A small appellation on the west bank of the northern Rhône valley, Cornas is planted entirely to Syrah. No white wine is produced, and none of the other white varietals found in other parts of the Rhône are allowed. The vineyards are steep, with terraces cut into the granite rock and topsoil. The region is very hot and dry, even by Rhône standards, as the vineyards face due south and the region is sheltered from the prevailing winds.
Cornas has been famous for centuries, with accounts of the quality of the wines dating back over 1,000 years. The wines have always been thought of as gamey, rustic, robust and incredibly long-lived. While there have been vast improvements over the last few decades, the wines can still be thought of in this way. New philosophies of small oak barrels, de-stemming the grape clusters and less time in barrel before release have done wonders to add grace and class to the wines. While they are still big and robust, and almost unenjoyably tannic in their youth, the wines have a more fruit-forward and modern style than in the past.
Cornas is a big wine with the weight of Hermitage, the smoke and tar of Côte-Rotíe, and the game and fruit of Saint-Joseph. The local soil (called gore) retains the heat of the day and warms the vineyards during the evenings. This region has made quite a comeback after phylloxera and neglect, and now boasts over 200 acres planted to vine. Many of the better wines may have the Lieux-diet, or place name on the label, but those sold as Pied de Côte come from the less distinct soils at the bottom of the hill.