2021 may have been a challenging vintage for winemakers in Cornas but, on first tasting, the Domaine Colombo Cornas 2021 wines themselves have a fresh approachability that will be a hit with Rhône fans. Colombo’s Fanny Fouché showed Peter Dean the 2021 wines, explained the vintage and showed some older vintages over a classic French bistro lunch at legendary Soho drinking hole The French House.
“You could argue that with a producer renowned for making polished wines, difficulty with the vintage has given the wines a bit more of an edge and immediacy,” writes Dean about the Domaine Colombo Cornas 2021.
2021 was a challenging vintage in Cornas, the most challenging since 2008. Fanny Fouché from Domaine Colombo did not say that they had become complacent about picking perfectly ripe fruit, except she sort of did. “Every year we look at these perfectly ripe bunches, cut them and put them in the basket. 2021 was much more about sorting.”
Also problematic for an organic producer such as they was the extra amount of work in the vineyards generally. Where normally they have to complete half a dozen treatments in 2021 this was a dozen – each one carried out on foot with a backpack weighing 25 kilos, wearing a mask. Every vine in 13 hectares of Cornas and 3 hectares in Saint-Peray had to be sprayed 12 times
2021 was the organic winemaker’s nightmare – a cool spring, cool summer and rainy September. Colombo started picking on September 20 and attempted to do a quick harvest, the fact that they still picked an average yield (despite not making top cuvée Vallon de l’Aigle) is credit to the team. As for the wines, they are approachable, surprisingly so for tank/ barrel samples from Cornas. Gone are the days when you almost had to dunk a Carrs water biscuit in a young Cornas, here the ripe tannins were well integrated with 2021 being fresh, drinkable and easy-to-comprehend. You could argue that with a producer renowned for making polished wines a bit of difficulty with the vintage has given the wines more of an edge and immediacy.
In recent years Colombo has changed its ageing regime to facilitate this – it has reduced the amount of new oak it uses to one third, and the wines spend less time in barrel, being bottled before the summer rather than in September (two years after harvest) as was customary.
With Colombo wines that are made with 100% estate fruit, the bottles now read Domaine Colombo, these wines representing 10% of the estate’s 1 million bottle annual output. Laure, Jean-Luc’s daughter, helps with the total winemaking process on the estate wine and has her own estate. Fouché revealed that there is some friendly rivalry over winemaking methos with Laure wanting to use whole bunch in the Domaine Colombo wines and Jean-Luc preferring not to as he believes they bring too much potassium into the wines.
Alas the tasting missed the rumbustiousness of Jean-Luc, suffering from ill health, but his executive assistant Fanny Fouché deputized well, aided by the Gallic charm of Soho’s The French House. This landmark watering hole, which was the home of the French Resistance during WW2, has not been used for wine events to my knowledge but it was a winner, and better suited to Domaine Colombo than the starched clubs of Pall Mall where the last two lunches have been held.
Chapeau to chef Neil Borthwick and the team of Jazz and Terry who produced the most delicious classic Old School cooking that proved that French cuisine is alive and well and living in England. Gougeres, salsify in filo, salt cod beignets wit aioli, whole confit garlic bulbs on sheeps’ curd toast, scallops, followed by daub de boeuf and marrow bone, with Comté, Tomme and Stilcheton to fill in any gaps.
So how were the new Cornas 2021s?
Cornas Terres Brulées 2021
This multi-vineyard blend from vines with an average age of 40 years is a traditional style entry level Cornas. Open, generous, fresh, clean and pure – firm acidity carrying the sweet berry fruit – cranberry and plum – with a touch of blackberry Chewit.
Cornas Les Ruchets 2021
The first of the single vineyard cuvées tasted from 80-year-old vines. The fruit is grown on decomposed granite soil, with a distinct ferrous quality coming through on the palate. Fresh, open and fruity with notes of blackberry, black cherry and plum. Again, this wine was very approachable (the nose showing a bit of barrel sample funk), sleek almost, with oodles of plum, fresh, integrated ripe tannins and a liquorice note on the finish. 8,000 bottles produced each vintage.
Cornas La Louvée 2021
Clearly very young indeed with the nose having fresh wood and cheesecloth notes that will disappear in bottle. This is a terrific South-facing vineyard, with 70 year old vines, that always produces wines of great power and elegance with long-lasting potential. Ripe, generous and juicy with oodles of red cherries and an inky finish. 5,000 bottles produced each year
Cornas Vallon de l’Aigle 2020
The estate’s top cuvée from a high, steep-sloping multi-aspect site. This is only made in the best vintages (2020, 2018, 2015, 2013, 2011) and is very limited in production (6-700 bottles). There was none made in 2021 with the fruit being used in Terres Brulées. Always a step up in the range with wonderful complexity, freshness and register on the palate. Tastes amazing with plenty of years ahead of it.
Wines shown over lunch
Saint Péray La Belle de Mai 2021
A pretty fruit-driven 60/40 Rousanne/ Marsanne blend, aged for 10 months in barrel with little batonage used – waxiness brought by the Marsanne with poached pear and fennel notes. Delightful. Interestingly Saint Péray was 18 hectares five years ago and is now clocking 120 hectares. An appellation to keep track of.
Cornas Les Ruchets 2018
A great vintage for Northern Rhône and it shows – terrific fresh power, great balance and just entering its drinking window.
Cornas La Louvée 2015
My favourite of Colombo’s wines as it takes on such complexity with age but never seems to lose the freshness of the site. This was full and ripe, the September rain in the vintage bringing freshness and balance. Masssive power and concentration but deftly reined-in alcohol with 13.5% which many of the Southern Rhône producers would be good to match.
The wines of Domaine Colombo are distributed in the UK by Mentzendorff which is a commercial partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.