WineInk: Cornas Steep and Deep
Friends in Syrah
Sometimes in wine, as in life, there are coincidences. And when things happen in threes, it’s best that you pay attention. Such has been the case for me this winter with the Cornas wines produced by Vincent Paris.
The trail began with a query I sent to some local sommeliers asking them to recommend four wines, one for each of the seasons. Steve Humble, who, with his wife Robin, runs Free Range Kitchen, the excellent Basalt based wine-centric restaurant, offered his suggestion for a winter wine, a 2015 Domaine Vincent Paris “Granit 60” Cornas, Rhône Valley, France.
“Raw powerful syrah from Cornas” is how he described it. “The flavors are cracked pepper, blueberries, raspberries, raw meat, iron. A powerhouse of a wine calling to be consumed with a hearty, soul-warming stew!” That was enough to get my attention.
Then, not long after that article was published an invite came to attend an online virtual tasting touting the upcoming Little Nell Wine Academy. Dustin Wilson, former Nell sommelier and current owner of the Verve Wine shops in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, hosted the event to compare and contrast wines produced from the same grapes from the new world, with those of the old world. As noted in this space at the time, a syrah pairing squared off a 2015 Lower East Columbia Valley Syrah against a 2017 Domaine Vincent Paris “Granit 30”Cornas. While I was unable to attend the tasting, I did receive a bottle of each for personal contemplation.
The third occurrence, and the impetus for this column, came this past week when a FedEx arrived with a Valentine’s Day gift. It was from the noted wine and cheese authority, and my dear friend, Laura Werlin, a half-Aspenite who is hunkered down in San Francisco. The gift? Why, a bottle of the 2018 Domaine Vincent Paris “Granit 60” Cornas, of course.
Three friends, one west, one east and the third from beyond the roundabout all recommending a single winemaker from the Rhône Valley of France? Who could ignore that? As a lover of syrah, certainly not I.
Vincent Paris is an emerging master of old vine syrah who has developed a reputation as one of the leading quality producers in the tiny, picturesque village of Cornas in the southern end of the Northern Rhône. The region is the ancestral home of syrah which is a progeny of the coupling of Duress and Mondeuse Blanche, two obscure grapes from southeastern France. It has made its way around the globe and is planted in places as far flung as the Barossa Valley in Australia and Red Mountain in Washington state. But syrah’s finest footing can still be found in vines firmly planted in the Rhône.
Paris acquired a plot of prime land from his uncle Robert Michel in the late 1990s and began his quest to produce the wines born in the vineyards of the rocky, steep hillsides of a natural amphitheater that sits above the village of Cornas. His land sits cheek-to-jowl with Clape and Allemand, two producers whose wines are synonymous with collectable Cornas. He produces less than 3,000 cases a year, and only about half of that under the “Granit” motif.
The Granit 30 and Granit 60 designations reference both the geologic composition of the soils, granite, and the gradient, in degrees, of the terraced hillsides where the grapes are sourced. The Granit 30 comes from younger vines, lower in the bowl, on 30-degree slopes. While the Granit 60 is made with grapes harvested higher on slopes that are as much as 60 degrees steep, from vines that are 60 years old. Consider that the steepest run of Highland Bowl, Be One, right down the middle tops out at 45 degrees. Obviously, with slopes that steep, the vines are tended by hand and the challenge is in the farming.
All of this – the terroir, the history, the labor – make it into each sip of the Vincent Paris wines and when you taste them there is a raw, but refined, style. The minerality of the stone, the chewy, meaty texture, the deep aromas of the darkest berries. These are wines of power and dignity. And, if you can find them they will not break the proverbial bank. The Granit 30 is in the $30 range and the Granit 60, appropriately is the $60 range.
While I initially believed that my three friends suggestions were coincidental, after thinking about it, and tasting the wines, I realized that this was kismet. A magical confluence of great palates coming together and sharing the same conclusion at the same time.
I was just a receptacle for their generosity. Lucky Me.
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