The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2013

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Page 88 of 152

Jean-Luc Colombo attending to vines. PORTRAITS IN WINE The King of PHOTO COURTESY OF VINS JEAN-LUC COLOMBO AN EARLY CHAMPION OF SYRAH IN THE NORTHERN RHÔNE, JEAN-LUC COLOMBO NOW REIGNS SUPREME Cornas by Jonathan Cristaldi I t's no secret that winemakers who have joined the ranks of sought-after consultants, some even catapulted to the status of cult icons, tend to offer emphatic opinions based on their experiences of trial-and-error in vineyard management and wine production. Those like Michel Rolland, Émile Peynaud, Philippe Melka, Helen Turley and Andy Smith come to mind, and their opinions are worth a lot of money to the few who can afford them. Jean-Luc Colombo is one such winemaker and consultant whose opinions are held in high regard, and he isn't afraid to tell grape growers or winery owners the hard-to-swallow truth about making wine—that restraint is a good thing. In fact, it gets him into trouble. Restraint in the vineyard is often the secret ingredient to success in the bottle. However, it doesn't always equate to profits, and many growers and producers view any attempt at viticulture restraint as a kind of madness. Culling grapes and even picking when Brix levels haven't quite reached that overripe, über-sweet level, capable of churning out wines that are veritable fruit bombs—is it madness, or is it brilliance? Colombo isn't some renegade winemaker looking to disrupt. In truth, he is a soft-spoken, sincere Frenchman who believes he is at the mercy of the dinner table. His wines are crafted to accompany a meal—to harmonize and elevate la nourriture. A native of Marseilles, Colombo championed the cultivation of Syrah in Cornas beginning in the late 1970s. By 1987 he had produced a wine from the appellation bottled under his Vins Jean-Luc Colombo label, a 100-percent Syrah from the noted Les Ruchets vineyard, and the success of that first vintage, which received critical acclaim, catapulted his career. Colombo's lauded Syrahs have effectively helped put the Northern Rhône appellation of Cornas, cousin to the great Hermitage, on the map. Live oak and juniper trees abut the vineyards in Cornas, and vine roots reach down 65 feet for nutrients in some spots. Colombo doesn't irrigate, forcing the vines to dig deeper and reflect their true terroir. Careful and attentive vineyard management, organic and biodynamic farming all help Colombo prepare his grapes for an ideal post-harvest production and aging process. The resulting wines are balanced with fruit, vibrant acidity and minerality, perfect for pairing with rich cuisine. His wines inspire food to dance and sing on the palate—and they are ideal for aging. In 2008, recognizing his contributions to France through his efforts to bring Cornas into the limelight, Colombo was awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration a French citizen can receive. He is the bona fide King of Cornas. 88  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2013 TP1113_066-107.indd 88 10/24/13 9:24 AM

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