Cornas: the wine buff’s pal

This little-known region is producing stellar wines – get in now to impress your friends

While most of the time Bottle Opener scours the world’s greatest shelves and cellars to bring you the finest wines known to humanity, every now and then I like to choose something a little out of the way. Something that’s both worthy of serious consideration and will give you those all-important, wine-knowledge bragging rights at your next dinner party.

So how about a Rhône wine from one of the smallest appellations in France? A wine that’s big and bold and gets critics raving but few have ever heard of? You won’t find it at the supermarket or even on the groaning lists at Majestic. And it won’t strain your budget too far either.

The wine is Cornas from the northern Rhône. The name apparently means “burnt earth” in Celtic and comes from a tiny area of less than 200 acres north of Valence. Here, the Rhône swings westwards for a short distance and the hillside rears up, protecting the vines from the chilly north wind and baking them in the summer sun. Cornas is only ever a syrah and the entire region produces less wine than any single chateau in Bordeaux. Despite its lack of size, this is a wine of pedigree with Cardinal Richelieu reputed to be one of its fans.

In many ways Cornas is the second cousin of the great Côte Rôtie wines nearby, and both are the product of a geographic freak that allows the grapes to ripen in this relatively chilly region. Best of all, though, they cost less than half the price for a rich, purple wine that will chase the November drizzle away.

I was first introduced to Cornas by the Theatre of Wine, a London merchant that hosts highly enjoyable, flamboyant tastings. Its Cornas was the standout of the evening and I bought a case in 2010. The other day I opened some up to the general approval of all around the table.

Like other parts of the Rhône, Cornas has enjoyed a series of good vintages in recent years, with the 2009 and 2010 coming into their own now. The only trouble is where to get hold of the stuff, unless you fancy a gentle drive down the banks of the Rhône, tasting and buying from the winemakers direct. The Theatre of Wine lists one on its website, the Vincent Paris Granit 30 2010, which is excellent value at £25 a bottle and is in the more modern style that doesn’t demand many years of ageing.

As ever, Berry Bros can be relied on for a wide selection and it is a mark of Cornas’s growing popularity amongst Rhône enthusiasts that it now stocks more than a dozen growers and vintages. Of these I would suggest the Les Chailles Domaine Alain Voges 2011, which you can still buy en primeur £114 for six, although you’ll need to be patient for three or four years.

Cornas may not be the grandest of Grand Vin that the Rhône has to offer but it would provide some welcome comfort if we are indeed heading for the Arctic winter they’re talking about.

Theatre of Wine; 0203 490 2147; Berry Bros & Rudd; 0800 280 2440;

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