As we stroll into the small courtyard of Alain Voge in Cornas, Alberic greets us warmly, then wastes no time at all getting us organized and focused. (Alberic Mazoyer is Alain Voge’s partner and operating winemaker; the legendary man himself is older, and infirm at the moment, and cannot attend our visit.)
Any winemaker worth his salt will opine the old standard of “wine is made in the vineyards,” but
Mazoyer embodies that maxim by immediately taking us out to the vineyards. We take the van up to the hills above the village, then clamber up a winding steep semi-trail, hardly a path at all, and drag ourselves to the top of the hill, where we see a panoramic view of Cornas stretching out in every direction around and below us.
From here we can see the craggy ruins of Chateau de Crussol at the southern border, and the Rhone plain stretching away, and we can see the convolutions of the steep internal valley slopes and hilltop vineyards on one side, as well as the more open and gently declining slopes descending down towards the quiet village on the other. All of Cornas in one wheeling scan.
Alberic then provides an amazing dissertation on Cornas and the entire Northern Rhone wine region, a university semester in a morning’s talk. Ever restless, ever moving, he picks up a stick and waves it around as a pointer to illustrate his message. It seems altogether fitting that a high and capricious wind has suddenly come up and is whipping around, tugging at our hair and clothes, tossing the vine canopies, as Alberic talks about soils and vines and nature, waving his stick around like a sorcerer’s wand.
But Alberic is no sorcerer when it comes to the wine, not really. He’s hard-headed, and practical and pragmatic, and knows the value of tradition as well as the need to allow innovation.
When we descend from the hill and return to the winery, Alberic has prepared an intensive (would we expect anything else) tasting of St. Peray, Saint Joseph, and Cornas, thus completing the university semester.
Alain Voge Saint-Peray Harmonie 2007
Rounded, silky, herbs and fruit, with nutty undertones and a touch of honey.
Alain Voge Saint-Peray Terres Boisées 2006
Vigorous nose and flavor; fresh pear, quince; higher acids and more structure, more power; distinctly mineral notes in the tight but lingering finish.
Alain Voge Saint-Peray Fleur de Crussol 2006
From 70 year old Marsanne vines; made with frequent batonnage to enhance the flavor and intensity; rich, silky in texture, expansive on the palate; lemon/lime and honeysuckle fruits; a notable wine.
Alain Voge Saint-Joseph Les Vinsonnes 2006
14 months on oak---but no new oak, only used barrels. Spice jar wine! (And I love spice jar wine.) Fresh, coarse ground black pepper and allspice, with the perfume of violets and a whiff of black licorice. A very natural wine, freely exposing itself---call it “naked wine.” Or honest expression of terroir. Yet another reason for people to love Saint Joseph
Alain Voge Cornas Les Chailles 2006
My quickly scrawled notes say this was more like the Cote Rotie we tasted earlier. Some softer berry fruit in here---blueberries----and mild tannins for a Cornas. Cornas in a friendly and amiable mood.
Alain Voge Cornas Les Vielle Vignes 2006
Okay, now the gloves are off! This is old-style Cornas, tight to the core, stubborn to yield up its treasures, but reluctantly showing black fruit and mint; tight tannins won’t let go, and this wine will require years of aging to show what it’s got.
Alain Voge Cornas Les Vielles Fontaines 2006
The big boy. Granite soil, 80 year old vines, 2 years in barrel. But even with that time in barrel, the wood, while present, doesn’t come close to dominating. That granitic, mineral, rock-hard element is there to give it structure; the fruit and spice (but more spice than fruit) is there to add firm flesh; the tannin is noticeably there, and needs softening with time; so the oak toast is only one element. And I think this wine needs it. A wonderful combination of earth, rock, mature vines, fruit, spice, oak, acid and tannin on a big, big frame.
All too soon, our time at Voge is over. We're reluctant to leave, but the schedule calls. It has been an interesting day, and we leave with newfound understanding about this area, and specifically about the magic of Cornas. Alberic Mazoyer is a great teacher. So is Cornas.