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.

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EU regulators give up: rosé will remain rosé.

Now that’s some good news to start my wine week.

The European Union Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, announced today that the EU is giving up on its plan to allow rosés to be made from a blend of white and red wines. This commercially-minded regulation, which I’d written about with dismay in February, was explicitely aimed at making rosés that would be competitive in the Asian markets. Let’s say quality and tradition were not at the heart of that move. 

The rule – or lack thereof – was first supposed to be adopted in April, but the vote had been pushed back to June 19, after vignerons in France started agressively protesting it. A compromise was first proposed to allow the mention “traditional rosé” to be put on labels, thereby signifying that the wines had not been made from a blend of red and white. Fearing that a free-for-all would set in and that their craft would be discredited, vignerons rejected that as well, and the French agriculture minister came on side (although France had originally allowed the project to be put on the table). Italian and Spanish winemakers also came on board to protest, worried that the anything-goes approach would undermine rosé’s freshly acquired respectability. Pressure had been building recently, with columns appearing all over the world questioning the move.

Over the course of the debate, I read and heard from many people in the wine world who wondered what the fuss was about. Some pointed out that rosé Champagne can be made by adding a little red (from pinot noir) to white champagne – a notable exception to the current european ban on blended rosés. Others noted that many New World rosés are actually blended – and doing fine on the market.

Granted, blending white and red wine, besides being the butt of a very old joke, may not be a total horror. I probably drank a New World rosé that was a blend without knowing it. Surely, there are quaffable blended rosés out there.

What I can say, though, is that the best rosés I’ve had, the serious, truly delicious ones, were all made in the traditional way. That’s true in the New World too. A Donkey and Goat’s brilliant Isabel’s Cuvée, made from grenache gris grapes, is a fine example, with bright flavors, minerality and depth. Refreshing, but not just that.  And back in the Old World, try any Tavel, or a Chinon Rosé, or a beautiful rosé from pinot noir like Jean-Marc Brocard’s Bourgogne Rosé, which was our official usher of spring, at home, a few weeks ago, and had all the expansive aromatic qualities of pinot in a sunny, summery mode. I’ll surely raise a glass of something like that tonight, to celebrate.

As I do, I’ll also reflect on the capacity of European vignerons to get a regulation derailed, and to preserve their trade over industrial interests. And I’ll wonder about what would happen if Canadian vignerons got together to fight the awful Cellared in Canada category, where a minority of domestic wine blended with foreign wine of unknown origin and sometimes water is passed of as Canadian wine. And I’ll raise another glass to Seaton MacLean, of Prince Edward County’s excellent Closson Chase vineyards, who decided to fight this “clever con”. Here’s to real wine from real places.

Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South, just across the Loire

The North vs South theme I proposed for Wine Blogging Wednesday provides bloggers with certain guidelines (use the same grapes, so you can compare), but also with a lot of leeway. Thousands of miles of leeway, really.

If you wanted, you could pick similar wines from the other side of the world. The antipodes, really. Spanish vs New Zealand pinot noir. Or Finger Lakes vs Australian riesling. That’s as far apart as it gets.

I wanted to raise the challenge for myself (more…)

How do you make rosé? Add red wine to white wine (according to the EU)

This one really takes the cake. I mean, we’ve heard about a number of dumb things being done in Europe – and especially in France – to weaken and vilify wine.

Laws that prohibit just about every publicity about wine, and equate its online presence to pornography, a prohibitionist mood that seems to rival the American one from the 19th Century, new rules on appellations that are not exactly a boon for preserving the centuries-old identity of regions and vineyards… Things are not going great for this pillar of French culture, to use a euphemism. So much so that a recent survey showed that a majority of citizens judged that wine was “risky”.

But now, the whiz kids that are putting together wine regulations for the EU (more…)

Poetry in a bottle, and all the hard work that goes into it

Opening a bottle, pouring yourself a glass, sensing the complex aromas and flavors, the velvety texture: that’s the pleasure of wine.

But to get there, it’s good to remember just how much hard work has been put in by everyone that’s hard at work in the vineyards and cellars. As Wayne Young writes on the Bastianich Winery blog:

There’s  romantic misconception about the harvest… Grape Picking. Most people imagine lovely ladies in sun-dresses happily carrying their wicker baskets of beautiful fruit through the vineyards…

I would rather spend 8 hours in the cellar working with tanks and pumps and hoses, than 4 hours picking grapes. It’s messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work.

Wayne has been doing a great job giving a sense of what harvest is all about, by describing everything from the equipment and how it’s used to fermentation, grape varieties, the method of drying grapes by appassimento, wasp attacks and the quick onset of a storm, just as fresh grapes are waiting to be brought into the winery. In other words, (more…)

Death in the Vineyards

Reading the wine news, these days, it seems like the Grim Reaper is in harvest mode. Three significant figures have died in recent days: Didier Dagueneau, rebel vigneron from the Loire, Anthony Perrin, from Château Carbonnieux in Pessac-Léognan, as well as Bailey Carrodus, founder of Yarra Yerring, in Australia.

All three were credited with bringing their estates to the forefront, and being driving forces for improvement in the wines of their respective regions.

Beyond the sad news themselves, these deaths beg the question (more…)

WBW 49: Bush Goes, Maison Blanche Stays

Although it is, for me, a part of everyday life, wine is also a celebratory drink. A well-chosen bottle can be a great part of special occasions.

For instance, asked dhonig, the soul behind the 2 Days per Bottle wine blog, as the theme for the 49th Wine Blogging Wednesday: what wine would best to toast the end of the George W. Bush era in American (and heck, world) politics?

Facetiously, I immediately thought of Shiraz, since, (more…)

Champagne expansion: sober second thought

I’ve been very skeptical about the expansion of vineyards admitted into the Champagne appellation, which has caused quite a stir in the greater Champagne region. If more vineyards are being brought in, it has to do with business opportunities, of course, since demand for Champagne has been growing steadily in recent years, and producers want to sell more. For land owners, it’s also a great financial opportunity, as the value of land can increase hugely when its status changes.

Where does quality stand in that whole process? Not too far behind (more…)

Wine Blogging Wednesday #46: The Whiter Side of Rhône

White wines are certainly the neglected side of the Rhône vineyards. The reputation of the whites is greatly overshadowed by that of reds like Cornas, Côte-Rôtie or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

It might just be a question of math, mind you: according to official statistics, red wine represents 86% of total Rhône wine production. White is only 5%, a little more than half the production of rosé (9%). In Australia, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, all together, represent less than 2% of the total area planted in white varietals, according to government statistics (see page 17 of the publication). Same thing in California, where the 15,757 tons of viognier crushed in 2007 are the only noticeable white Rhône blip among the 1.37 million tons of white grapes produced in 2007 (see page 6 of the California Department of Agriculture grape crush report). I’m beginning to agree with James, who started a discussion on the Open Wine Consortium about the most underrated white varietals, and put roussanne as his choice of underdog.

Mind you, the varietals can be challenging. When overripe, they quickly get heavy, overly sweet and overloaded with tropical fruit. I know, some people might call that luscious and rich, but I find it all gets a little cloying. Which is why I appreciate the balance found in, say, (more…)

Another Kind of French Paradox

I’ve been pondering on two separate, yet related bits of news about the world of French wine.

1. The French Government wants to make French wine simpler.

Trying to compete on international markets with New World chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, France is creating a simpler category of plonk made without any geographical obligation. Called “Vignobles de France”, the category will allow varietals to be placed front and center on the labels, and allow winemaking practices like oak chips and added tannins. Also, it will be possible to make them with a varietal that is planted outside of its traditional region (you want to make a gewurztraminer in Pauillac? It’ll be a Vignobles de France). And you’ll even be allowed to mix wine from different regions.

Clearly, this is a wine industry decision, not unlike (more…)