There truly is no replacement for visiting the vineyards and meeting the winemakers in order to see exactly what it takes to produce the magic elixir we call wine. The northern Rhône Valley is a spectacular place and exceedingly small, considering some of the best-known versions of syrah in the world come from here. Winemakers the world over try their best to recreate syrah like Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Cornas, but nothing ever fits the paradigm of the original.
During the 2014 harvest, I was not only able to stare down the 80-degree slopes of Côte-Rôtie and truly comprehend what back-breaking labor it involves, but also sit and enjoy some historic wines with equally historic people of the region. Alain Voge, winemaker and local legend, was kind enough to join us for dinner at Jean-Luc Colombo’s house, perched high on the hill of Cornas.
Jean-Luc Columbo is also a champion of the wines of Cornas and creates some of the best versions himself. Under a downpour of thunder and lightning, Monsieurs Voge and Colombo took turns opening older and older versions of the wines of the region. A bottle of Voge’s 1998 Saint-Péray white wine, so youthful and fresh considering its age, forever changed my opinion of the Roussanne grape and its aging potential. We enjoyed this gem with mussels, freshly harvested from the Côte d’Azur just a couple of hours away, and later ate steaks with bottles of old Cornas.
Experiencing the blisteringly hot days, cool nights, and harvesting fruit in the vineyards of Saint-Péray and Cornas was a treat that can never be replicated. Without opportunities like this one, wine would simply be juice in the glass, as opposed to a true expression of the land and the people who work to craft this wonderful product. Even visits to regions in our own backyard bring to life the passion that goes into every bottle.