Cornas

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Cornas is a village in the northern Rhône Valley which produces rich, long-lived red wines. The area is blessed with the same steep granite slopes and high sunshine hours as Hermitage, eight miles (13km) to the north, and makes a similar, if slightly less refined, style of wine. For most of the 20th century, the focus on Cornas wines was significantly less than it had previously been throughout its long history, but the appellation's output is now recovering its renown for quality, due to a recent resurgence of interest and financial investment.

Cornas, which has only about 270 acres (110ha) of vineyards, is on the western bank of the Rhône river, just south of the larger Saint-Joseph appellation, which is about 20 times its size. Cornas' limited size brings focus to its wine production and it does not suffer from the variable reputation caused by higher output volumes as Saint-Joseph does. At present, the Cornas wines do not attract such high prices as their better known rivals to the north, so they provide affordable access to high-quality wines characteristic of the Rhône style.

The robust reds of Cornas are made in very close proximity to the sparkling wines of Saint-Péray – the vineyards from which these two very different wines come occupy the same alluvial plateau and granite ridge. The villages of Cornas and Saint-Péray are separated by just one mile (1.6km), but their mesoclimates are measurably different, Saint-Péray being slightly cooler than Cornas due to its dramatic topography.

The best wine-growing areas of Cornas are located to the west and particularly the north-west of the village, where the sun-baked slopes ("cornas" is an old dialectal term for burnt land) are protected from the cold north winds that move down the valley. These granite-based slopes rise dramatically from the western edge of the village, rapidly reaching heights of 1,150ft (350m). The majority of the vineyards planted on these sites are terraced for stability and to make viticulture possible. Granite has been identified as being a valuable part of many Rhône terroirs, as it is an efficient heat retainer, provides rapid drainage and is of low fertility, which forces the vines to form deep, strong root systems.

Cornas wines are made exclusively from the Syrah grape variety. They are powerful and dark, often with supple, ripe tannins.
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