Monday, December 14, 2009

Cornas Hero

Jean-Luc Colombo, one of the great winemakers of the Rhone Valley, is responsible for some of the best, most influential wines of that ancient region, especially in the north. As the Wine Spectator put it in an April 2007 interview: “[I]t's hard to imagine where the Rhône would be without him, since Colombo was among the first to travel outside the area and not only aggressively market his own wines, but also tell the story of the entire region. Colombo...purchased his parcels of vines in the 247-acre Cornas region in 1986. From that humble start, he now makes his small-production, sought-after Cornas cuvé well as a range of other wines, mostly from purchased grapes, reaching all the way down the valley to...Côtes du Rhône.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a number of his wines in recent years, and have found myself regularly impressed by both the accuracy of expression of their terroirs of origin and their almost dangerous drinkability. A close friend of mine, Ryan Davis, the Beverage Director of Daniel Stern Restaurants in Philadelphia, was the first person to really turn me on to Colombo’s full range of wines, in particular a 1999 Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Les Figuieres” whose nutty, waxy, still amazingly lively character was stunning after all those years in bottle.

This past weekend, I headed back to Colombo’s origins with a bottle of 2002 Cornas “Les Ruchets” at a family dinner. Now, ’02 is a bit of a misleading year in the Rhone: Though the southern part of the region was clobbered by a severe late-season rain storm, “the north,” according to a Wine Spectator report form 2004, “was not as severely hit. Though rot and low ripeness levels provided some challenges, producers were slightly more upbeat than their southern colleagues.”

And with good reason. I’ve had generally good luck with the Northern Rhone 2002’s, and this one was a standout. It led off with a mature nose of truffles, leather, perfume-y violets and a hint of smoked meats. The acid on the palate was a touch high, but that really just served to keep it all fresh and make it that much more useful at the table. The fruit leaned in the red and black raspberry direction, with lingering notes of cinnamon, white pepper, green olives, and black licorice on the finish. In other words, perfect right now, and a great expression of this tiny, ancient piece of the Rhone Valley: Tied to the land, expressive, a hint rustic, and altogether as honest as wine gets. Delicious.


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