Cornas is one of the three great appellations of the Northern Rhone. Its status as great perhaps is not as exalted as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Whereas Côte-Rôtie is prized for its elegance and Hermitage for its power, Cornas is thought of as being somewhat rustic.
This does not have to be the case. Jean Lionnet (now retired) made squeaky clean, high grade Cornas under the label Domaine de Rochepertuis (although I would suggest you avoid his final vintage, 2005, of which I bought a shed load. It has not aged gracefully; it has dried out and generally fallen apart).
Even the flag-bearer for the appellation, Domaine Clape, is nowhere near as rustic as they were when I first tried their wines (a long time ago). These days a dose of the Clape is a polished and refined experience.
This wine, a kind gift from major Elitistreview supporter Keith Prothero, is made by Vincent Paris, whom I have always thought of as a relatively new style Cornas producer. The bottles I have tried have largely been quite polished and clean. They have been enjoyable Cornas experiences.
In case you do not know much about the 2011 vintage in the Northern Rhone, it is generally thought of as a forward vintage that does not require much age. I have heard from M. Clape that the best wines will age and improve for the medium term. Given these factors, this wine should be up for drinking and showing well at eight years old.
This wine has some aromas of grilled meat, and dark, soft plums. These are good signs for a Cornas that is mature.
It is not overly alcoholic, there is no messing around with new oak. It is a maturing Syrah from Cornas.
However, describing these characteristics are really ignoring the elephant in the room.
Monsieur Paris has made a wine that smells of shit to an outrageous degree.
It is true! It is utterly disgusting! It is not just mildly dirty but really reeks to high heaven of some peculiarly overt kind of shit. I am reminded of when my father had purchased several sacks of horse shit and mixed them with the rotting grass on his compost heap to really get his vegetable patch growing impressively big ones. This horrific stench is what I imagine the poo of vegans smells like.
So why does this smell of poo? Simple answer, M. Paris has practised filthy winemaking and his fermentation vats have been overrun with the yeast Brettanomyces, usually shortened to Brett.
Brett is a yeast that is used to make beer, and not all of them are pongy, brown and insipid, some you can drink quite happily. However, when this yeast, which naturally occurs on grapes from time to time, is not cleaned off them and it plays a part in winemaking fermentations, it literally results in wines that stink of shit. This wine stinks of shit.
This is obviously a problem – shit does not smell particularly toothsome (particularly the poo of vegans’, I would wager). Beyond that pretty bad fault, Brett also causes uneven ageing rates between bottles of the same wine. A case of Brett-infected wine will have some bottles that mature relatively slowly and some that reach maturity at varying faster rates. When I think of these wines maturity I am trying to fight off the memory of how the horse dung mixed compost smelled as it matured. Oh lordy.
Now, you will note I have said this wine smells of poo. I have not eaten poo, not today at the very least. Consequently, given what this wine smells like, this should be an education.
Hell’s donkeys, that tastes furiously disgusting. There are hints of pepper and plummy fruit, but they are masked by something that tastes like my father’s horse poo-cum-compost mixture smelled like. It is really, really horrible! If this is what poo tastes like I will never give coprophilia a try just for shits and giggles, for want of a better phrase. No, this wine is terrible.
I can forgive a hint of Brett in Domaine Tempier Bandol from the 90s and earlier. In every single other wine, natural wines included, it is a fault. This wine has been made badly and it is flawed. Poor Mr Prothero has paid for a bottle filled with liquid poo (I want that image out of my head NOW) and then passed it on to me to assess.
I think it is shit.