The slopes of Cornas
For the last few decades, the wines of the Northern Rhone have become some of the hottest wines to get your hands on. Most of the wineries in the region are small, family run operations that have been passed on through the generations. The syrah that is being produced, in many cases, makes for fabulously complex wine.
On a recent trip to the Northern Rhone, the preconceptions I had about what it means to visit a winery were totally blown away. First of all, I tasted wine from barrel alongside the men who made them. It was a remarkable experience to gain an understanding of the evolution of a wine and also a rare glimpse into the future. Secondly, I learned that despite the popularity and fandom that these wines have, those making these wines are, to a large degree, primarily farmers. The care and passion that goes into hoeing the steep, terraced vineyards in the likes of Cornas, Cote-Rotie and Tournon is something to be admired.
Many of the winemakers explained their love for the backbreaking work that requires years of effort and care to produce the desired fruit. Some are also farming organically, which requires even more time working along the terraces, and the painstaking process shows through in the wines. Due to those steep slopes through the Northern Rhone, vines are forced to work harder to survive the heat and water runoff. As a result, vigneron must work their soils constantly and take care with pruning decisions given rising temperatures and climate change.
In addition to being farmers, these vigneron are also historians who pay homage to family and regional histories through their winemaking. One such producer, who is gaining acclaim in the region, is Guillaume Gilles.
He is working in the cellar previously occupied by Robert Michel and makes his Cornas by blending syrah from different parcels of the Chaillot area – Les Terrasses and Les Grandes Murs – to create a rounded, expressive wine. This is the traditional method of winemaking in the region, and something that Gilles did during his time at Domaine Jean-Louis Chave. While Chave is the biggest star in the region, Guillaume Gilles is making his own mark in impressive fashion. When those parcels are tasted separately from barrel, one can easily understand how the more floral, lighter Les Terrasses from higher on the slopes will soften the grippy tannins of the Les Grandes Murs, which comes from the middle of Chaillot.
Gilles also has a special affinity for his Cotes du Rhone bottling, Les Peyrouses. It comes from vines that were planted by his grandfather just after phylloxera, and in the flats just outside of the Cornas hills. He acquired the vines several years ago and at the time, they were not producing quality fruit. As a labor of love and in honor of his family, Gilles worked the soils organically, and now the fruit from these vines is not to be missed. This is a knock your socks off Cotes du Rhone. While it is priced on par with some Cornas wines, it is worth seeking out.
The Wines of Guillaume Gilles
2011 Guillaume Gilles Cotes du Rhone Les Peyrouses In the glass, this is so lovely and elegant, it manages to be full of depth and yet is light on its feet. A nose of violets, olive and hints of bacon fat. On the palate, there is vibrant salinity and rich texture. I also found beautiful acidity and integrated tannins combined with an incredibly long finish. Highly Recommend