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Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose 2006

Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose 2006

I have long thought of Cornas as a magical place, the wild nature of the rocky slopes somehow transmitting their rugged character through to the wines made here. Dark and perfumed, with scents of grilled black fruits, leather, roasted herbs, sometimes even a note of floral perfume, like the tiny petals of a wild flower clinging to a rock face, there is an authenticity and sense of place here that is, I think, increasingly rare these days. I know the wines have their critics, the usual complaint being one of rusticity, austerity, hardness even. These comments were perhaps once valid, although I always thought such words were overly harsh, but we are all entitled to our opinions, I suppose. These days, however, I sense greater purity and finesse in many wines from Cornas, both in aromatics and in palate structure, than I did twenty years ago. It is hard to imagine anyone describing the overall Cornas style that exists today as austere or hard.

The town of Cornas has grown up around the main road that runs alongside the Rhône here, while all the vineyards sit on the slopes of the valley, to the left. Some sections of the Cornas slopes have achieved a degree of fame in their own right, such as Reynards and Chaillot. Others, such as Sabarotte and Les Eygats are perhaps familiar only to Cornas geeks. In its entirety the vineyard is quite small, covering just a few square kilometres, but it is complex. The northern part has granite, the rock which characterises this part of France’s vineyard, but also streaks of limestone and clay. The central section, right next to the town, is perhaps the most classic, the bedrock pure granite, the little streams that run down to the Rhône having cut away numerous tiny valleys, each with a number of fine, south-facing slopes. The southern section has more sandy clay, and some earlier-ripening sites.

Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose 2006

Domaine Courbis is today run by the Courbis brothers, Laurent and Dominique. The family started out in St Joseph, just to the north, where they have been making wines since the 17th century. They remain based in Châteaubourg, a village on the banks of the Rhône here. It was not until 1982 that they first acquired some Cornas vineyards, and they have since built up a nice portfolio of eight hectares. Their vineyards include a section in Les Eygats and Chaillot, as well as a part of Sabarotte, some of which was purchased from Noël Verset in 2002. Less exalted, but no less important to the domaine and to thirsty drinkers, are the vines in Champelrose, the vineyard which sits at the foot of the slopes and runs right up to the outskirts of the town. Here the soils are clay over granite; unsurprisingly the wines tend to be less structured and more plush than those from vines planted on pure granite higher up the slope, and the site gives the Courbis brothers their entry-level wine.

The 2006 Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose comes from 2.5 hectares of very old vines, planted in 1919, plus a 4.5-hectare parcel of vines planted in 1998 and 1999. The fruit is handpicked and destemmed, fermented in 50-hectolitre closed, temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. The wine sees regular pigeage and remontage, with a three-week maceration before pressing. Thereafter comes an élevage lasting up to 16 months with mainly older wood, but possibly incorporating a little new oak as required. The wine has a dark core, with a dense claretty hue. I find the nose to be delightfully aromatic and evocative, with some classic Cornas notes of roasted herbs, rosemary, bacon, juniper and black charcoal-rubbed fruit skins. A supple palate follows, the clay showing through perhaps, with a savoury and textured substance, cut with a lightly minerally note and dressed with some beautiful juniper and cranberry-skin fruit notes, with bright and balanced acidity. It has a long, grippy finish. This is a wine full of character, seductive in its presence and showing some fine, traditional aromatics, and yet despite its entry-level status there is no rush to drink this at the moment. It should do very nicely in the cellar for five to ten years yet I would have thought. Very good. 17/20 (27/10/14)

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