Grape(s): 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah
Localization: Rhone Valley, France
Tasting Notes: Magnificent dark red color that gives you the tone. On the nose, an expressive wine, very floral with a spicy touch. Mouth with a lot of freshness and fruit. Long finish on the fruit and the crunch.
Notes: The grapes for this wine are sourced from three hectares next to Vinsobres dans la Drome, farmed organically. The winemaking occurs in stainless steel, fermentation with wild yeasts, no filtration, and little SO2.
The Domain: The Balthazar domain dates back to 1931 when it was founded by Franck’s grandfather Casimir. René took charge in 1950 and followed his contemporaries Auguste Clape and Noël Verset into domain-bottling on a small scale in the 1970s. All the while he continued to sell most of his wine in-cask to the local cafés.
Franck now bottles all of his tiny production, made by methods little changed from those of his grandfather. Balthazar is so dedicated to the domain—and the traditional ways of his ancestors—that he plows his holdings with a horse. His approach in the cellar is just as “old school.” His time-honored regime includes whole cluster, native yeast fermentation in concrete vats; manual cap punching; and aging in old, neutral demi-muid barrels before bottling without fining or filtration.
The aging in demi-muid rather than the smaller pièce is fundamental to the domain’s philosophy. As René Balthazar told Rhône wine guru John Livingstone-Learmonth, “We raise the wine in 600-liter demi-muids because they keep the wine’s perfumes better than the 225-liter casks.”
A key to the superb quality and character of Balthazar’s Cornas is the domain’s great holdings. These include not only half-century-old vines in Mazards but a 1914 planting of Petite Syrah in the revered Chaillot vineyard, acquired from Noël Verset.
Balthazar is also slowly expanding the amount of land under vine. A true son of Cornas, Franck has created terraces and planted vines on previously overgrown land on the steep Légre slope above Sabarotte—demonstrating the Cornasien willingness to develop a backbreaking site for the reward of the aromas and flavors that only Syrah grown here can express.