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We're happy to offer the very elegant, natural and terroir-expressive wines of Franck Balthazar in Cornas from this excellent vintage in the Northern Rhône. Balthazar is one of a small group of producers in Cornas practicing organic farming, whole-cluster fermentations and aging in used barrels, incuding growers such as Thierry Allemand and Domaine Lionnet along with Jean and Pierre Gonon, six or seven miles to the north in Saint-Joseph. Says drinkrhone.com " An STGT domaine (soil to glass transfer!). The wines express their place faithfully with tender winemaking in support. Old vine fruit is a key contributor, the base of the wines being the old family vineyard bought in 1930 on Chaillot. This is a classic example of Cornas that carries clear fruit and early tannins requiring 3-4 years to settle." We also appreciate that Franck vinifies and bottles with minimal use of sulfur, giving the wines outstanding purity and aromatic complexity. Beginning in 2012, the estate has produced a tiny quantity of Cornas from young vines made with zero-added sulfur (sans soufre ajouté) which is quite brilliant in the 2019 vintage. These are superb Northern Rhone Syrahs, traditionally made but in a natural style, free of excess sulfur and new oak - they are delicious young but will cellar beautifully as well - ten plus years for the "Sans Soufre," fifteen+ years for "Casimir" and 20 - 30 years for "Chaillot."
2018 and 2019 (and now it seems 2020 as well) are vintages marked by heat and dry conditions, the quality and character of the wines varying largely due to the levels of hydric strees in each vintage. drinkrhone on 2018 in Cornas: "What seemed like a poor, vexatious start to the year actually turned out to be a saving grace in 2018. The wet weather that provoked so much mildew in the Southern Rhone came when the vineyards at Cornas were less advanced, while La Bise (wind from the north) turned up after the rain to clean the vegetation, when the mistral down South failed to appear. Reserves of moisture in the subsoils rode to the appellation’s rescue in the second half of the growing season."
Franck Balthazar on the 2018 and 2019 vintages: "...there was a lot of rain from May until 12-13 June, then not one drop. It helped that it was rainy in 2018 until then. The vines were less stressed in 2018 than 2017 and 2019, so 2018 is a fresher year. It’s a vintage that gives more terroir than 2017 and 2019. I find 2018 is more floral than 2017, has structure since it’s a hot year, a yield of over 25 hl/ha." Thierry Allemand agrees: "2018 is rather fine, rounded...there's perhaps a connection to 2000 and 2004. The degree is 14° to 14.5°, 0.5° less than 2019. 2019 is comparable to 2005, 2009. The press will announce it’s a great vintage because it’s big in scale. It’s 0.5° higher in degree, nearly 15°, and its volatile acidity is higher, too, than 2018." I have to say that 2019s tasted at Domaine Pierre Gonon were sensational, but Jean Gonon offered a similar assessment: "2018s are more refined than 2019. The 2019s are more dense and deep, 2018s are more elegant, which we didn't really expect, the wines are balanced and very fine."
Quantities are extremely limited, 2 btls each of Sans Soufre please. (Balthazar and Allemand quotes are from drinkrhone.com by John Livingstone-Learmonth. Those of you seeking the most intelligent and in-depth reporting on all things Rhône should consider a subscription!)
One of the few "natural" winemakers in the northern Rhône, Frank Balthazar is certified organic and vinifies with wild yeasts and minimal sulfur, even producing a cuvée of Cornas without SO2. The Cuvée Casimir Balthazar is from 25% old vines in "Les Mazards" and younger vines in "La Légre." Balthazar's Cornas are aromatically beautiful with silky, pure fruit and terrific length and are never heavy or over-extracted. The 2018 Casimir Balthazar shows a dense red/black color, with elegant pure blackberry, cassis aromas with black olive, violet, smoke and stone and hints of spice, a bit closed from the recent bottling. The palate is dense and elegant, but not heavy, with firm tannins surrounding lovely pure black fruits with a core of minerals, earth and berry fruits. Beautiful wine - hold 3 to 5 years and drink till 2035. DL
From young vines in the vineyards of "La Legre" and "Les Cotes," whole-cluster fermentation, aged in old 600 liter casks, bottled un-fined, unfiltered and with zero added SO2. This wine is too rare to taste, so we again refer to drinkrhône: "lusty dark robe, purple on black. The nose is crunchy, black-fruited, comes with an air of Morello black cherry, blueberry, rose petal. This is fine grain Cornas, one with lovely purity, pinpoint accuracy, the tannins firming up the second half, with their fine grain, their change of texture. The fruit is cool, has a good strike of clarity. It gives a lot of iron late, is very interesting, a maximum naked wine, the fruit great. 14°. Bottled 14 Nov 2019. Drink until 2030-33"
We're very happy to once again have Cornas from Franck Balthazar in the store - organic farming, no nonsense vinifications with low or zero sulfur - some of the best work in the Northern Rhone. As we haven't gotten to the note, here's it is from our friend JLL at drinkrhone.com: "dark red; licorice features in an ebullient nose, with cassis, blue fruit present, smoky notes. The palate funnels dark, cool fruits, cassis to the fore, with roasting, toasting, firm tannins, a hint of violet. Near the finish it shows it is structured, firm Cornas, with good, clear fruit central to it. The fruit is notably active on the first half. It’s raw, promising, will fill out over time, has beaten the vintage heat. It needs leaving for three years. 13°. Drink until 2045."