Tasting Note : 1996 Cornas, Paul Jaboulet Aîné

I’ve long had a particular liking for the wines of Cornas, this supposedly toughest, most masculine appellation in the Rhône. I’ve always had a few bottles in my cellar, and was appalled when a scare over some of the oldest vineyards shook the region two years ago.

One of the first Cornas I cellared, shortly after I started putting away a few bottles, was the Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas – the regular cuvée, which had the advantage of being more affordable, allowing me to keep two of the 1996 on their side for the following decade.

The 1996 vintage was a significant year for the Jaboulet domaine, since it was the last worked by Gérard Jaboulet, the patriarch who had done so much to enhance the estate’s reputation over the previous decades. Gérard died suddenly in 1997, leaving the family in clear disarray. The quality of the wines suffered in the following few years, as many comments and reviews repeatedly stated.

The long-term result of that difficult period has been the purchase of Paul Jaboulet Aîné, a family operation for almost two centuries, by the Frey family, owners of Château La Lagune, among other properties. Only one Jaboulet, Frédéric, is still working with the company : seven were at the helm up to the sale, in 2006.

The sale has certainly meant an influx in cash. What it means in terms of quality and reputation will have to be seen over the next few year

In the meantime, I am finishing the last few bottles of Jaboulet wines from the Gérard era in my cellar, including a recent tasting of the second bottle of 1996 Cornas. I had tasted the first bottle a year ago, and written a tasting note on my French blog where I was perplexed at the rather reserved flavors and aromas it displayed.

This time was different. Animal smells jumped forward right after opening, blending afterwards with a lovely touch of licorice, some cedar, coffee, a touch of black fruit, and a bit of herbal notes. The licorice and cedar were the most noticeable flavors on tasting, with a pleasant mouthfeel that faded a bit on the finish.

Though this was a pleasant and complex enough cuvée, it seemed unlikely that the wine would have gained anything from staying longer in the cellar. The orange edges and the evolved set of flavors and aromas hinted that while it hadn’t faded, it was on the edge of doing so. Nothing like the 20-year minimum wait time that used to be touted by Rhône experts about the « black wines » of Cornas. Maybe that duration would be more appropriate for the Domaine Saint-Pierre of the same era, the best Cornas vineyard owned by the Jaboulet estates, or for the cuvées of top producers like Clape, Jacques Lemenicier, Vincent Paris or Mathieu Barret’s Domaine du Coulet, to quote a few. I guess I’ll still wait a bit before opening that 98 Clape…

P.S. : Thank you, Jancis !

I’d like to thank Jancis Robinson for her help with this post. Being away from my home, and without any reference books, I couldn’t find any trace of Gérard Jaboulet on the Jaboulet web site or just about anywhere on the web, and my memory was failing to remember the first name. How quickly someone of that stature can seem to be forgotten… I posted a tweet asking for help, and Ms Robinson was kind and generous enough to provide an answer in the next couple of hours. I promise to raise a toast to her with the next bottle of Jaboulet – or Cornas – I open.

A Christmas gift for Cornas

There must be a lot of cheer in the Cornas vineyards, these days. Especially around Les Mazards, one of the top sites in the appellation, where an urbanization project had been planned, much to the vignerons’ dismay.

I received an e-mail, yesterday, from the Association Cornas les coteaux d’abord, proudly announcing that the special commissioner who had been appointed by the government to examine the project to build appartments in the midst of 100-year-old vines in this remarkable vineyard, had given a negative opinion. The mayor, Gilbert Garnier, who had been promoting the project, (more…)

More news from Cornas

Here’s a short follow up on my two previous posts (here’s the first one, and here is the second one) regarding the Cornas municipality’s plan to develop the Les Mazards vineyards by ripping up 100-year-old vines and setting up buildings instead.

According to recent communications received from the Association Cornas les coteaux d’abord (Cornas vineyards first, literally translated), the fight is getting organized and being played out at the local, regional and political level. The Association is contesting the development plans submitted by the municipality, and has succeeded in getting a “commissaire enquêteur” (investigating commissionner – again, my poor translation) to come to Cornas for three days to hear what people have to say about the project. A local member of the National Assembly has sided with the association, and the region’s Conseiller Général is also coming to town this week to hear more about the situation.

It seems like a tough fight, though. The municipality seems to want to finalize approval for the project before the end of the year – which is also, interestingly enough, before the next municipal elections in March 2008. Lots of work to do in order to stop this: in total, 3.5 hectares of prime vineyard could be affected, it seems, and built up with 4-story buildings in an area where there are only individual houses, so far.

If you feel like joining in to this struggle to save these vineyards (including some by legendary producer Auguste Clape), you’ll find the instructions for adding your voice to the petition launched by the association or for writing the mayor of Cornas in my previous posts.

Published in: on September 3, 2007 at 10:56 pm  Comments (1)  

More about the Cornas struggle over Les Mazards vineyards

After writing my post, last week, about the Cornas mayor’s plans for erecting big buildings in the middle of his commune’s prestigious vineyards, I read more about the whole crazy thing on JancisRobinson.com. She mentions that you could join an e-mail petitition by simply writing to Vincent Paris, the copresident of the local producers’ association. The address is: vinparis@wanadoo.fr. And the e-mail should say something like:

Sauvez les Mazards! En tant qu’amateur de vin, je suis contre le projet d’urbanisation à Cornas.

Do include your name, address, e-mail address and, if you want, your profession.

I did write Vincent Paris, and he answered me with thanks, pointing out to me that Les Mazards is an exceptional site with hundred year old vines, and that he and his colleagues are ready to go to court, if need be, to make sure the project doesn’t go ahead.

So do join in, if you believe protecting such an exceptional patch of viticultural heritage matters. And even if you add your name to the online petition, that shouldn’t stop you from dropping an actual note, by actual post (you know, with stamps, paper, and all that stuff), to Gilbert Garnier, the mayor of Cornas. He apparently doesn’t have an e-mail address…

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 2:54 am  Comments (1)  

Cornas threatened by… Cornas?!?

I just read something unbelievable on a Vinography post by Alder Yarrow. Apparently, the mayor of Cornas has decided that he wants a 4 or 5-story building erected on a site called Les Mazards, in the middle of the top vineyard sites in this remarkable appellation. This decision would entail the construction of an access road through some of the best vineyards of Auguste Clape, one of Cornas’ most renowned producers. John Livingstone-Learmonth, probably the world’s greatest expert on the Rhône region, also rang the alarm about this situation.

Both suggest that a note can be dropped to the mayor of Cornas, Gilbert Garnier, to tell him a thing or two about this outrageous proposition. I’m certainly planning to put pen to paper and to send my thoughts to:

Monsieur Gilbert Garnier
Le Maire de Cornas
Mairie de Cornas
07130 Cornas
France

The situation is a useful reminder that the wine world’s greatest sites cannot be taken for granted, and that they are not immune from threats. A similar kind of fight has taken place in Margaux, in the Bordeaux region, against plans for a new highway that would have gone through this legendary appellation. Many excellent vineyards in lesser-known appellations will probably be ripped up as France and Europe try to resolve their overproduction (or is that underselling?) problem.

Local producers and wine-lovers have to rise up to protect and enhance such remarkable heritage which cannot be moved elsewhere. And the Syndicat des producteurs in Cornas is doing just that. So it’s certainly worth lending them a hand.