One of the big misperceptions about wine professionals is that we sit around every day ruminating over the differences between First Growth Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy, and the like. And, of course, while that does happen once in a very rare while, and while those days are truly remarkable when they do come around, they are few and far between. And anyway, most of us who live and work with wine didn’t get into this business just for the legendary bottlings. Rather, there’s a sense of discovery that brightens up most of our days: The chance to taste something new, or from a place that doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves, is what really gets us going.
I bring this up because in The Wall Street Journal this past weekend, Jay McInerney devotes his column to a wine that, outside the circles of its most dedicated fans, has remained in the shadows for far too long: Cornas.
He writes: “As far as I can tell, Cornas hasn't really been fashionable since the era of Charlemagne. The wine critic Jancis Robinson once wrote a piece describing her failure to fall in love, or even in like, with Cornas...[It] has always been a rustic wine, with formidable tannins and, sometimes, a barnyard funk that suggested a lack of hygiene in the cellar. The first few examples I tasted made me wonder if the grapes had been stomped by someone with very stinky socks.”
To which lovers of this unique wine would reply: Yum. It’s a funky wine, to be sure, often speaking of bonfire, meat, and the cage of some sort of only moderately hygienic animal at the zoo. As disgusting as this sounds, however, it tends to take on a softer personality when paired with food that can provide a counterweight to it, allowing its often unexpectedly expressive fruit to show more clearly. Even on its own, however, Cornas is a wine that, when made well and with honesty, is one of the most idiosyncratic, terroir-specific in the world. Which, for me, at least, is what really gets me excited to get to work every morning.
As we here on the East Coast stare down the barrel of yet another cold, snowy week, this is the time for popping the corks of these winter-perfect reds.
[NB: I do have one correction to make to McInerney’s article: In the fourth paragraph, he says that Cornas, Côte Rôtie, and Hermitage all “make powerful red wines exclusively from the syrah grape.” This is incorrect: Only Cornas is required to be 100% syrah. Côte Rôtie is often blended with a bit of viognier, and Hermitage, though typically all syrah, is permitted to have a percentage of white grapes in the mix.]