2011 Matthieu Barret Cornas Billes Noires


Cornas has been having a moment for the last decade, thanks to the excellent work of a new generation of winemakers who have breathed new life into what were once the most rustic, wild wines of the northern Rhône. In fact, much of the Cornas made a couple generations ago was so consistently gamy, coarse, and often downright dirty. As a result, many wine lovers assumed that such character was part of the region’s terroir. To this day, some still think that “real” Cornas simply cannot be elegant and is required to be overtly wild, even feral. 

Matthieu Barret’s wines often split the difference. They evoke both flora and fauna, thus ticking off all the classic northern Rhône Syrah boxes: intense dark fruit, pungent flowers, black pepper, gaminess, smoked meat, and vibrant mineral character. Early in his career, meaning the late 2000s, Barret’s wines could veer a little too far off into funky town, but over the last decade, the wines have acquired far greater polish and detail, while still retaining enough wildness to appeal to fans of old school Cornas.

The 2011 Cornas Billes Noires was made at a time when Barret’s wines could, frankly, be uneven. But it was easy to ascertain that he was going places, and he clearly wasn’t shy about experimentation and learning. Made in a combination of concrete eggs, concrete vats and old foudres, the 2011 is just hitting its stride. Sappy cassis and cherry are showcased, along with pungent floral, spice and licorice qualities. A smoky bacon nuance adds complexity without coming off as intrusive. The wine’s tannins are still present but in the background, allowing the fruit, floral and spice notes to take center stage. There’s weight here, which is surprising for a vintage whose wines are typically marked more by elegance than richness. This benefits from an hour or so of aeration. 94/Drink 2024-2034.

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