Recently I was lucky enough to visit Cornas at harvest time, courtesy of Hatch Mansfield and, having found the experience to be quite outstanding I’ve decided to briefly share my experiences of the trip with you!
Having flown out from Manchester in the early hours, our group assembled at the winery of Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas in the Northern Rhône. From here, we were treated to a personal tour around the famous vines of Cornas by the one and only Jean-Luc himself.
Jean-Luc wasn’t alone either, he was accompanied everywhere by his two faithful canine friends, Fitou and Corton. As we found out, the dogs not only provide excellent company when out in the vineyard, they are quite adept at chasing away any pesky rabbits from the precious vines too!
After spending time with him on his home patch, it’s easy to see why Jean-Luc is nicknamed “The Winemaking Wizard of the Rhône” as he’s steeped in knowledge about the vineyards and their unique, individual terroirs. That knowledge comes in even more handy when travelling around the vineyards in his well-worn 4x4. What appears to be an impossible labyrinth of stone paths, dirt tracks and vegetation makes for an exciting, death-defying journey into the unknown for the intrepid visitor. A dead end can easily turn into the most beautiful vista with the quick turn of the steering wheel – well worth the intermittent fear of running over a horse, crashing into a tree or even careering off an unseen precipice.
The Cornas appellation lies on the west bank of the Northern Rhône, south of the long strip of vineyards that make up St Joseph, with winemaking here going right back to the 9th century. It has only 128 hectares of vines, with steep slopes that are unworkable by tractors a feature of many of the best vineyards. The unique terroir produces robust, powerful reds from Syrah with rich and intense dark fruits, earthy spice and a tannic backbone. Often seen as a poor, underachieving relation to the wines of Hermitage, Cornas through improved vineyard and winery techniques led among others by Jean-Luc, has made massive strides in recent years towards matching its more feted neighbour.
While in the vineyards, we had a chance to see the beautifully ripening grapes in Les Ruchets - Jean-Luc’s first single vineyard Cornas - which benefits from a sloping eastern aspect to maximise its exposure to the early morning sun. Afterwards we headed back to their charming family home set in the farmland close by, where we were greeted by Jean-Luc’s daughter Laure. Laure is a brilliant winemaker in her own right and is making serious headway with white wines from nearby St-Peray. Laure likes to call this little-known appellation “White Cornas” due to the sheer quality potential of the Marsanne-Roussanne blends being produced. This region is slowly shaking off the old reputation for solely making rustic sparkling wine and is one to look out for.
While at the house we were treated to a tasting of a selection of their extensive range set in front of a beautiful open fire, hosted by Laure. What could be better?! We tried some stunning wines from their range including some fabulous Cornas alongside Cotes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. For me the Les Ruchets stood out as the most exciting and compelling wine in the tasting. The Syrah vines used for this wine are up to 90 years old and produce a muscular, brooding but measured Cornas, the quality shining through in an inky black wine filled with rich notes of liquorice, mocha and black berry fruits. Utterly delicious, it had me hankering for big bowl of Cassoulet.
With that in mind, our final stop before setting off from the Rhône was a trip to a local restaurant owned by a close friend of Laure’s. We enjoyed a superb meal alongside more of the Colombo range including her La Belle de Mai, St-Peray white. A striking combination between body and freshness results in a wonderfully balanced wine with a seductive, mouth-filling charm with intense floral aromas and a refreshing lemon and green apple finish. A glimpse into the future perhaps, and a fitting way to end our visit to one of France’s most historic wine regions.
Take a look at our range of wonderful wines from Jean-Luc Colombo.