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The New King of Cornas: Extremely Limited Releases from Guillaume Gilles!

Apr 17th 2020

For that seductive combination of wild earthiness and pure-fruited drinkability so unique to Syrah, there's no place on earth like Cornas. It's the southernmost appellation in the Northern Rhône Valley and here Syrah reaches what might be its most archetypal expression. Côte-Rôtie might be more elegant, Hermitage more regal, but nowhere is more Syrah than Cornas. Wild animal savoriness underpins huge black and purple fruit, full body matches bright granitic acidity, and the wines combine structure for decades of cellaring with drink-me-now deliciousness. And in Cornas, no winemaker is hotter than Guillaume Gilles.

Today, we're pleased to offer a small amount of Guillaume Gilles' extraordinary wines, including his new Marsanne/Roussanne and Gamay bottlings.

Cornas is also a place where legends loom large. The legendary winemakers who originally made Cornas what it is, people like Noel Verset and Marcel Juge, have largely retired or passed away. Guillaume was lucky to work for years alongside one of these legends, Robert Michel. And that was after he'd worked under Hermitage legend Jean-Louis Chave! When Michel decided to retire in 2006, he passed down his holdings to his young protegé. As a result, Guillaume inherited some of the best and oldest parcels of Syrah in Chaillot, one of Cornas' two top vineyards. He even inherited Michel's cellar and continues Michel's world-class winemaking.

This is Cornas made the way the legends do it. All vines are farmed organically and by hand, and all fruit is left in whole clusters and fermented with wild/ambient yeasts before being aged in large neutral oak barrels. Despite the ever-rising pressure to produce riper, smoother, oakier and younger-drinking wines, Gilles has persevered as one of the last “purist” producers in Cornas.

While his Cornas is an obvious standout. His "Les Peyrouses" rouge, labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, is anything but, and should not even be thought of as such. From a vineyard just a stone's throw from the Cornas perimeter, it's made from vines that are almost 150 years old. It's a stunning wine and should be spoken of in the same breath as his Cornas.

Guillaume only works about four hectares and yields were way down in 2017, so only about 100 cases made it to the states this year. Quantities are extremely limited, with just bottles of each on some.

To order, please click here to check out online. For any questions, you can respond directly to this email. Peyrouses and Gamay arrive Wednesday, Cornas arrives Friday. As always, we are shipping, offering curbside pickup and you get free local delivery on orders over $60.

1) Guillaume Gilles Vin de France Blanc “Les Peyrouses” 2018 750ml
Sale Price: $34.99/btl! BUY NOW

From the vineyard of Les Peyrouses, a site just east of Cornas in which Gillesalso owns 150-year-old Syrah (see below), this new cuvée comprises two-thirds Marsanne and one-third Roussanne, from a third of a hectare’s worth of vines planted between 2009 and 2013. Its soils of sand, clay, and large galets render a white wine of formidable amplitude but excellent focus, given shape by a touch of appealing bitterness on the finish. This 2018 underwent alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in well-used 500-liter barrels, and was bottled without fining of filtration.

2) Guillaume Gilles Gamay de la Vallée du Doux “Combeaux Massardières” 2018 750ml
Sale Price: $39.99/btl! BUY NOW

A few years ago, Guillaume acquired a 0.3-hectare plot of 40-year-old Gamay planted in pure granite at 600 meters altitude in the Ardeche, and he produces a mere 800 bottles per vintage on average. As with his Cornas, he refrains from de-stemming his Gamay, but he allows fermentation to proceed semi-carbonically. Any kinship with its Beaujolais brethren, however, is purely varietal, as this 2018 is powerfully structured and inky-fruited, with wild aromas of sandalwood and potpourri, and mouthwatering concentration.

3) Guillaume Gilles Cotes du Rhône "Les Peyrouses" 2017 750ml
Sale Price: $54.99/btl! BUY NOW

Hailing from the flats just to the east of the Cornas appellation, the “Les Peyrouses” Rouge is a remarkable and unique wine: pure Syrah planted in the 1870s, during phylloxera’s initial outbreak, and constituting the very first grafted vines in the area. The soil in this vineyard is a mix of sand and clay, with loads of large limestone galets, and the wine Guillaume coaxes from these astonishingly old vines is so powerful in its fruit that he gives it twelve months élévage instead of eighteen. (Also, as a testament to its sheer power, he always presents it after his Cornas during visits to his cellar.) The 2017 vintage is remarkably spicy, with typically powerful tannins but a slightly more subdued sense of wildness than other vintages have shown, bringing it closer to his Cornas stylistically.

4) Guillaume Gilles Cornas "Nouvelle R" 2017 750ml
Sale Price: $64.99/btl! BUY NOW

The heart and soul of Gilles’ domaine is the parcel of the great Chaillot vineyard that he received from Robert Michel. His Chaillot is deep, soaring and powerful. In short, classic Cornas. The Nouvelle R is a totally different expression. The “R” stands for Les Rieux, a vineyard that Gilles planted in 2010 that sits at 450 meters high, above the amphitheater of Cornas. It’s a vineyard of white granite soils that had never been planted before because historically people worried about the grape achieving proper ripeness. Now, for many growers, ripeness doesn’t seem like a godsend, but something to battle against. Working a vineyard like Les Rieux starts making a lot of sense. Gilles says that Robert Michel remarked that the wine reminded him of Cornas from the 70s and 80s. Here you find a bright and nimble expression of Cornas. There’s a purity to the layers of berry fruit and spice that really amazes. Drinking a second glass of this is really, really easy.

5) Guillaume Gilles Cornas 2017 750ml
Sale Price: $74.99/btl! BUY NOW

Guillaume’s flagship Cornas comprises three separate parcels, all within the renowned vineyard of Chaillot, planted between the early-1950s and the mid-1970s: lower-lying Combe de Chaillot, with its sandier soils, offers more straightforward fruit; steep Les Terrasses, high up on the slope and poor of topsoil, contributes granitic punch and intense spiciness; and the also-terraced Grandes Mures, with its sun-soaking southward exposition, provides sumptuously dark-fruited contrabass notes and enhances the final blend’s overall structure. Guillaume vinifies and ages each parcel separately, blending them after an eighteen-month élévage in a blend of 400-liter and 600-liter oak casks of between five and fifteen years of age. This 2017 is a dense, brooding old-school powerhouse of a Cornas, with rugged structure and bottomless depth; it beckons to be cellared a bit but should unfurl slowly and majestically.