Pictured on the bottles of Bernart Levet are the steep terraced "roasted slopes" of Cote Rotie.

This blog post is so long over due that I am almost ashamed to put it out there.  But we are talking about Neal Rosenthal here who is a hero to many people in the world of wine, myself included.  Neal Rosenthal started as an importer of authentic wines in the 1970s and is among the most respected advocates of honest wine making in the world.  He is up there with Kermit Lynch as an early advocate of wine that is produced with as little influence and manipulation as possible.  And like Kermit’s Adventures on the Wine Route, Neal has a great book about how he got into the wine import business and his trials and tribulations, Reflections of a Wine Merchant.  Both books are a must read and are readily available on Amazon.

Now that is a flight of wine!

Neal is as passionate person about wine as you could possibly meet.  And it was a true honor to meet him and taste some of the finest wines he imports at the event at Astor Wines.  The wines of Cote Rotie and Cornas are near and dear to Neal and to a small but devoted group of devotees of the wines of the Northern Rhone.  I must confess that I had not really drank many wines from the Northern Rhone prior to this tasting with Neal.  There was a great old Cornas from Noel Verset, considered to have been perhaps the finest Cornas producer of all time, that rocked my world at the Magnum Opus dinner last year.  That one bottle was enough to make me realize that there was real magic to be found in the wines of the Northern Rhone.

GS, Keetja, and Neal.

We tasted three wines from Cornas followed by three wines from Cote Rotie.  Neal wanted us to see the inherent differences between the wines of Cornas and Cote Rotie.  They are from separate and distinct areas within the tiny terraced sliver of land that is the Northern Rhone.  And while Hermitage is generally considered to be the finest section of the Northern Rhone, Cote Rotie and Cornas are tied for a very close second.  We tasted two wines blind at the end of the tasting.  One Cornas and one Cote Rotie.  Neal wanted to test our palates and see if we could discern the difference after tasting the previous wines.  As a general impression I found the Cornas wines displayed a more cherry syrup character mixing with earthy elements while the Cote Rotie wines tended towards a more savory expression with tart fruit underpinnings.  All the wines were fairly youthful and might be difficult to approach for many, especially due to the fact that the pricing starts at close to $50 and climbs from there.  Time is generally needed for the great wines of the Northern Rhone to really show their best stuff.  I would say a minimum of 10 years is needed for the wines to soften and come together, but the best vintages can live on for decades.  Though different in character, the wines of the Northern Rhone have something in common with Burgundy and Barolo.  Namely that they come from steep, relatively tiny,  and heavily parceled wine growing areas in the northern most reaches of their climactic zones.  And like Burgundy and Barolo, the wines of the Northern Rhone (especially Hermitage, Cote Rotie, and Cornas) have a very devoted following.

Buy this book.

Domaine Lionnet 2007 “Terre Brulée” Cornas

There is cherry syrup reminiscent of Comstock cherry pie filling on the nose.  This mixes with menthol, currants, cinnamon spice and a hint of smoke.  The color is medium red garnet with some purple hues and the mouth feel is decidedly tart with moderate tannins.  The nose is insane but the wine needs time.  RECOMMENDED

Domaine Lionnet 2006 “Terre Brulée” Cornas

The 2006 has similar elements of cherry syrup and menthol spice on the nose, but is more restrained than the 2007.  The aromas are subtler and more balanced.  It maintains a similar garnet hue but lacks a bit of the wow factor of the 2007.  Should age well.  RECOMMENDED

Robert Michel 2005 “Cuvée des Coteaux” Cornas

The color is garnet red with brown and purple hues and on the palate cinnamon spice mixes with cherry syrup and offal meats.  The nose is a bit restrained maybe, but there are additional hints of caramel and mint chocolate and the mouth feel is tannic and tart.  RECOMMENDED

Robert Michel 2004 “Le Geynale” Cornas

From a more challenging vintage, this Cornas is red garnet with rusty hues.  Light cherry syrup mixes with cured olives, wet earth, eucalyptus.  There is a lovely liquorish note on the nose as well.  Nice.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Bernard Levet 2005 “Les Journaries” Cote Rotie

A rich garnet color with brownish hues leads to a most singular nose of roasted tomatoes, tapenade, and anchovies.  The “Les Journaries” is tannic and tart on the palate, and reminds me of middle earth.  A salt of the earth expression of wine.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Bernard Levet 2004 “La Chavaroche” Cote Rotie

Garnet in color with some brownish hues, the nose is elegant with a complex blend of sour cranberries, tapenade and violets.  There is some tartness to the palate but the velvety texture is very promising and it lingers on.  Neal reckons that “La Chavaroche” is the most consistent wine in his entire portfolio of wines.  Hows that for a statement!  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Guillame Giles 2007 Cornas

The color is garnet with purple hues and on the palate there is light cherry syrup mixing with green stems and liquorish.  Tasted blind.   RECOMMENDED

Bernard Levet 2003 “La Chavaroche” Cote Rotie

Sanguine in color, there are classic Cote Rotie elements of tapenade, roasted tomatoes, and cured olives at play here.  Tasted blind.  RECOMMENDED