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One of my most vivid memories of traveling in the Rhône Valley was a morning in 1992 in the cellar of Albert Dervieux-Thaize. He was climbing a ladder perched against an old foudre, pipette in hand, to get a sample of Côte-Rôtie "Vialliere," exclaiming loudly "Never, never, use new oak with the Syrah." Unfortunately, in our opinion, this lesson was lost by the next generation, and the number of growers now aging their wines in 100% used barrels is quite small. If one counts those fermenting with wild yeasts and mostly whole clusters, the group becomes smaller still, and if we search for those growers who are organic or biodynamic certified we wind up with a very small group indeed, including Domaine Pierre Gonon, Thierry Allemand (not certified?), Eric Texier, and Franck Balthazar in Cornas. (I'm sure we've missed some and of course there are exceptions we love, such as Jean-Pierre Monier in Saint-Joseph - a great biodynamic estate that mostly destems.)
This brings us to the beautiful Cornas of Franck Balthazar in 2015. The vintage was marked by warm and sunny conditions for much of the year, although dryness retarded maturities for some growers in the Northern Rhône. A bit of rain in mid August helped - Thierry Allemand started picking on August 29th, apparently with superb results, although few of us will get to taste them! Balthazar, Gonon and most others waited to pick after rains in September that helped the maturation and the results have confirmed 2015 as an excellent vintage, with deep ripe fruit, firm acidities and good structure for aging. We have previously offered Balthazar's 2015 Cornas Sans Souffre and Cornas "Cuvee Casimir" both of which are sensational wines for early drinking and mid-term aging. Given the reasonable price, the 2015 "Casimir" is certainly one of the best values of this vintage in the Rhone.
We are now offering the superb 2015 Balthazar Cornas "Chaillot," from vines planted in 1914, with a small percentage from "Mazards" planted in 1960. There is an approximately 18 month elevage in five-year and older 600 liter casks and the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered with a small dosage of SO2. The 2015 shows old-vine intensity and terroir expression along with the beautiful ripeness of the vintage. While other "highly rated" 2015 Northern Rhônes will be unavailable and insanely expensive, the Balthazar "Chaillot" represents a unique opportunity to obtain a outstanding, traditionally made wine that will cellar beautifully at a reasonable price. For the moment, surprisingly, case quantities are available, with our normal 10% discount. (The wines will be available for pick-up or shipment on Monday 10/23)
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 2015 Casimir Balthazar shows a dense red/black color, with elegant pure blackberry, cassis aromas with violet 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 beautiful core of minerals, earth and berry fruits. The finish is all stone and juicy acids. Beautiful wine - hold 5 to 8 years and drink till 2035. DL (last of stock)
This is a great Cornas and certainly one of the best wines of this very good vintage in the Northern Rhône. Franck Balthazar is one of the few truly organic and natural producers in the region and, like the Gonons, he practices whole-cluster fermentations with wild yeasts and ages in old (5 years and older) large barrels. The "Chaillot" cuvée is from vines planted in 1914, with a small percentage from "Mazards" planted in 1960. There is an approximately 18 month elevage and the wine is bottle unfined and unfiltered with a small dosage of SO2. The 2015 shows old-vine intensity and terroir expression along with the beautiful ripeness of the vintage. The wine is a very deep red/black color with elegant aromas of blackberry and red currant liqueur with violet, pepper, roast meat and earth, The palate is intense and densely structured with mineral and black fruit flavors, black olive, graphite and licorice. Very elegant with perfect acidity and firm tannins with slightly bitter black fruits and mineral flavors in the long finish. This is a classic, unforced, unspoofilated Cornas that will age beautifully, best perhaps 2025 to 2040. Highly recommended. David Lillie The 2015 Chaillot from Balthazar displays the ripeness of the vintage, with pure black fruit and violet aromas, with hints of Malabar peppercorn, garrigue, and game. The densely-fruited palate offers flavors of blackberry, ripe plum, and cassis, with savory notes of meat and granitic spice enveloping a vibrant core of minerality. The interplay of pure fruit, bright acidity, and firm, ripe tannins bodes well for long aging. This should be magnificent with 7-10 years in the cellar. A truly beautiful Cornas! John McIlwain