Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Cornas “Les Grandes Terrasses”
Please give this discovery a little extra attention: As familiar as the name “Jaboulet” may be, this limited-production Cornas is one of the rarest jewels in this historic estate’s broad-ranging portfolio. It is, alongside wines like their towering Hermitage “La Chapelle,” one of Jaboulet’s calling cards—a product sourced from heirloom vines which, like La Chapelle, cements Jaboulet’s reputation as one of the Rhône Valley’s Syrah masters. With “Les Grandes Terrasses,” they do rightful justice to the steeply pitched, meticulously terraced vineyards of sleepy Cornas, an appellation known for the gutsiest, most savory expressions of Syrah on earth—most of which are produced in eye-dropper quantities and priced accordingly. It’s a testament to the longevity and foresight of Jaboulet—an iconic label enjoying a quality renaissance under proprietor/winemaker Caroline Frey—that this quite-rare and quite-delicious Cornas comes in at such a fair price. It may be the best value in “collectible” wine we’ve offered all year—which is saying something, given how much time we devote to such wines. Proceed accordingly!
Cornas is one of the smaller appellations in the Northern Rhône, with only about 300 acres of vineyards in total on the west bank of the Rhône River. It is similar in terms of soil composition (decomposed granite) and exposure to Hermitage, which is not surprising given they’re only about eight miles apart; the slopes are seriously vertical, and thus impossible to mechanize, so the vineyards are, as in Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, kept in place by stone terraces (fun fact: “Cornas” is said to come from the Celtic for “burned land,” while Côte-Rôtie, of course, means “roasted slope”).
And when anyone first learns about historic Rhône Valley producers, Guigal, Chapoutier, and Jaboulet will undoubtedly be part of the reading material. Like Champagne’s “Grandes Marques” (e.g. Krug, Bollinger), these large maisons not only work with long-term contract growers in the valley’s greatest appellations but also maintain their own enviable collections of vineyards. In Jaboulet’s case, it’s about 120 hectares of estate-owned vineyards scattered throughout the Rhône, including a small collection of 60+-year-old plantings at their Domaine Saint-Pierre, in Cornas. There’s also, of course, another 20+ priced hectares in Hermitage, from which they source the fruit for the famed “La Chapelle.”
Although the estate’s sale in 2006 surprised the wine world, proprietor Jean-Jacques Frey and his family have done a tremendous job with the transition. His daughter, Caroline, oversees production today and was an immediate driver for organic and biodynamic farming, obtaining official certification many years ago. Her 2016 “Grandes Terraces” is not as massive as some Cornas bottlings in terms of its extract, but the flavors and aromas are plenty big: It displays a deep ruby-black hue moving to a garnet/magenta rim, with aromas that leave no doubt whatsoever that we’re in an elite precinct of the Northern Rhône: smoked meat, plump red berry fruit, red and black currants, blackberries, and oil-cured black olives. As the wine breathes, ethereal floral aromas of lavender, violets, Ethiopian coffee, and cocoa reveal themselves. As is typical of classic Cornas, there’s a dense iron and granite core, giving this bottle a palpable sense of power and torque.
For best results if drinking now, decant for 30-60 minutes and serve in large Bordeaux stems alongside a stick-to-the-ribs classic like cassoulet. Preparing a proper cassoulet takes time, and such is also the case with this wine—this 2016 is an investment as much as a beverage. It’s delicious and deeply satisfying now, of course, but its aging potential feels practically limitless. Hold onto a few and watch as the tannins melt away and the fruit deepens and evolves, leaving an increasingly aromatic, exotically spiced and savory/floral nose. It’s an ideal opportunity to explore the increasingly scarce beauty of properly aged Cornas. Don’t miss out!