While it might be small in size, the northern Rhône’s influence in the wine world cannot be understated, a region prized by serious wine lovers. Only five per cent of Rhône wine is made here, yet the region is known for the ultimate expression of Syrah. Maybe because of its modest size, it is also said to serve as the most obvious example of the sometimes elusive and often challenging concept of terroir.
Of its best-known appellations, Cornas has, by comparison with the more vaunted Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, been somewhat forgotten over the years, never allowed to share the glorious reputation of its siblings. One wonders why that might be. If Côte-Rôtie has aromatic poise and Hermitage recalls an iron fist in a velvet glove, Cornas has long been perceived as a rather uncouth cousin – impossibly tannic, rustic and frighteningly austere are three of the epithets commonly thrown out. More an iron fist in an iron glove, if you like.
True, it is a little out of the way and a little warmer, the vines missing the cleansing vigour of the mistral wind and maybe thereby losing some of the tension found elsewhere. But in other respects, nothing is radically different: the same granitic soil, the same modus operandi, and the same steep erosion-prone terraces. Today it is the focus of increasing admiration among the wine cognoscenti, particularly forward-thinking sommeliers, who see Cornas as Syrah’s most faithful adherent; when the AOC was instigated in 1938, it was decreed that all the wines were to be 100% Syrah. And so they are: there is no Viognier or Marsanne here to temper the blends. The result is a pure, unspoilt rendering of the Rhône’s signature grape variety – as seen in this top-tier selection below.