Frank Balthazar Cornas Cuvée Chaillot 2016
Winegrower: Franck Balthazar - Vigneron
Grape: Petite Syrah
“Franck Balthazar has emerged as one of the most consistent, top-notch winemakers in the entire Rhône Valley. His elegant Cornas bottlings are among the very best in the appellation.”
- Josh Raynolds - Vinous Media
“2016 Cornas… rich and opulent.”
- Jancis Robinson
From one of the most cherished slopes in all of France and the steeply terraced vineyards of Cornas, today’s 2016 Cuvée Chaillot, is a micro-production snapshot of this legendary Rhone terroir. 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 question as from where this wine comes from. Franck’s 2016 Cuvée Chaillot is from what is regarded as an excellent vintage, giving the north Rhone a ‘one-two punch’ following 2015. It is a complex, gorgeously aromatic wine that seems to capture the savage beauty of the region in a glass, and at $95 represents one of the best values we’ve offered. Seriously, check out the prices: in Ontario it sells for $110 and in the US upwards of $115. This is a vintage well worth buying and cellaring as its price has and will continue to increase.
At most vineyards the horse and plow vanished long before VCRs and dial-up modems, but not at the estate of Franck Balthazar. Famed for his old-school methods his wines are sought out by collectors and enthusiasts the world over. He is recognized by Hugh Johnson as one of the appellation’s top two winegrowers producing some of the region’s finest wines. Franck’s father René Balthazar and his uncle Noël Verset are also regarded as past legendary Cornas winegrowers. Today Franck produces tiny quantities of his own wine from vineyards previously owned and farmed by both these men; vineyards located on the granitic, steep, sun-baked slopes of Les Chaillots. Franck produces a mere 650 to 700 cases annually from two vineyards; one with 100-year-old vines, the second with 50-year-old vines. These wines are named, respectively, “Cuvée Chaillot” after the vineyard, and “Cuvée Casimir Balthazar,” in honour of his father.
The Balthazar Domaine dates back to 1931, when it was founded by Franck’s grandfather Casmir. René took charge in 1950 and, along with his contemporaries Auguste Clapé and Franck’s uncle Noël, started to bottle his own wines in the 1970’s. Before then he sold his wines in barrels to local restaurants.
Franck was educated as an engineer but left the profession in 2002 to satisfy his longing to grow great wines in his hometown of Cornas. He works his 3.5-ha estate alone using the traditional farming and winemaking methods of his father and uncle, and 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. The vineyards are planted exclusively with la Petite Syrah, an ancient local clone with small berries that have greater aromatic complexity than modern clones. No synthetic chemicals or fertilizers are used, and all vineyard work is by hand. And his approach in the cellar is also ‘old school’ by which I mean minimalist. In the cellar as in the vineyard he’s a one-man show. Franck ferments each parcel separately to best display the expressive terroir of his vineyards. Whole grape clusters are fermented using natural yeasts in concrete-vats. The caps are manually punched down and the wine is aged in neutral 600-litre demi-muids (rather than 225 litre casks) for 18 months to preserve the aromas before being bottled in his tiny cellar, unfiltered and unfined, with minimal if any added sulphites. Every vintage is about balance, purity of expression and beauty.
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.
Cornas Cuvée Chaillot 2016 is Frank Balthazar’s flagship bottling and the product of century old Petite Syrah vines. The summer was sunny, hot and dry with June and July being close to perfect, followed by a cooler August, and the harvest occurred in the middle of a beautiful September. 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; serve at 16˚ in large Burgundy stems to capture the elegance and aromatics of this great wine. For an ideal pairing I recommend trying this delicious recipe for roast leg of lamb with rosemary and lavender.
*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 quite rare with less than 4,000 hectares planted worldwide, mainly in California.