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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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…)

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)  

Bio-in-a-box

 When I was in Sweden, earlier this summer, I tasted a very pleasant Primitivo that my brother-in-law Niklas served from a three-liter bag-in-a-box. We drank the box over three or four days, and the wine, of course, stayed fresh throughout that period of time. Logically enough, since oxidation was essentially avoided.

Systembolaget, the Swedish wine and spirit monopoly, sells a large selection of wines in bag-in-box format. It’s in all likelihood popular because of the high price of wine in Sweden (less waste, less weight on transport, etc.), but also because the Swedes are more accustomed and more favorable than North Americans to convenient yet not-so-aesthetically-pleasing containers, as shown by the many high-end food products that come in “toothpaste tubes”.

In Quebec, meanwhile, there is hardly a decent wine available in the box format. So much so that it has become a pejorative thing to talk about wines in a “vinier”.

Although there is one exception.

At Le Moine échanson, a great wine bar in downtown Quebec City, I tasted a remarkable organic wine served from a 5-liter box. It was from the Domaine de l’Ocre Rouge, a vineyard run by Aymeric Beaufort in Dions, in the Gard, at the southern end of the Rhône Valley region. Grenache dominates the blend, but there’s no huge fruity and cinnamon-spice mouth there, as found in so many other places. Deceptively pale, it delivers a well fleshed-out range of flavours, with fresh earth and garrigue aromas on the nose, if memory serves. For a small restaurant like Le Moine échanson, it is a great formula, since it prevents wines served by the glass from going bad before the bottle’s done.

Form is nothing, the wine says it all. And it says it real well.

I’d gladly take my daily wine from a box, if it was anything like the Ocre Rouge or the primitivo I had in Stockholm.

By the way, a tasting note found on the web allowed me to learn that Aymeric Beaufort is the son of Jacques Beaufort, a Champagne producer that turned to organic winemaking after conventional methods (pesticide in particular) began to give him severe allergies, around the beginning of the 1970s.  His enthusiasm caught on so well that it carried on to the next generation. Three cheers for that!