Traditional Cornas is one of the great wines of the world. The region’s most famous domaines – Auguste Clape and Thierry Allemand – now sell for $150 a bottle and are destined to only increase. It is difficult to find traditional bottlings that are as affordable as those two great domaines were in the past. Enter the lesser known but highly respected Franck Balthazar.
Traditionalism and Heritage Clones
I was first introduced to the Balthazar wines in Lyon, at the great wine store Antic Wines. I was looking for old bottlings of Allemand and the store clerk pointed me in the direction of the Balthazar Chaillot, from vines planted in 1914 (the same vineyard that provides the fruit for one of Allemand’s storied bottlings). And it was ⅓ the price of Allemand.
The Balthazar domaine is fairly old for the Northern Rhone, dating back to 1931. At that time it was farmed by Franck’s grandfather Casimir (the namesake for this delicious cuvee) and was one of the first domaines to bottle its own wines.
The domaine has exclusively grapes from the old heritage clone “Petite Syrah” (not to be confused with Petite Sirah from the US (also spelled Petite Syrah by some California wineries such as Turley and known as Durif in France and Australia). This heritage clone is Syrah but has smaller berries and greater aromatic complexity than modern varities.
This traditional domaine farms organically with horse and continues a similar philosophy in the cellar with natural whole cluster ferments in concrete vats. Balthazar follows a similar technique to Clape in manually punching down the caps during fermentation (which I witnessed while visiting that domaine). Ageing is in used demi-muid barrels.
The Casimir bottling is a blend of two vineyards: old vines in Les Mazards and young vines recently planted by Balthazar in Légre. It is an elegant bottling of Cornas that has the rare aromatic complexity coupled with feral weirdness of great Cornas. It captures the inimical spirit of Cornas and, in my view, is one of the most affordable opportunities to taste truly great terroir-driven wine.
Excellent and Highly Recommended Value
$46 exclusively in Canada from Cellar Direct (email list only – www.cellardirect.ca). The 2014 vintage will be available in a future offer in the next several weeks.
[Note this is $40 USD from Rare Wine – the US importer]
*NOTE: This bottle of wine was received as a sample*