The Cornas region is a top place for varietal Syrah. The name is Celtic for “burnt earth”; as a result of the hot climate, the region has long been one of the more underrated appellations of the northern Rhône. The wines are much less expensive than those of neighboring Hermitage. Formerly very rustic and hard to drink, the wines have become more modern in style and hence are gaining in popularity.
At only 235 acres, this is one of the smaller appellations of the Rhône. About 15,000 cases of wine are produced annually. No white wines are produced.
Cornas wine is known to have become popular in the Middle Ages. AOC status was granted in 1938.
Climate and Viticulture
With a cooler and more varied climate than many of the more Mediterranean-situated appellations, Cornas has hot summers and cold winters, usually a bad combination for winemaking. The vineyards’ direct exposure to sunlight gives Cornas its name. The soil is also rather low-quality, with granite, chalk and clay as opposed to limestone and schist. But the producers of the Cornas overcome tremendous viticultural disadvantage and make wines that surpass their terroir. They tend to cultivate the raw, powerful side of the Syrah grape in a fashion that would be impossible in cooler climates.
All Cornas wine is varietal Syrah, which means the wines have the typical Syrah flavor notes of black pepper and herbs. In Cornas, the hot climate adds differentiating flavors of powerful cooked game, warm smoke, and inky, black fruit notes. Occasionally, a powerful mineral element can even intrude, which is rare in red wines, especially Syrahs. These rich, broad wines can last for a couple of decades easily and can be too strong when drunk early.
Quality is generally high here due to the small size and low production levels. We select seven producers whose wines are particularly remarkable.
- Domaine Thierry Allémand: A dedicated producer making wines almost only in Cornas; their Chaillot is an exceptionally concentrated blend of flavors: black fruit, spice, and a exotic, nearly sweet mineral note. The cuvée, Reynard, is an even more powerful combination of smoky herb flavors and intense, deep fruit notes. The old-vine Reynard is even more heavy and intense!
- Domaine August & Pierre-Marie Clape: The basic Cornas is one of the best wines in the appellation. Made from old vines, this mineral-tinged, spicy expression of Syrah is less heavy than many of its contemporaries, but is still richly earthy.
- Domaine Jean-Luc Colombo: The modern-styled wines of this domaine have been credited with modernizing Cornas. Les Mejeans, Les Ruchets, and Les Terres Blanches are several of their best-known wines. The masterpiece cuvée is the very aromatic but sharply floral La Louvée, which is quite broad but also vividly precise.
- Domaine Courbis: Three cuvées are made here: the coffee-flavored, smoky, heavy Champelrose, the often amazingly thick and blackly scented La Sabarotte, and the sweeter, more modern Les Eygats.
- Domaine Vincent Paris: The main cuvée here is the Granit 30, which offers up pure, modern, thick fruit flavors; the Granit 60 is twice as expensive but can be much more powerful and at the same time weightless.
- Tardieu-Laurent: The Coteaux is smoky, dark and anonymous but has a very powerful mineral and earth core, while the Vieilles Vignes is more elegant and bittersweet.
- Domaine Alain Voge: Voge has many cuvées in Cornas, but two are especially good. The Vieilles Vignes is smoky, dark and herbal, while the deeper, distinctly floral Vieilles Fontaines is even better.
Cornas has two subregions, neither of them officially delineated: Les Chaillots and La Côte. Côte wines are often derived as Coteaux, while Chaillots can be rendered Chaillot. It takes experts to tell the difference between the resulting wines.