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MWG December 14th tasting (4/4): Cornas × 4

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The final flight featured three private-import Cornas from a young, up-and-coming producer with a decade-older bottle from another winemaker thrown in for comparison.

Farmed organically since 2001 and biodynamically since 2002, Domaine du Coulet is a 13-hectare estate run by 30-something Matthieu Barret, who says his aim is to make vins 100 % raisin (100% grape-driven wines). His Cornas vineyards are terraced and face southeast. The soil is mainly old, decomposed granite locally called gore. The vines are pruned to produce low yields (no more than 25 hl/ha). The harvested grapes are fed to the fermenting vats by gravity, with a single daily punching down of the cap. After fermentation (with indigenous yeasts), the must is gently pressed to avoid extracting hard tannins. The wines are allowed to clarify naturally, without filtration or fining. Barrels are large (400 or 500 litres) and neutral (having been used for at least eight vintages). Since 2006, a little less than a third of each wine is matured in egg-shaped concrete vats. Sulphur dioxide (a mere 2 g/hl) is added only at bottling and only for bottles that will be shipped.

Alain Voge has been growing grapes on his family’s farm since 1959. In Cornas, the 6.5 hectares of Syrah vines are rooted in decomposed granite. Harvest is manual and on a parcel-by-parcel basis. The grapes are destemmed, then fermented in small stainless steel vats, with daily or twice-daily punching down of the cap. The resulting wine is matured from 14 to 24 months in barrels.

Cornas 2009, Billes Noires, Domaine du Coulet ($108.00, La QV, 6 bottles/case)
Like all Cornas, 100% Syrah. The vines here are, on average, 55 years old and located at the top of the Arlettes slope. The grapes were fully destemmed before fermentation, which lasted two weeks. Clarified by settling, then twice-racked into barrels. Maturation lasted 24 months, 12 of which were in 10-year-old 500-litre barrels and 12 in vats. 5,500 bottles made.
Deep nose of slate, blueberry, char, smoke and a hint of rubber. Rich and chewy in the mouth, the texture poised between velvety and silky. Spellbinding tension between fruit and acidity with sleek tannins in a supporting role. Tangy, slatey finish. Long, balanced and complete if a little austere at this youthful stage. A beautiful bottle. (Buy again? If I were a rich man…)

Cornas 2010, Brise Caillou, Domaine du Coulet ($57.50, La QV, 6 bottles/case)
The estate’s entry-level Cornas, designed to be more immediately accessible than traditional Cornas (should peak at around four years of age, according to the winemaker). A blend of old- and young-vine Syrah from all the estate’s vineyards except the tops of the slopes. Maturated 13 months in 400-litre barrels and egg-shaped concrete vats. 8,000 bottles made.
Bright nose of red and blue berries, spice, animale, polished leather, earth. More understated on the palate. Soft, smooth texture. Fine, faintly astringent tannins and vibrant acidity. Long, graphite-edged finish. (Buy again? Yes.)

Cornas 2009, Les Terrasses du Serre, Domaine du Coulet ($81.00, La QV, 6 bottles/case; a very few bottles of the reportedly graceful and accessible 2007 are available at the SAQ for $78.75)
The Syrah is from vines averaging 45 years of age and grown in the Arlettes, Reynards and Patronne vineyards. Fully destemmed before fermentation, which lasted three weeks. Clarified by settling before transfer into barrels. No racking. Matured 15 months in six- to ten-year-old 400- and 500-litre barrels and 600-litre egg-shaped concrete vats. 10,000 bottles made.
Fruit tending more toward cassis, slate, a hint of marzipan. Singular – the closest thing to an odd man out in this flight. Medium-bodied. Velvety yet supple texture. Pure, intensely flavoured fruit. Crunchy acidity and round tannins. Lingering smoke, slate, blackberry. The driest of the three Coulets. Initially seemed more about the surface but gained depth with an hour in the glass, so it may be passing through a phase. (Buy again? Maybe, though if making the investment, I’d be tempted to throw in another $25 bucks for a Billes Noires.)

Cornas 1999, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes, Alain Voge ($55.00 in 2004; a few bottles of the 2007 are available at the SAQ for $67.50)
Made from manually harvested grapes from various hillside parcels. The vines are at least 30 years old and rooted in old, decomposed granite. Vinified in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats, macerated four to five weeks, with daily punching down and pumping over. Matured 18 to 20 months in barrels, 20% new.
The most evolved and complex bouquet: forest floor, violet, animal, obsidian dust. Still vibrant, the dark fruit is tart and juicy, cloaked in tertiary flavours, pointed by fine acidity, underpinned by resolved tannins. Long, sourish finish. In a good place now. (Buy again? Moot but yes.)

A lovely flight. As a group, the Coulet wines were remarkable for the purity and clarity of their fruit. They’re also elegant, showing none of the chunkiness often associated with the appellation’s wines, especially in youth. At the tasting, it seemed to me their only downside was their relatively high prices. Yet in the days that followed, I found they had a rare length: I could – can – still taste them on my mind’s palate. Like only a very few wines, they’ve stayed with me – thinking about them causes my mouth to water – while in retrospect the Voge Vieilles Vignes seems less characterful and less memorable. So, I’m not so sure the Coulets are overpriced after all. And I’m convinced the estate is one to keep an eye on.

Written by carswell

January 17, 2013 at 13:09

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  1. […] Barret is the owner-winemaker at Domaine du Coulet, three of whose Cornases the MWG enjoyed in December 2012. The eponymous SARL is his crittertastic négociant label. This is 100% biodynamically and […]

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