Cornas; the burnt earth and the black wine

I was sick last week. Sunday, I felt better and wanted take a walk in a vineyard. I went to Cornas. The vineyard inspired me to write about the appellation. I personally attach to the appellation because a good friend of mine is a vigneron of Cornas and his wine is a reason I became Sommelier-Conseil.

Cornas means “burnt earth” in old Celtic. The city is situated on the right bank of the Rhône, north-west of Valence and directly south of Saint-Joseph. It is the most southerly of the northern Rhône red wine appellations. Hermitage is only 7km away. Cornas is a small appellation. It has just 131 hectares of vines, located in south-facing semi-amphitheatre that protects the vines from cold winds. The vineyards are planted on granite-rich clay soils. The soil is primarily made up of decomposed granite, resulting in clayey sands.


Similarity to Côte Rôtie appellation, only red wines are made in Cornas. However, unlike other northern Rhône reds, it is made solely from Syrah grape, no addition of white grapes is permitted. The Cornas terroir is distinctive. It is the earliest-ripening of the northern Rhône and the first red to be harvested each year. The excellent terroir of Cornas brings out strengths of Syrah, and gives a “black wine”; a rich substance and very dark color. It is a strong and powerful wine. Cornas is, in fact, the boldest and most tannic of all the northern Rhône reds.

A young Cornas is dense and quite tannic. It is marked by aromas of red and black fruits, forest floor, spice and pepper. It has a slightly rustic and raw sensation. After five to ten years of ageing, the tannins soften and the wine reveals more elegant and complex character. It develops more aromas of animal (leather), tobacco or even truffles. Cornas delivers a subtle balance between powerful and structured, with flavors of blackberry jam, black pepper, violet, charcoal, smoke and licorice finish.

Ageging potential

5 to 20 years

Food and wine pairing
  • Lièvre à la royale (a kind of civet or salmis of hare)
  • Haunch of Venison
  • Daube of beef
  • Bleu des Causses cheese

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