In January of 1991, I had the good fortune to visit France’s northern Rhone for the first time & walked away with a real fascination for the Syrah grape variety, & its iconic home turfs–Hermitage, Cote Rotie & especially Cornas. Cornas is a small appellation, & the best parcels are on the steep, mostly granitic hillsides rising above the town. Cornas is 100% Syrah, very masculine in character, chunky, sultry, wildly rustic & so intriguingly provocative. The 3 finest maestros of this appellation, each of whom I visited, are–Noël Verset (now retired), Auguste Clape (now run by his son Pierre Marie & grandson Olivier) & at a later date, Thierry Allemand.
Inexplicably over the years, Cornas, especially Clape Cornas, has not garnered the prestige & clamour it deserves, which I never could understand. I guess I should be thankful that one can still get some & at prices a fraction of those of the top echelon Syrahs from Chapoutier & Guigal. The Clape Cornas wines are so personal, have such sincerity & soulfulness as these 2 wines (1996 & 2000) clearly reminded me of. In both instances, these wines are really vin de terroir oriented, meaning they showcase the Cornas hillside character, rather than the Syrah grape variety or the opulence of a sun rich vintage. While they both may never get HUGE scores & accolades, I found both wines to be so fascinating, soulful & full of old vine vinosity & the true character of a special piece of earth. (Tasters should not expect BIG, opulent fruit, eventhough both wines are quite masculine & vin garde).
I fell in love with Noël Verset Cornas on first taste. They were so masculine, rugged, hearty & sinfully rustic & sauvage in their youth, yet intricate, nuanced, provocative & UN-heavy. I always thought I was a minority for these wines, until I noticed the skyrocketing, meteoric rise in their prices recently. Although I am sure alot has to do with the scarcity of the wines (since 2006 was his last vintage), but at the same time, I believe there are wine lovers out there who appreciate good old fashion tradition, staunch, passion driven authenticity of a world-class wine & site which really is like no other. With Verset Cornas, I would always get green peppercorn, andouille sausage/raw meat, musk character, which I later discovered must have come from his old vine Sabarottes parcel. (Clape bought some of the parcel, which we tasted & found it to have a similar character). Cornas is a VERY different slant on what Syrah can be, AND Verset was a pillar of what it was traditionally like. I am sad to say that the number of his bottles are dwindling. I am also happy to say tasting this 2000, at this time of its life, is a memory I will cherish forever. Thank you for sharing.