Cornas
Wine Club O Collection 14 March 2019

Cornas: some of the world’s finest Syrah-based wines

Cornas has languished in the shadow of the great northern Rhône appelations. But it's now thrillingly at the forefront of the list of the world's great Syrahs
Introduction and recommendations by
Matt Walls

The battle for supremacy in the northern Rhône has long been a fight between two rivals: the seductive finesse of Côte-Rôtie at its northern extremity versus the might and majesty of Hermitage further south. But now there’s a third hand reaching for the crown.

Cornas lies even further south, 8 miles (13km) from Hermitage on the opposite bank of the river. It has long been considered something of an ugly duckling, but the quality of the wines has been increasing year on year. Now it’s indisputably the source of some of the most characterful and thrilling Syrah-based wines in the world, accessible at lower prices than its two celebrated neighbours.

There’s not much to see in the village itself (population 2,318), but you can’t miss the vineyards. Abruptly, they rise up on slopes and terraces behind the village, a rumpled granite amphitheatre that swelters in the summer sun. It’s a small appellation of just 145ha, and individual holdings are tiny because the labour is so arduous. Some of the slopes are so steep that they need to be ploughed with a blade attached to a metal cable, dragged up the hill by a winch. They run with blood and sweat.

It’s a tough, uncompromising terroir that makes tough, uncompromising wines. Only 20 years ago it was considered by many to be a source of powerful but rustic reds, often gamey, sometimes unkempt. It’s since cleaned up its act, retaining its untamed, brawling style but with more freshness and precision. These are full-bodied, concentrated wines with substantial tannic muscle. The best can last for decades, and they are generally best approached armed with a steak.

The mid- to late 1990s saw a new generation of vignerons establishing themselves – some the descendants of old winemaking families, some entirely new to the profession. Together, they pursued a more modern style, expressing itself in a riper, more polished expression. It made for a refreshing contrast against the gruff, savoury traditional style.

The 2016 vintage is widely considered to be truly great – in the southern Rhône. In the northern Rhône, the weather wasn’t quite so clement. Much of spring was cool and damp. Thankfully, a warm, dry summer followed, leading to an unhurried harvest. The result is a classic vintage in the very best sense: the wines will be delicious and approachable relatively early, with a good sense of freshness and balance. What impressed me most of all was their consistency.

It’s hard to say that 2016 is a better vintage than 2015 just from this tasting – they weren’t the same wines after all – but among these 2015s I saw some of the shortcomings of what is considered to be an exceptional vintage in the northern Rhône. It was a very hot growing season, and though some of the wines are impressively concentrated, others displayed overripe flavours, high alcohol or low acidity. Both 2014s showed well, in a leaner, more austere style that is the hallmark of this cooler year.

Blind tastings are always instructive. This one revealed that the stylistic gap between traditionalists and modernists is shrinking, and is an oversimplification to question whether one style is necessarily better than the other. There are excellent winemakers and compelling wines in both camps. Concerning specific producers, I would have expected Domaine Alain Voge’s Vieilles Vignes to show better than it did on the day. But it was pleasing to see Johann Michel’s Cuvée Jana do so well. Cornas runs in his veins: his great-grandfather helped set up the appellation in 1938, but he was entirely new to winemaking when he started out with half a hectare in 1997. What he’s achieved in such a small space of time is impressive. And this is true of Cornas as a whole – an ugly duckling no more.

Top Rated Bottles

Alain Voge, Les Vieilles Vignes, 2016

Score
92
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2021
  • To 2027
  • RRP £50-55
Les Vieilles Vignes
  • Broad
  • Concentrated
  • Herbal
Learn More

Cave Yves Cuilleron, Lieu-Dit Les Côtes , 2015

Score
88
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2022
  • RRP £47
Lieu-Dit Les Côtes 
  • Harmonious
  • Rounded
  • Weighty
Learn More

Domaine A. Clape , 2016

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2022
  • To 2030
  • RRP £142
Domaine A. Clape 
  • Fresh
  • Intense
  • Textured
Learn More

Domaine Courbis, La Sabarotte , 2016

Score
92
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2023
  • To 2028
  • RRP £47
La Sabarotte 
  • Focussed
  • Polished
  • Powerful
Learn More

Domaine du Tunnel, Stéphane Robert, 2016

Score
96
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2022
  • To 2030
  • RRP £38-45
Stéphane Robert
  • Powerful
  • Rounded
  • Savoury
Learn More

Domaine Equis, Maxime Graillot et Thomas Schmittel , 2014

Score
94
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2023
  • To 2031
  • RRP £45.25
Maxime Graillot et Thomas Schmittel 
  • Focussed
  • Savoury
  • Tannic
Learn More

Domaine Eric et Joël Durand, Confidence, 2016

Score
94
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2024
  • To 2032
  • RRP N/A in UK 
Confidence
  • Classic
  • Firm
  • Intense
Learn More

Domaine Guy Farge, Harmonie, 2016

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2020
  • To 2030
  • RRP £39
Harmonie
  • Full-bodied
  • Muscular
  • Smoky
Learn More

Domaine Lionnet, Terre Brûlée , 2016

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2024
  • To 2034
  • RRP £29
Terre Brûlée 
  • Focussed
  • Intense
  • Powerful
Learn More

Domaine Michelas St Jemms, Les Murettes, 2016

Score
92
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2021
  • To 2026
  • RRP £38
Les Murettes
  • Fragrant
  • Smooth
  • Tannic
Learn More

Domaine Philippe et Vincent Jaboulet, 2015

Score
91
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2025
  • RRP POA
Domaine Philippe et Vincent Jaboulet
  • Full-bodied
  • Intense
  • Savoury
Learn More

Ferraton Père & Fils, Les Grands Mûriers, 2016

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2023
  • To 2036
  • RRP £35
Les Grands Mûriers
  • Fresh
  • Intense
  • Vibrant
Learn More

Franck Balthazar, Chaillot , 2016

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2020
  • To 2036
  • RRP £55-60
Chaillot 
  • Energetic
  • Focussed
  • Full-bodied
Learn More

François Villard, Jouvet , 2016

Score
93
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2020
  • To 2030
  • RRP £31
Jouvet 
  • Fresh
  • Perfumed
  • Structured
Learn More

Guillaume Gilles, 2015

Score
87
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2021
  • RRP £53.45
Guillaume Gilles
  • Powerful
  • Ripe
  • Soft
Learn More

Jacques Lemenicier, 2016

Score
88
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2021
  • RRP N/A in UK 
Jacques Lemenicier
  • Fresh
  • Piercing
  • Vibrant
Learn More

Jean-Luc Colombo, La Louvée , 2015

Score
86
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2021
  • RRP N/A in UK 
La Louvée 
  • Accessible
  • Generous
  • Soft
Learn More

Johann Michel, Cuvée Jana, 2016

Score
96
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2024
  • To 2036
  • RRP N/A in UK 
Cuvée Jana
  • Fresh
  • Smooth
  • Textured
Learn More

Les Remizières, 2015

Score
93
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2023
  • RRP N/A in UK 
Les Remizières
  • Full-bodied
  • Powerful
  • Rounded
Learn More

Les Vins de Vienne, Lieu-dit Saint-Pierre, 2016

Score
89
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2022
  • RRP N/A in UK 
Lieu-dit Saint-Pierre
  • Concentrated
  • Persistent
  • Rounded
Learn More

M. Chapoutier, Temenos, 2016

Score
93
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2021
  • To 2029
  • RRP POA
Temenos
  • Characterful
  • Polished
  • Smoky
Learn More

Mark Haisma, Les Combes, 2015

Score
90
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2021
  • RRP £45
Les Combes
  • Fresh
  • Rustic
  • Soft
Learn More

Matthieu Barret, Brise Cailloux , 2016

Score
93
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2024
Brise Cailloux 
  • Full-bodied
  • Tannic
  • Wild
Learn More

Philippe Pacalet , 2016

Score
94
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2020
  • To 2027
  • RRP £62.5
Philippe Pacalet 
  • Characterful
  • Floral
  • Generous
Learn More

Pierre Gaillard , 2016

Score
90
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2022
  • RRP £32
Pierre Gaillard 
  • Balanced
  • Elegant
  • Floral
Learn More

Thierry Allemand, Chaillot , 2014

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2021
  • To 2026
  • RRP £149
Chaillot 
  • Harmonious
  • Precise
  • Smooth
Learn More

Vincent Paris, La Geynale , 2016

Score
95
100
Cornas AOP
  • From 2019
  • To 2028
  • RRP £49.5
La Geynale 
  • Characterful
  • Full-bodied
  • Textured
Learn More

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