Whether you choose to call it Syrah or Shiraz, the grape produces some darn good wines. Known for its dark, pigmented skin and production of medium-full bodied wines, Syrah produces an array of flavorful wines depending on where in the world it’s growing. Today, we’re focusing in on a small appellation in Southern France that’s a bonafide mecca for the grape variety. Lovers of Syrah, this one is for you. This week’s Appellation Appreciation is dedicated to the motherland of the grape, Cornas.
Located in France’s Northern Rhône Valley, just south of the city of Lyon, Cornas is known for its stellar Syrah production: in fact, Syrah is the only variety permitted throughout the entire appellation. It’s true – the approximate 115 hectares of the entire appellation are dedicated solely to this vibrant variety, producing sophisticated wines full of texture and spicy earth. The name ‘Cornas’ comes from the Celtic word for burnt earth, first revealed in written sources from the region from the ninth century. The region officially received its appellation title in 1938, just a few short years after the French AOP system was established.
Cornas experiences a continental climate, avoiding the effects that the Mistral winds bring to other areas in the region. The appellation is comprised of steep slopes, comprised of rocky and sandy soils. The Syrah-based wines of Cornas are unique from other Northern Rhône appellations because of its exclusive use of Syrah; other appellations permit minimal additions of regional white grapes, though Cornas remains the exception. Wines are generally full-bodied and earthy, undergoing some sort of oak aging; a few years in bottle is generally necessary before consumption, as Cornas Syrah in its youth can be pretty tannic and harsh. However, with a little time and patience, the region produces some of the purest, most exhilarating expressions of Syrah in the world.
Some popular producers of Cornas wine include Auguste Clape, Alain Voge and of course, legendary winemaker Thierry Allemand. Lovers of Syrah, spicy full-bodied reds or the Rhône in general, we recommend grabbing a special bottle or two from one of the above, laying the bottles down, and revisiting in 5-10 years to experience the magic of an aged bottle from this unique, beloved French appellation.