly lighter colour than its siblings. Chunky and youthful, this is unapproachable now. Rich and spicy with firm tannins and high acidity. Very good+

Domaine Courbis Cornas La Sabarotte 1999
Inky purple black colour. Nice smoky meatiness to the nose, which is rich and spicy. The palate is rich and full, displaying chunky, spicy, tannic fruit. Quite a big wine. Very good+

Gilbert Serrette Cornas Patou 2000
Very pretty sweet, almost floral blackcurrant fruit on the nose. The palate shows more of this sweet black fruit character. Medium bodied, with some tannin, but quite atypically fruity. Very good

Alain Voge Cornas 1999
Vivid purple/black colour. Rich, sweetly fruited nose with some liquoricey complexity. Quite forward and intense. Good concentration on the palate, which displays juicy, meaty berry fruit. Expressive and savoury, with a spicy finish – an interesting wine. Very good/excellent

Vincent Paris Cornas 2000
The plain label bodes well for this wine! Wonderfully savoury, meaty, spicy nose is deliciously complex, with a liquoricey edge. The palate is chunky with savoury, meaty fruit and some spice. Lots of personality. Very good/excellent

Eric et Joel Durand Cornas 2000
Nice savoury meaty, spicy nose with some attractive sweet raspberry fruit. Savoury, meaty palate shows lovely balance. The fruit shines through. Delicious stuff, with some tannic structure. Very good/excellent

Gabriel Meffre Cornas Laurus 1998
Slightly muted nose. Savoury chunky palate is woody. A bit light and disappointing. Good/very good

Chapoutier Cornas 1999
Rich, woody, spicy nose. Light-ish with a high acid palate. Youthful, savoury and woody. Good/very good

Cave de Tain l’Hermitage Cornas Nobles Rives 1999
Savoury, chunky, rustic nose. Good density of spicy fruit on the palate with firm tannins and good acidity. Very good

Noel Verset Cornas 2000
Octogenerian Noel Verset still makes some of the best examples of Cornas, in a traditional style. This is a bright purple colour with an arresting savoury/meaty nose showing forward green olive notes. The palate shows a great concentration of pure Syrah fruit: dense, meaty and intense. Firm tannins. Superb stuff, and very satisfying. It’s a shame this is his last vintage. Very good/excellent

Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot 2000
Deep, vivid purple. There’s a sweetness to the fruit on the nose, which is a tiny bit awkward at this infant stage, and shows a lifted acid edge. Juicy, chunky, bright fruit on the palate with firm tannins and good acidity. A bit awkward now. Very good+

Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard 2000
Youthful, lifted acid on the nose, which is a bit closed. Rich, chunky tannic palate with a good concentration of dense fruit; almost unapproachable now. Potential here for a higher rating. Very good+

Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard 1999
A huge wine. Slightly closed, savoury nose has deep fruit and spicy notes. Concentrated, savoury, spicy tannic palate. Very youthful with lots of potential. Good balance, but currently unapproachable. Very good/excellent

Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard 1998
Still closed but opening a little. Intense, focused, meaty fruit on the nose, which is very savoury and spicy. The palate shows lovely, savoury, meaty Syrah and firm, bright, spicy tannins. Great concentration and lots of potential here. Very good/excellent  

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