Monday, January 5, 2009

Jean Luc Colombo - In His Own Words - Seminar/Tasting Of " New " & " Old " Releases Of Cornas " La Louvee " & " Les Ruchets " '91- '04

This was quite the event , perhaps one of the most successful and well-attended that I have ever been a part of here in Washington D.C.

This seminar/ vertical / tasting of Jean Luc Colombo's wines on Thursday, October 5th, 2006 of Jean's two " old-vines / vieilles vignes " LES RUCHETS and LA LOUVEE red Cornas wines was quite revealing for me and an experience that I am thrilled to have had.

Also, I got the chance to finally meet Jean Luc and that, too was quite inspirational for me. On my walk earlier today I have had a chance to reflect back to this vertical tasting ( 1991-2004 ) and to meeting Jean Luc. If I have to say what I remember first it is the man and then his superb wines.

Funny, isn't it. I mean it's probably the wines that people recall first because they have never met the man behind them. True, the wines are exceptional and well-worth taking the time to find and taste. But the man, too - Jean Luc Colombo himself is quite exceptional. He's a visionary and on his own path and for that I give him the highest kudos I can.

From listening to Jean Luc speak throughout this whole vertical tasting I never lost track or focus on the man and his vision. He does not seem to have wavered, either. It seems as if his vision is as simple and true as possible.

Jean Luc respects Nature and the climate,weather,terroir of each and every growing season. He does this implicitly. He does not attempt to alter a thing from what I heard him say. He works with what fruit each growing season gives him. He does not try and change a thing : he does not intervene and water and shelter or alter anything. His respect for each growing season is as close to 100% as is humanly possible I believe.

This, what he is dealt with each year - those grapes that are harvested - are what Jean Luc and his team have to work with and from this they try and mirror in the wine they create a red liquid that mirrors as closely as possible that period of vines growing, buds forming, grapes ripening and their " being " ; these vines adapting and modifying and producing on their own a harvest of only Syrah grapes all grown in granite soil.

It took me awhile to fathom all of this as Jean Luc spoke quickly, passionately, directly, trying to answer questions, too. I wrote like a mad man and I will soon include these words of Jean Luc's as I think that they really tell the story of Jean Luc and his wines much better than I can.

I also took a number of pictures of all of this as the event progressed at the old Barcelo Hotel on P Street N.W. just off of Dupont Circle. We were all forty or so of us, perhaps fifty or so seated in a conference room. There were plenty of glasses and properly designated, water and French baguettes, too. There was even some cheeses I believe.

Many people were there that I knew well and recognized like Ben Giliberti and Janet Cam, John Pollis and John Linette and many more. Jean Luc had his whole staff, too from David in New York to Pascal Salvadori here in Washington D.C. and a lady Laura, too I believe from Florida. There was no shortage of people on hand to make this the resounding success that it was.

Of course saying all this the thing that made it truly the grand achievement that it was was first Jean Luc himself and then these magnificent old vines single-vineyard Syrah red Cornas wines.

I would like to attend more tastings like these. I realize that they cost a fortune to conduct but the lasting effect of this one on me will probably stay with me all of my life.

Here are the notes I wrote quickly from Jean Luc's mouth as best I could write them quickly as he certainly did not pause long as he spoke first about the history of Cornas and the vines and then later specifically about each of these individual years and two old-vines Syrah Cornas reds of his.

" ... very few producers of Cornas. They all know each other ; old-style, family, hospitality. 130 hectares - area of Cornas : wild, steep, small lots of forest/garrigue - foxes, wildlife. Has to be 100% Syrah. Cornas wine is only 5% of the Rhone Valley; only grown in granite soil. There is limestone in Cornas, too but that is not accepted to call Cornas. Granite is very porous - crush in hand / like in Condrieu ... "

Of course Jean Luc would stop and ask if there were any questions. If not he would continue rapidly as time was precious now.

I wrote down : "50% wine-making / 50% consulting ( Jean Luc also consults ) - needs eight days in a week. Consults in Saint Emilion.

Then Jean Luc asked three of the most important questions / issues of the event :

" What is a vintage? "

" Water or the vintage? "

"Irrigate or not? "

These are heady questions indeed.

He continued :

" Irrigation is new - last twenty years. "

" Water helps make all the vintages. More close ( and here he drew for us a more controlled, tightly-knit grape- I mean graph! - line squiggle ) instead of ( again here he drew the erratic, larger, crazier graph line on his chart ) . "

He made his point quickly. It's now , later upon reflection that it really sinks in. He had so much to share and impart to us that it was almost too much. What can you do? I was happy with it, you didn't hear me or anyone else complaining.

We discovered, too that Jean Luc is an avid wine collector. He's a real rebel in Cornas.

He says :

" It's about clean wine-making. I like this long cork. Beautiful cork. Anyone want to smell my cork? "

( And at this point he found some and passed them up into the group of us seated ).

" It's a beautifully-smelling cork " he adds. Ben, everyone laughs.

It was Ben Giliberti that had asked him the question why he uses such long corks and why he puts his Cornas in the Bordeaux-shaped bottles and not the classic Burgundy/Rhone shaped bottles? This is how all that got started. You would have had to have been there to get the full effect/feel of this marvelous time we all spent in his company and in that of his transforming wines.

Jean Luc answered Ben's question by saying that he uses Bordeaux bottles because :

" you cannot use a long cork on a Burgundy bottle ".

He also said that the long corks were :

" good for long cellaring ".

Jean Luc went on :

" Vintage is respect of Nature, sun, and water - not terroir. No one talks about irrigation, only about organic ".

Jean Luc had a lot to offer about organic farming practices, too. I did not record them unfortunately but he can add that here in a comment later if he wishes after reading this.

I met Jean Luc as I dashed into the reception area just outside the conference room where the tasting was to be held. I was rushed and a touch frantic to get there on-time. I spied Pascal and quickly said : Hello " and asked him where Jean Luc was?! I wanted to meet him. I wanted to be sure to do this before time got away from me and there was not another chance. I'm a bit of a kook about this realizing that after so many important tastings that I just missed meeting the principles. As it was Jean Luc was close-by and Pascal introduced me to him.

I started to speak French with him and we had a few minutes of quick conversation as people continued to arrive. I took some close-ups of Jean Luc and asked him to sign my own personal book. I'm glad that I did. I did not have much more of an opportunity after this and once he finished the vertical tasting it seems as if he was whisked off to catch a plane to go to some other city to perhaps repeat a similar version of this vertical tasting? Anyway, he was gone in a wink and that's just how it often is.

I wrote in French what I was feeling towards the end of this tasting : " Quel experience rich et plein du vie / fantasie / possibilites pour moi! Merci! C'a me plais. Je pars avec une richesse des gouts / sentiments enriches par vos vins Jean Luc! Merci ... "

Both Jean Luc and Laura spoke about the " La Louvee " and the " Les Ruchets " 1005 old-vines Cornas reds from 1991-2004. Here are my notes as best as I can transcribe them for you : some of my own impressions along with those of both Jean Luc and Laura. I will try and keep them separate for you. It has been a long time since this tasting and it is long-overdue that I finally commit them to this blog page of mine.

LA LOUVEE CORNAS 2004 : "Very fine vintage ( the one I currently still have at Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits ( 3423 Connecticut Avenue N.W. Washington D.C. 20008 Tel : 202-363-4265 ) where I manage the wine department with Mike Martin ) : bright vintage, lots of sunshine - blue fruit- blackberries / smoked meat, beef jerky, get chocolate, sweet vanilla, baking spices. 24 months in new French oak. " These are all I believe Jean Luc's comments. : Granite smell, too. Wet rock, profound granite smell for something so young. Open fruit, sweetness, super blue fruit ripeness ; sweet tannins, very drinkable now. Lovely, elegant, refined. 80% new barrels. " I added those last couple of comments, sounds like me.

Jean Luc went on to say : " Colors consistent, deep-purple/opality of Syrah ". Jean Luc's grandfather is famous chef Paul Baucuse. Jean Luc is also a chef, he loves Paris.

The wines had all been open at 1:30 PM ( for two hour's before the tasting ).

LES RUCHETS CORNAS 2004 : " More florality, roses ; thicker, richer, less open bouquet ( than the LA LOUVEE ). Lots of bacon. More closed, more structure. Ripe fruit, untamed. Bigger, rounder, more accents of acidity ; a lovely menthol, eucalyptus mint... a lovely rustic, forest, smoke-flowers... less ready, needs food. More tannin in the finish " Jean Luc said as he smelled and tasted the wine with us. " Think about the aromas, tannins, ... vin du gard ( wine to keep ) " Jean Luc finished. It was bottled the beginning of September.

LES RUCHETS CORNAS 2001 : " Black fruit bouquet - a ton of smoke. Flinty, flaky cinnamon & violets ( I like the nose! I wrote, and added : such k=lovely creamy dusty dry sweetness ) ... Really powerful, compelling nose, very powerful, velvety. Very balanced ripe petals, violets, granite. Very young. Will live very long time. More mature than the 2004. " Then Jean Luc added : " Juniper, pines growing everywhere. Elegance ". The vineyards were reshaped by Jean Luc. I gave it three stars as a rating.

Laura was introduced now and given the floor to speak. We learned that one of her greatest experiences was to have spent time in Cornas with Jean Luc and to have walked many times through the vineyards and the steep hillsides on which they are planted. She could easily recollect experiences, anecdotes, smells and tastes and got me really caught-up in this whole experience unfolding right around me.

LES RUCHETS CORNAS 2000 : " Good vintage, a lot more giving. A dry sweet cherry, not as complete as 2001. Great florality, roses , ton of violet, vanilla and sweet mint from the oak. Dark brooding fruit, grip, long finish. More approachable, more bright fruit, softer less tannic, dry than the 2001. " said Laura. " it's about low intervention and letting the vintage do what it can do... "
Laura explained that you get really low yields from these old vines : 15-19 hectoliters per hectar. They are 90 year-old vines. All harvesting is by hand. These are the original vines not touched by phyloxera.

LA LOUVEE CORNAS 1999 : " Single vineyard, 75 year-old vines. Always a riper, more open style of fruit , less granite " said Laura. Then I added : "
Big, round, fuller, lusher. fills - balloons the palate much more ". Then Laura continues : " More primary, forward fruit - chocolate, lots , some marmalade ! " Then I quickly add : " Love it!! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! I like it the best for drinking now. So rich, so full and round and satisfying. Great - love it ! " I gave it four stars as a rating.

LES RUCHETS CORNAS 1998 : Laura says : " Black tea, orange Pikot ( spelling? ) tea, black fruit with age. Lots of tobacco, menthol, eucalyptus, anise. : I quickly write : " So rich, so smooth, so perfect! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! This is exceptional - fabulous ! Some nuances of highs and lows - I'd rather drink '99 now - more modern style. Save the 1998 and watch it get even more full/ developed. "

LES RUCHETS CORNAS 1997 : " Vinous, showing age at 9 years. Lots of menthol - goes through phases, Closed on nose, caraway / anise in nose. " says Jean Luc I believe. Then I quickly write : " Really, really nice. Showing beautifully. Love it. Needs food. Great with meal ... medium-to-light-bodied ".

LA LOUVEE CORNAS 1996 : It was served from a magnum bottle. " Pretty elegant nose, beauty to the fruit. All about the top note. Lilac. " said Jean Luc. I quickly added : " Wow - so lush, so inflated, so full yet not heavy. Such subtle, appealing, pleasing fruit. Red cherry/berry fruit flavors! Wow. Really nice now! "

LES RUCHETS CORNAS 1991 : " Showing age in color, in nose. Fruit does not smell primary. More mushroom, 15 years old, will live very long time! Lots of structure, harmonious, ... " says Jean Luc . I then add quickly as I go off on my own personal ride : " integrated, middle integrated; not yet at it's peak. Smooth, dry-dusty dry soft tobacco, fatty salmon off the grill, mushrooms, meats - so nice. It rises and falls beautifully. A magic carpet, wow, so elegant yet so full ".

There is so much for me to still add. I have to continue this at a later date and include the pictures that I took. We have worked with a fair selection of Jean Luc's wines in our store, especially the red and white Cotes du Rhones, the declassified Syrah grown on a mix of limestone and granite in Cornas, the young-vines viognier made just outside of Condrieu, as well as the wines from Provence and the southwest of France. I believe that Jean Luc is originally from the Provence area.

Anyway, it was an amazing vertical tasting of these two single-vineyard ( 75 year and 90 year-old vines ) 100% Syrah wines from Cornas. I look forward to tasting more and selling more. For more information please contact Mike Martin or me ( Tony ) at Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits right here in our nation's capitol. We will be happy to order for you whatever is available from Palm Bay imports that brings these excellent wines of Jean Luc's to the U.S. market.

And for more technical info please go to : and to Jean Luc Colombo's web page.

David came down to Washington after this tasting and conducted two smaller Jean Luc Colombo tastings for our Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits customers. Thanks, merci David. It's been awhile. When will you come again? Please contact me and let's arrange something for 2009, perhaps in February or March?

Thanks Pascal for inviting me and making sure that I attended this tasting. I owe you one if not more for this. Cheers, and Happy New Year 2009 to you and your family Jean Luc. A la prochaine fois. Viens nous voir au magasin la prochaine fois que tu viens a Washington D.C. Tu es toujours bienvenues chez nous. Bonne Annee a toi et ta famille.

I apologize for any errors I may have made in paraphrasing or quoting at this point. I also apologize for any French word typos that I may have made. I can speak it better than write it. I also hope that this helps to bring alive some of the wonder and the magic that those of us lucky to have attended felt while being wrapped-up so nicely in Jean Luc Colombo, his presence and his words as well as in Les Ruchets and La Louvee Cornas reds.

A la prochaine fois, and stay well as an old friend used to say.

     It's Thursday morning  Anthony ( TONY ) Quinn

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