For decades, Cornas’ reputation as a great and unique expression of Syrah was based on the wines of the great, but now elderly, traditionalists Auguste Clape and Noël Verset. Now they have been joined by a man only a little more than half their age—Thierry Allemand.
For over 15 years, Allemand has created a new Cornas paradigm, largely following traditional methods, but turbocharged with his own unique gifts and philosophies. Having worked with Verset and Joseph Michel-another classicist-Allemand’s methods are rooted in tradition; yet he is fiercely independent.
He classically does not de-stem and eschews new oak. But he differs from his elders by minimizing sulphur and not racking. He believes that excessive sulphur is the reason for the tarry aromas and hard tannins found in other producers’ Cornas.
Allemand’s approach results in otherworldly complexity and balance. By aging his wines on their lees without racking, they develop classic Cornas dark berries, smoke, dried herb and olive flavors, but with unheard-of definition. No one else’s Cornas achieves such a combination of concentration, structure and elegance.
The soaring quality of Allemand’s wines is the direct result of his great drive and talent. Beginning from nothing, he approached Joseph Michel as a teenager in 1981 and received “not only a job but the passion for wine” as he told The Wines of the Northern Rhône’s John Livingstone-Learmonth.
At the same time he began creating his domaine with a half acre on La Côte, only partly planted with the rest overgrown, in need of clearing and planting. Next was removing large fir trees in Chaillot and Tézier; this gave Allemand land in some of the bestcrus, but the vines were young.
Old vines ofla Petite Syrah-the ancient, local clone-in Reynard came from Noël and Louis Verset in the late ’80s/early ’90s adding great depth, concentration and aromatic complexity to Allemand’s palette of crus.
All the while he continued working for Michel during the day and with Noël Verset at night, leaving only the weekend for his own vineyards and winemaking. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that he was able to devote himself full time to his own domaine.
Today, Allemand has ten acres of vines in the heart of Cornas. Here, where the soil is most granitic, he farms 30-year-old vines in Chaillots and 70- to 100-year-old vines in Reynard. Both sites have steep, south-facing slopes, but Chaillots’ clay produces more structured wines than the mineral Reynard. Extreme vine densities assure low yields and great concentration.
Three Towering Cornas Cuvees
From these perfectly tended vines Allemand produces three wines. His Chaillot bottling is classically gutsy and slow to mature Cornas with well integrated tannins, while the Reynards is more mineral in character with more obvious structure.
Since 1998, Allemand has made the very rare Sans Soufre (without sulphur) cuvée from his best vines. This bottling, labeled simply “Cornas,” is almost impossible to find. Yet it is one of the world’s greatest Syrahs.
While all three wines are quintessentially Cornas in their richness, depth and power they also fulfill Allemand’s desire to craft wines of “finesse and subtlety,” qualities he considers rare and “difficult to achieve.”
Today, Thierry Allemand is considered by some the greatest Northern Rhône winemaker of his generation-and a beacon for young winemakers and sommeliers, in both France and America, for whom his Cornas is the purest expression of Syrah.