Jean-Luc Colombo brings his wines from the Rhône and beyond to lunch.
It’s a truism that a great winemaker makes great wines, but the idea bears expansion: a truly great winemaker makes great wines at every price point. Jean-Luc Colombo is by this criterion a truly great winemaker, and he proved recently by pouring a bunch of great wines at a trade lunch held at Brothers restaurant on Bay Street earlier this year, hosted by his Ontario agents at Profile Wine Group. Every seat at Brothers was taken, and the choice of venue, at one of the city’s most celebrated new(ish) spots was entirely appropriate: Colombo’s mother was a renown chef and restaurateur in Marseille and his Godfather was Paul Bocuse. “I never make wine for the wine,” he told us, “I make wine only for the food.”
It was a warm day and we started off with a glass of the Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2016 ($18.95) from his Mediterranean line of wines, made from Syrah and Mourvèrdre from the ‘Blue Coast’ near Marseille that he often visited as a child. It was clean and light and full of berry fruit. Then, as we began on plates of cod crudo with tomatoes and olive oil, things got interesting. We tasted together the Jean-Luc Colombo Viogner ‘La Violette’ 2015 ($17.95) from the Languedoc and the 2014 Jean-Luc Colombo Condrieu ‘Amour de Dieu’ 2014 ($83.95). There is a $66 difference in the price of the two wines, and and it was manifest. The Amour de Dieu was deep, complex, honeyed and round but also lifted with lemony acid. It was very good wine. But, La Violette was also a very good wine, especially for under $20. Not as as complex or elegant, but well made: balanced nicely between floral notes and fruit. Colombo explained his technique was consistent between the two wines, explaining that he hates sugar in wine, which made Viogner a hard wine to make since he tries to keep the alcohol levels down as well.
From the whites it was onto the reds with two 100% Syrah from Colombo’s beloved Cornas. First the Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas ‘Terres Brûlées’ 2014 ($69.95). Deep with inky and purple fruit, seasoned with white pepper and forest floor, it was delicious. Colombo explained the Terres Brûlées was a blend of some of his favourite blocs, with an average age of 80 years. In contrast, the Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets 2014 ($99.95), named after the beehives found on the single vineyard from which it is sourced. It was a slightly brighter more elevated affair, still full purple to blackberry Syrah notes, and violets on the nose. The single vineyard from which Les Ruchets is sourced and named was the first one he and his family bought, and like all of Colombo’s wines the 40 year old vines on it are farmed dry. “You should see,” he said, “the taproots on my vines: they are 20 metres long.” It turns out the vigneron is a passionate opponent of irrigation, which he thinks robs wines of their terroir. He told us he wished irrigated wines were made to be labelled, saying that would be a much better indication of quality than organic certification.
Last wine kept with the apian theme: the Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes-du-Rhône ‘Les Abeilles’ 2016 ($18.95). The Colombo family makes honey from the bees on their properties, and Jean-Luc told us he sees their health as an indication of the health of his vineyards. The family is also supporter of bee-based charities, and give money to organizations that strive to reintroduce natural pollinators. Back to the wine, Colombo keeps to a classic Southern Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèrdre for Les Abeilles, in this year in equal parts. One would think that it was a bit of a gutsy move to close with a $20 wine right after a $100 one, but like the comparison between Colombo’s Condrieu and Languedoc Viogner the ‘lesser’ wine showed all the better for it. It was full of fruit, running from red to blue and opened up and evolved in the glass.
I like to fantasize that I could drink Condrieu and Cornas with every meal. But I wonder if it would become boring very quickly. Better, I think, to have a treat once and a while, and stick with very good every day wine with most meals. And, I am thankful for being reminded of that by my lunch with Monsieur Colombo.