Franck Balthazar Cuvée Chaillot Cornas 2015
Winegrower: Franck Balthazar
Region: Cornas (Northern Rhone), France
Grape: Petite Syrah
Please Note: Shipment for this wine will be May, 2017. It comes directly from the cellar of Franck Balthazar,
From one of the most cherished slopes in all of France, today’s 2015 Cuvée Chaillot, from the steeply terraced vineyards of Cornas, is a micro-production snapshot of this legendary Rhone terroir priced at a fraction of some of its more famous neighbours. Franck Balthazar’s parcel of 103-year-old la Petite Syrah vines, which he acquired from his famous uncle Noël Verset, one of the Rhone’s old school icons when he retired, produces some of the most traditional, soulful and authentic wines in the Rhone Valley. Franck’s wines, made in tiny quantities, are celebrated around the world as among the purest expressions of what Cornas has to offer and are prized for their intensity, dark, silky texture and authenticity; there is no doubt that these wines could come from nowhere else. Franck’s 2015 Cuvée Chaillot, from what is universally regarded as one of the best vintages in recent memory, is a complex, gorgeously aromatic wine that seems to capture the savage beauty of the region in a glass, and at $54.50 a bottle, represents one of the greatest values we’ve offered yet. Seriously, check out the price (top of page 5) of a lesser vintage from other distributor. This is an exceptional vintage well worth buying and cellaring as its price most assuredly will increase.
Like the Sleeping Beauty of the Northern Rhône, Cornas is at last awaking from its long slumber. Though these were wines once celebrated by Charlemagne, they have been regarded as the red-headed stepchild of the Northern Rhône for the better part of the last hundred years. This renaissance has finally come to the world’s attention, yet it started in the 1980s when the success of a handful of older growers—including Clape, Verset, Michel and Juge—gave confidence to the town’s sons, encouraging them to return home from well-paying jobs elsewhere.
One of the top growers in this movement is Franck Balthazar, who left his engineering career in 2002 to answer the siren song of Cornas’ steep granite slopes and take up the classic farming and winemaking methods of his fore fathers. Fifteen years later, Franck is making some of the most expressive and rigorously traditional wines in Cornas using methods little changed from those of his grandfather. The Domaine’s vineyards are planted exclusively to la Petite Syrah*, the ancient local clone whose small, olive-shaped berries produce a wine of greater aromatic complexity than modern clones.
Franck Balthazar is blessed with the laid-back demeanour necessary to craft flawless wines. He took over his family’s 2-hectare estate, which his grandfather Casimir founded in 1931, from his father René in 2002. He has since expanded to 3.5 hectares through the purchase of 1 hectare of vines dating back to 1914 from his uncle Noël Verset and by creating terraces of planted vines on previously overgrown steep slopes demonstrating the Cornasien willingness to develop backbreaking sites for the rewarding flavours that only Petite Syrah grown here can express. With new plantings in 2005 and 2008, he makes about 650 cases each year in a small cellar behind a local church.
Franck is so dedicated to his domaine, to the traditional ways of his ancestors and the great Cornas producers who preceded him, that he plows his vineyards with a horse, an arduous task considering the steep slopes he has to work. His approach in the cellar is just as “old school.” By fermenting each parcel separately, Franck is able to best demonstrate the expressive terroir of his vineyards. In the cellar as in the vineyard he’s a one-man show: he ferments the grapes with the stems intact, with some pumping over and light pipeage, and ages the wine in neutral demi-muid (600 liter) barrels for 18 months before bottling without fining or filtration and minimal or no sulfur. Franck is constantly striving to perfect his methods of cultivation and vinification of the Petite Syrah grape. We offer his wines as proof of the effectiveness of his efforts: they are luxurious, expressive and elegant with an unmistakable sense of place.
Universally viewed as an exceptionally great vintage the 2015 Cuvée Chaillot is the product of a hot, sunny, dry summer with June and July being close to perfect, followed by a cooler August and harvest in middle of September. This is an exceptional vintage well worth buying and cellaring as its price most assuredly will only increase.
The 2015 Cuvée Chaillot is Frank Balthazar’s flagship bottling and the product of century old Petite Syrah vines. It is rich in both fruit and terroir and possesses an ample, integrated structure. And although you can enjoy a bottle of this wine now forget about the rest for a decade; when you return you’ll discover a wine of stunning depth, concentration, complexity and elegance that brings the concept of perfume to a whole new level. To enjoy pull the cork several hours before serving and keep it cool and serve at 15˚ to 17˚ in large Burgundy stems to capture the elegance and aromatics of this great wine. For and ideal pairing, prepare this seven hour Lamb Daube then relax and enjoy!
“Balthazar’s elegant Cornas is among the best in the appellation.”
- Josh Raynolds
*Petite Syrah was first found in France in the mid-1800’s. It is loved for its extraordinary deep colour and full-bodied flavours of blueberry, chocolate, plums and black pepper. It is a distinct variety and is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin, the latter of which is nearly extinct and found only in a few places in the French Alps. Despite its popularity, Petite Syrah is exceptionally rare with less than 4,000 hectares planted worldwide, mainly in California.