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Compelling Cornas carries the day

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Kelley O'Neill, Jason Wentworth, Jay Reed

The shelves of many wine shops are currently overflowing with dozens of industrially produced, inexpensive wines made from the grape called Syrah or, alternatively, Shiraz. It is easy to forget that this same grape is responsible for some of the world’s finest wines in its classic homeland, France’s northern Rhône river valley. In this region, it is the only red grape allowed for the production of wine.

The two most famous red wines of the northern Rhône are Hermitage and Côte Rôtie (“roasted slope”). Produced from grapes grown in some of France’s most steeply sloped vineyards, they are frequently of a quality to rival Bordeaux’s First Growths and Burgundy’s Grand Crus. They are, unfortunately, both rare and expensive, with most examples costing from $100 to $300 per bottle or more.

Fortunately, fine red wine from the northern Rhône’s less famed vineyard areas is increasingly available. The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted a group of wines from three of these areas: Cornas, St. Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage. The latter is sometimes confused with the more renowned Hermitage. Named after the village Crozes, it is a larger area than the steep hill called simply Hermitage, and consists of much flatter terrain.

As a group the wines were consistently above average, exhibiting the typical blackberry-like fruit typical of northern Rhône reds. While nearly all of the wines were above average in quality, one wine truly stood above the rest, receiving first place votes from each of Northside’s tasters. The Vincent Paris 2009 Cornas “Granit 30” ($42 per bottle) is a notably fine wine with a stunningly elegant bouquet and spicy dark fruit flavors that are full and rich, yet not at all heavy.

Paris, who’s made wine only since 1997, is part of a group of younger winemakers in Cornas who are improving that area’s wine, which in the past has frequently been rustic and aggressively tannic. His “Granit 30” is so named because of the average age of the vines that produced it and the granitic soil in which they grow. For a memorable splurge, try this exquisite wine with a juicy steak, roast duck, or a warming meat or mushroom casserole.

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