1991 René Balthazar Cornas


The Northern Rhône is a region that I would like to know better. There is too little time with Burgundy and Bordeaux under my charge, so I look forward to future reports from my colleague, Nicolas Greinacher. A recent Riesling/Syrah-themed dinner was bejeweled with exquisite bottles and fodder for several Cellar Favorites. This one caught my eye. Balthazar is not a producer I know well, though friends speak highly of their wines, including recent vintages made by René’s son Franck, who took the reins in 2002.

The 1991 Cornas epitomizes everything I adore about mature Northern Rhône, especially in this fecund vintage. To the best of my knowledge, this precedes the estate bottling, the Chaillot, as a separate cuvée and was aged in 8 to 10-year-old _demi-muids_. Showing modest bricking on the rim, it is relatively light in color for a Cornas. The bouquet is a spectral beauty and unfurls with vestiges of brambly red fruit, decaying autumn leaves, wild hedgerow, morels and a touch of bay leaf. It is paradoxically light, but there is real depth to the aromatics. The palate is fully mature, with melted tannins, yet it continues to exert a gentle grip. There’s predominantly red fruit: wild strawberry and raspberry intermixed with subtle tobacco and dried blood, irony notes. It is utterly harmonious and sensual towards the finish, coveting its rustic charm and leaving you entranced. Bottles were originally sold inexpensively, though they are highly sought after nowadays. If you are lucky enough to own a bottle of 1991, it is probably at its peak now. 94/Drink 2024-2034.

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