The Wines of Jean-Luc Colombo

The International Wine Review has long had a special interest in Jean-Luc Colombo and his wines. A few years ago we traveled to the Rhone with our i-WineReview Tasting Panel colleague Michael Flynn, now beverage director at Dallas’ upscale Mansion at Turtle Creek. During that trip we met with several of the important winemakers of the Rhone, including, of course, Jean-Luc Colombo. We met at the elegant Hotel d’Europe restaurant in Avignon, and Jean-Luc brought along some of his innovative and beautifully crafted wines to accompany a delicious lunch. We sensed his passion for winemaking and a love of food and wine that we enthusiastically share. So when his importer, Palm Bay International, generously offered us the opportunity to taste through a portfolio of Jean-Luc’s best wines, we of course responded with a loud affirmative.

Jean-Luc ColomboJean-Luc Colombo is one of France’s most talented and creative winemakers. Since the early 1980s he has been crafting first-class wines from the Northern Rhone Valley and Southern France. Jean-Luc’s wines are very different from those of the old-school vignerons. His philosophy has been to produce fruit forward and elegant wines, pure in flavor and expressive of their terroir. This approach has ruffled some feathers, but the results speak for themselves. Jean-Luc is highly successful, not just as a winemaker, but as a negociant (Vins Jean-Luc Colombo) and as a consultant winemaker to some of the most respected wineries in the Northern Rhone Valley and elsewhere. Like his friend, the famed wine consultant, Michel Rolland, Jean-Luc is a man on the move, both passionate and revolutionary. His wines, several of which are reviewed here, are of a very high quality and deserving of attention by the trade and the serious wine enthusiast.

A native of Marseille, now in his 50s, Jean-Luc grew up in a kitchen environment (both his mother and grandmother were chefs) where he developed his considerable passion for food and wine. In the mid-1970s while studying to become a pharmacist, he discovered enology and soon turned his interests and energy to winemaking. He read Le Gout du Vin, by the great Bordeaux enologist Emile Peynaud and later met Michel Rolland, who influenced his thinking about wine-making. Jean-Luc was soon attracted to Syrah and to Cornas- a tiny neglected appellation in the Northern Rhone Valley- which he felt had great potential as a winemaking region. He later opened his own wine laboratory in Cornas and developed a reputation as a wine consultant, giving new life into the relatively unknown wines of Cornas. He purchased his own vineyards first in Cornas then throughout the Rhone Valley. He also contracted carefully selected vineyards for his growing portfolio of wines. In 1994, he established Vins Jean-Luc Colombo (http://vinsjlcolombo.3it.com/).

Jean Luc gives top priority to the vineyard. He employs modern vineyard management practices and organic viticulture. He destems, green harvests, and keeps yields per vine to 2 kilos or less. He harvests fruit when it is phenolically ripe, ferments in stainless steel and ages his higher end wines in new French barriques. His wines are beautifully crafted, exhibiting purity of fruit with admirable concentration and finesse. His top cuvées from Cornas, Côte Rôtie, and Chateauneuf du Pape need time in bottle to soften and integrate tannins, but also have great aging potential. His everyday wines from the Cotes du Rhone are pleasant and easy-drinking; his white wines from Condrieu and Saint Peray are rich in fruit, flavorful and show good acidity. Generally speaking, his wines are modern and international in style, yet his top cuveés exhibit the nuances of terroir.

The Wines

2005 Condrieu Amour de Dieu ($85) 88

Made from 40 year old Viognier vines and barrel fermented (100% new oak) on its lees, this clean, fresh yellow gold Condrieu shows aromas of minerals, honey, and ripe fruit with a note of pine needle. On the palate there’s a nice integration of minerals, ripe peach and tropical fruit with a note of lemon zest. Malolactic fermentation also takes place in the barrel, leading to a softness that is nicely offset by good acidity.

2007 Saint Peray La Belle de Mai ($42) 91

This yellow gold Roussanne-based wine displays delicate floral aromas with notes of smoked, roasted nuts. On the palate there’s a lovely balance of acidity and fresh fruit with a creamy mouth feel and subtle flavors of ripe peaches and pears with notes of Spanish almonds. The finish is rich and very long. A beautiful expression of Roussanne!

2006 Crozes Hermitage Rouge Les Fées Brunes ($26) 87

The medium ruby Crozes Hermitage offers up aromas of plum, black raspberry, forest floor and herbs. The straightforward palate shows substantial acidity and modest fruit with flavors of plum and herbs with earth notes.

2006 Châteauneuf du Pape Les Bartavelles ($35) 89

The medium ruby Les Bartavelles is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mouvedre showing aromas of dark cherry and plum with earth notes. Its attack is soft and round with very ripe dark cherry fruit and notes of dark toffee on the palate. The finish exhibits fine-grained tannins with dark cherry and earth notes.

2005 Côte Rôtie La Divine ($85) 91

Medium ruby in color, La Divine is predominantly Syrah with 5 percent Viognier. Black cherry fruit, tobacco, and licorice aromas lead to a soft, round attack and a focused palate showing clean, and beautifully integrated, flavors of spicy dark cherry and smoky tobacco. Finishes long with fine-grained tannins, cherry and smoke.

2006 Cornas Terres Brulées Syrah ($70) 91

Like all Colombo’s Cornas wines, the fruit for the dark ruby opaque Terres Brulées is grown on the steep slopes of the right bank of the Rhone. Sourced from several parcels, this wine is aged 18 months in one year old barrels. Very ripe dark fruit, black pepper, violets and licorice with mineral notes show on the nose. The soft, fleshy palate is rich and concentrated with flavors of blackberry fruit liqueur, cassis, bitter chocolate, and tobacco. Refined tannins are present on the finish along with persistent notes of black fruit.

2006 Cornas Les Ruchets Syrah ($83) 93

This opaque ruby Les Ruchets from very old vines (90+ years) is Jean-Luc’s very best Cornas. Aged 18 months in 70% new and 30% one year old barrels Exotic aromas of dark plum fruit, bitter chocolate, violets, smoked meat, and anise flow from the glass, followed by a soft, round and very full attack. The palate is velvet smooth and intensely flavored with sweet and spicy dark plum fruit, smoked meat, and licorice, and there’s a gorgeous, long finish of black fruit and minerals set off by refined tannins.

2006 Cornas La Louvées Syrah ($83) 92

This superbly balanced, dark ruby Cornas is made from the fruit of a single vineyard of 70 year old vines on the right side of the Rhone and spends 18 months in new oak. There’s a rich bouquet of smoked meat, raspberry liqueur, and black earth and a soft, lush attack of dark fruit. The silky smooth, sweet palate provides flavors of red and black fruit, smoked meat, chocolate, and licorice. It finishes sweet with fine-grained tannins and flavors of smoky red and black fruit. The wine can be drunk now, if first decanted and allowed to breathe for a couple of hours.

Previously Tasted Jean-Luc Colombo Wines

2006 Côtes du Rhône La Redonne ($17) 89

This lovely blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne displays a pale lemon gold color with spicy ripe peach aromas. On the attack it offers a rich mouth feel, soft ripe peach fruit, medium acidity, excellent balance and overall refinement.

2005 Côtes du Rhône Les Abeilles Rouge ($12) 88

This medium ruby 2005 Côtes du Rhône is a blend of Grenache and Syrah. It shows fresh, fruity aromas of plum, raspberry, and violets and an uncomplicated palate of fresh soft, red and black fruit. There’s purity of fruit in a nicely balanced, modern styled wine that finishes long and fruity.

2004 Côtes du Rhône Les Forots ($21) 90

This modern style, dark ruby wine of 100% Syrah is aged 9 months in oak and possesses an alluring nose of concentrated plum fruit with garrigue and oak spice. There’s a good concentration of ripe—but not overripe--fruit on the nicely balanced palate along with blueberry, garrigue, and integrated oak spice notes. This is a beautiful wine that has improved since its first release.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler May 2009