Login | Subscribe
twitter

 

PIERRE & OLIVIER CLAPE WITH THEIR BOUNTY

DOMAINE CLAPE CORNAS 1988-2013

One of the sadnesses within French wine appreciation is the absence of what amounts to a generation who by-passed wine in pursuit of being cool with spirit drinks and other beverages rather than paying attention to what was made under their very noses, their local or national drink.

Wine was regarded as old-fashioned by this group of people, who are now around 40 years old. I am not going to attempt to be precise with my datelines, but suffice to say it involves a generation who have now perhaps worked hard and earned some money, and may be able to pay for fine bottles more than they used to.

However, there is no escaping the fact that I can encounter real whizzo enthusiasts of every age much more frequently across Europe – taking Scandinavia as a good set of (admittedly non-winemaking) countries, or in the USA, or, of course in Britain.

An example of this large hole in the defence of the French patrimoine of wine is that of the late Noël Verset, whose death was written up by ERIC ASIMOV in the New York Times, while in London a group of six Cornas enthusiasts went along at the end of September 2015, about three weeks after his passing, to celebrate his life and wines from six different vintages at a gastro-pub in the borough of Fulham (the team I support, by the way. Deafening silence after last season).

I know for certain that there was no obituary on Noël in Le Monde or Le Figaro, or Libération, nor in the local Dauphiné newspapers. He slid away into the heavenly rooms for the wider French public like a ghostly apparition, with barely a murmur in the main channels of communication.

Thus it is a real pleasure for me to have met a young French enthusiast, who trembles and gesticulates with near chaotic body language when presented with a fine northern Rhône Syrah. DAVID CHAPOT, he is by name, and he was introduced to me at the CORNAS MARCHÉ around a dozen to 15 years ago. He is a maths professor in Lyon, and is now around 40. His lone zeal, while all around his contemporaries are indifferent, puts me in mind of a tennis player such as Andy Murray (or before him in GB, Tim Henman) – so far ahead of his countrymen that almost solo he carries the torch and message of tennis to his wider nation.

DAVID CHAPOT [L] IN FULL CRY TO PIERRE CLAPE [R]

David has organised tastings here and there, but I had not previously attended what he attempted to bring together in 2016: a vertical of CORNAS CLAPE 1988-2013. There was much consultation to and fro between the Clapes, me and David on finding a suitable date: because of his work, David could only make a weekend date, which meant a Saturday. He also lacked some of the wines, and asked if I could bring a 1991, while the Clapes contributed a 1990 and one other year.

David wanted to look at the wines in methodical detail, enjoy them, appreciate them, laud them, fall to his knees before them, with similar wine lovers. He also wanted to cover some or most of his costs more than set the event up as an “enterprise D Chapot”. With two Clapes, PIERRE and his son OLIVIER (in July 2016, the father of RUBEN), and me, there was the place for about another 11 people.

RASTEAU AWAITS YOU, MONSIEUR LIVINGSTONE

I was tasting in RASTEAU (I actually tasted 99 wines, which was extreme, unheard of) the day before the appointed date of Saturday May 21, 2016, when I received a text from David saying that there were two free places – someone was sick, someone else had not confirmed. The cost was €200, for all the wines, and lunch at the lively, recently started restaurant LA RUCHE in SAINT-PÉRAY. As all good current or ex-PMU cafés should be, it forms the corner of the Place with a view out to encourage les turfistes or allow them a view to drown their sorrows. It was converted into a restaurant in 2014.

The LA RUCHE address is 13 Quai du Dr Jules Bouvat 07130 Saint-Péray, tel +33(0)9 82 40 44 38, www.laruche-saintperay.com Open from Tuesday to Saturday, I can certainly recommend it to readers.

Sadly, the two people I contacted in England were unable to drop everything and run, but boy oh boy, if such an event had been organised in London, they would have been queuing around the block to attend it – weeks before.

THE FULL GROUP OF TASTERS, MOSTLY FROM THE LYON REGION

The Saturday dawned, after I had had a Friday evening dinner on the q.t. with JACQUES DESVERNOIS of PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ, from where I am barred from tasting due to my article in Decanter on the quality of the wines in the time subsequent to the purchase by the FREY family. We get on well, and JACQUES kindly showed me three 2013s – the HERMITAGE LA CHAPELLE red [****], the CROZZES-HERMITAGE THALABERT red [***(*)], and the small 2.5 hectare SAINT-JOSEPH DOMAINE DE LA CROIX DES VIGNES red [****].

This was a good warm-up after the rigours of Rasteau and the south. The wines are, as one might expect, sleek, with the ST JO  appealing for its truth, given that it is from 2 hectares at TOURNON and 0.5 hectare at MAUVES – the original heart of the SAINT-JOSEPH appellation. The CHAPELLE held a fine thread of mineral, tightening as it went, so respected the vintage well; it will evolve over 25 years or so.

PIERRE CLAPE PREPARES THE WINES

It was a sunny, warm day, and I walked to the Place with a definite spring in my step. The group was gathered, and PIERRE and OLIVIER CLAPE were hard at work decanting bottles and ensuring they were limpid for the tasting. PIERRE remarked to me: “we never do something like this. We might have done ten vintages in the past, but no more than that.”

The crux of the tasting was a simple strategy – that of showing the wines in two and threes according to the style of the vintage. Hence, cool and rainy years together – 2002, 1993 and 1992, for example, which kicked off the day’s event. Or cool years such as 2008, 1996, 1994, when the wines were on the mineral, higher than usual acidity trail. Or the vastly solar years such as 2003 and 2009. Or the wonderful, supremely balanced years, in to which 1990, 1991 and 2010 fell.

The tasting confirmed that this is a most extraordinary domaine. The capture of the vintage - whatever the season had dealt its way - was supreme. Each wine held its own character, with an absolutely commendable precision and delineation. I am using mathematical words for what is an art, but that is what the domaine Clape has achieved for so long – a telling combination of human art and skill with nature’s delivery of constant surprises and occasional presents.

The other feature was of course how amazingly well these wines live. The Clapes like it that way, much as they do when taking years to size up and get to know a new vineyard – the ex-NOËL VERSET LA SABAROTTE being a case in point. AUGUSTE would tell me after ten years that they were still working out how it ticked, and therefore how its ripening could be best handled.

Within the discourse on the wines, another telling point came through. AUGUSTE has always told me that the decision about the date of harvest was the single hardest action he had to take in any year. “The chef can go back into his kitchen and re-do the sauce that his customers don’t like, but the vigneron cannot do that,” he has said to me.

During the tasting, comments from PIERRE and OLIVIER referred to harvest dates, some of them going against the grain of what others were doing at CORNAS that year. I know that THIÉRRY ALLEMAND is another who is hot on the case about when to harvest, and can sometimes be about ten days ahead of his neighbours.

The tasting started with a palate loosener in the form of the DOMAINE CLAPE 2014 CÔTES DU RHÔNE RED, taken from 50 year old vineyards on granite soils in the commune of SAINT-PÉRAY, and from younger 30 year old SYRAH from alluvial soils on the Rhône River side of the N86 near SAINT-PÉRAY. This was naked, beau wine, well freshened by the inclusion of the stems.

VINIFICATION

The making of the CORNAS chez CLAPE has altered little since I first visited AUGUST in 1973: the stems are included across the whole range of sites, whatever the age of the vines. There is a light crush, and vinification takes place in open concrete vats. There are no added yeasts. There is cap punching and pumping over over the course of about 12 days.

The malolactic fermentation takes place in the ex-beer barrel foudres of around 6-18 hl, and both the CORNAS and its young brother RENAISSANCE are raised during 20-22 months before bottling. There is no filtration. There are around 15,000 to 18,000 bottles of the CORNAS, and about 4,500 to 5,000 bottles of RENAISSANCE.

THE TASTING

Then it was on to a trio of gentle years, and we were off and running in the old PMU premises.

2002, 1993, 1992 – rain affected vintages

2002 *** charming, fine red robe. The nose combines floral airs with a pepper top note. It comes with tobacco, cool vintage associations, and there is a delicate aroma of raspberry within. The palate has a Nordic, soft red fruit outer with floral notes in its powdery tannins, touches of dried herbs, licorice present. There is a slight late glow. This is precise wine, closer to Burgundy than the southern Rhône, has Pinot qualities. It tells a charming story, is stylish and refined. “It drinks very well, is right on top form. Rain was forecast for early September. After those rains, it was humid and fresh, so the vineyards couldn’t bounce back. The sorting and discarding was extreme – it took 16 people one and a half days to cover the 0.6 hectare on Patou”, Pierre Clape. 13°. 2027-28  May 2016 Previously Dec 2007 **(*)

1993 ***(*) ruby, tiled robe. The nose is soft, charming, gives airs of strawberry and damson plum, rose petal, peony and spice. The palate has a smoky, tobacco debut, backed by a fluid red fruiting with a click-clack of fresh tannins: the vegetal contribution from them is successful, holding the wine up as it ends. There is fine detail on the finish, licorice, smoke, graphite. This has a good late palate. “It is vivacious”, Olivier Clape. “All went well until 3 or 4 September. It had been a relatively precocious year, but a total of around 500 mm rain (20 inches) fell in August and September. There were extreme floods in the last week of September – the plain around the Château de Châteaubourg was under water,” Pierre Clape. 2024-25  May 2016 Previously ***

1992 **(*) the robe is a smidgin more pale than the 1993 – it is ruby, with a plum red centre. The nose rests on a couch of cooked plum, with clove, slight mushroom, also some Pinot associations. The attack is wiry, tight, has a peppery profile, with iron and mineral after half way. It fades a little on the finish. It is tiring more than the 1993. It has a mineral, true Cornas close. It’s neat and unsassuming. “1992 is usually ahead of 1993, but this bottle I feel has taken in some air via the cork. There was a small budding this year, and the berries were big and diluted, similar to 2014. Harvest conditions weren’t great,” Pierre Clape. 2020-21 May 2016  Previously ***

2011, 2004, 2000 – quiet years when the vines took a pause following high sun years of 2010, 2003 and 1999; tannins were low-key, structure less in play than in the best vintages

2011 **** dark red, with purple, legs visible. Blackberry and loganberry, big berries, feature in the nose, have a copious but cool make-up. It is very young, has a juvenile “brilliance”, shows some airs of black cherries, licorice. The palate offers bright black berry fruit with firm tannins pretty well tucked in. It attacks on blueberry, cool fruit. This is Slow Burn wine that is going along slowly. Leave it until 2021-22, so it can benefit from early secondary influences and greater variety – it is a bit monochrome just now. Once aired, it starts to crunch together as it finishes = meaning it is young wine. “It needs another ten years,” Pierre Clape. “It is a bit like 2014, with similar precocity – yields were good, with attractive grapes. The year had been complicated – the spring was cool, and summer was delayed until early August, then there was a rapid burst of heat around 11 August – that stressed the vines. The degree was there, but the acidities were a bit high, and when to harvest became a bit of a toss of a coin. In the end, we decided to go for early September. The wine is on fruit, gourmand in style. It lacks a bit of flesh,” Olivier Clape. 2034-36 May 2016 Previously Dec 2013 ****(*)

2004 **** the robe is a still firm dark red, Victoria plum in aspect. The nose is interesting, more on sun, gourmandise than cool reserve. Prune and cooked blackberry show, with a wee hint of smoky bacon; it has a cosy depth, and is appealing to all comers. The palate holds squeezy gras to entertain, with prune and soaked raspberry present. There is a thread of menthol and spearmint. The texture allows it to glide along, all in a smooth register. Notably fine tannins come through on the finish, very neatly. This is very belle (rather than beau), and spherical. “The vineyard was dry, especially after 2003. The vines didn’t have many resources, energy. The leaves were attacked by bugs, and the vineyard looked dried, as if frost had hit it. The summer was hot, with storms, and rot came along. We harvested quite late, the 16-18 September with the help of a North Wind. The wine was very, very gourmand when young, and its cask raising helped it a lot,” Pierre Clape. 2033-35  May 2016 Previously Nov 2011 ****

2000 ****(*) red robe with good core and a winning brightness. The nose is just edging into secondary stages, with cooked plum and touches of raspberry, wet stones, iodine. I find the bouquet quite resembles a Hermitage – it is en finesse. This has a lovely attack, a real sexy red berry fruit, all soft and pleasing. Its tannins are very snug inside. Violets and fine juice show on the finish, with trim, detailed tannin. A very bonny drink, poised and singing wine: grace in the glass. “There was a copious crop at first, but a lack of rain. You had to green harvest this year. There was some stress in the vineyard. Some dilution showed in the wine, but they emerged gourmands and faciles – they never closed, and I find this bottle is very joli today,” Pierre Clape. 2032-34 May 2016 Previously Oct 2010 ****(*)

2006, 2001, 1998 – good quality harvest, openly fruited years, bonny freshness

2006 ***** very full red robe which is stable, unchanged. The nose breathes abundance, is generous and well founded, has a silken note to its cooked blackberry and prune, has airs of violet and menthol attached. This is broad on the palate, brimming with its smooth texture and gras of high quality, all poised. This is a real sexy numero, with perfect harmony between its content and tannins. The tannins are very fine, and bring powdered detail to the also floral close. It is just getting going now. It has always been a very, very appealing wine. The fruit is delightful. “It is extremely young, even shows pre-fermentation notes,” Olivier Clape. “The summer was good, and harvest conditions were super. Olivier was in the USA for the harvest. It was quite an easy wine post-fermentation, and has alaways made progress. At the end of the vinification, the press broke down with two pressings still to do, which we therefore did very, very lightly for La Côte and Reynard, the old vines part of the wine,” Pierre Clape. 2035-37  May 2016 Previously Sept 2010 ****

2001 ****(*) dark plum robe. Smoked bacon, dark berry airs with cool tones, further menthol. There is a kind raspberry softness, flowers and a hint of coffee, also a grainy note from the stems. The palate glides well with a fine raspberry, mulberry fruit. This bears the cool of the vintage. It is a little reserved today; it is mineral-led wine with ways to go. It reminds me of 1995 in a lesser register. Concentrated juice, which is its heartbeat, peeks out of the rocky hillside, and gives the signal for its future. From 2018-19. “There was a bit of alcohol, but good richness to go with it. You dream of years like this vis-à-vis the crop quality – there was no stress, and vinifications were straightforward. The fruit was open until 2006, then closed, and the balance of its youth has not yet been re-found,” Pierre Clape. 2037-39  May 2016 Previously Sept 2004 *****

1998 ****(*) attractive red robe, has the hue of a good Pinot. The bouquet has a smoky air, curvy raspberry and blueberry, a hint of damp forest. It is harmonious, spiced, like an en finesse Grenache from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The palate starts on fleshy, spiced plum fruit, has a southern fat, elegantly served with toffee-like tannins on the finish. It is supple, a little undecided. It has very good, stealthy length. It isn’t an evident wine, has mystery, with hidden corners. It has been withdrawn in the past, and still is: it is southern with northern influences around it. Decanting recommended. “The vineyards suffered from the stress of drought; the crop wasn’t large, the summer hot. The granite gave tannic wines, and it is a true Cornas vintage,” Pierre Clape. 2032-34 May 2016 Previously Dec 2007 ****

1999, 1989 – dry conditions, a lot of sun, prominent tannins

1999 ****** there is a plum heart to the robe, has a pale red top. The bouquet is sunny, has a blackberry-prune lead aroma, a cosy fat mixed in with sweet spice. It’s not fully on the go – there is variety to come. For now, there are touches of iodine and road tar. The palate proceeds very serenely from the nose, with a rich centre, and a sparkling run of mineral towards the finish. Its abundance is well directed, and it closes on mineral-floral grip. Terroir is now coming back to prevail over vintage. This is stylish, well formed, most handsome. It has a wonderfully salted finish, and is working its way towards being an STGT wine. “There is a note of chocolate on the finish. It was a good year, with no stress in the vineyard. Ripening was a little later than usual. The wines are well-balanced. All across the northern Rhône, ripening was on the mark around 15 September, at around 13° - whether it was Cornas, Hermitage or Côte-Rotie, all at the same time – it’s very rare to have that,” Pierre Clape. 2038-40  May 2016 Previously ******

1989 ***** this has a very good robe, showing just a little advance for its age – ruby over plum. The nose gives smoky, dark airs with a ripe foundation, cooked prune, rays of sun; there are glints of mineral, a wee “high” note, almost reduction. This is still upright in shape – that is a true success at this age. It holds cooked fruits, with tight and clear tannins. Blueberry fruit comes along towards the finish, which is as clean as a whistle. There are violets, a classic Cornas trail on the close, with  spearmint, near garrigue moments on the end. The close is very neat. Air aids it and softens it, expands it. Decanting helpful. “the year was very dry, and that had an impact. Côte-Rôtie had a mid-August storm that helped them. For us at Cornas, the grapes were very small, like blueberries. The wines were quite acid, had a lot of colour, were very fresh. The degree was 12° to 12.5° - ridiculously little given the amount of sun we had. There were a couple of millimetres of rain at harvest, nothing to speak of,” Pierre Clape. 2027-29 May 2016 Previously May 2006 *****

2013, 2005, 1995 – years of small, compact bunches, a high skin to juice ratio, with stems ripe but firm, leading to striking, backward tannins, wines need time and patience

2013 ****(*) bright, shiny black and purple robe. The bouquet has a good oily quality, gives a well-ripened blackberry and black cherry, a touch of acetate with violets, blueberry, licorice. It is going to be a big do in time. The palate springs out well, has a second half that carries cool tannins, and a firm grip on its rocky close, a mineral gasp there. It is tight as a drum on the palate. This is hard core Cornas thanks to much intervention from the granite slopes, a full-on STGT wine. It ends in honourable fashion, with concentrated juice and tannins that carry florality. From 2024. “We lost 30% of the crop from the start, with poor flowering as well. The weather was similar to 2005 at the start of harvest, with small, compact bunches, a bit like Pinot Noir – hence the concentration. We started our harvest around 26 September. The end of August and the month of September made the ripeness in the crop. The wines were robust, held good matter, and weren’t expressive as they started out,” Olivier Clape. 2042-44 May 2016 Previously April 2016 ****(*)

2005 ***** good, full red, a dark plum colour. Prune, sweet spice, date, North African breezes show on the bouquet, which is inky, gives airs of pulp of squid, raspberry, a hint of lamb stock, a red meat depth. The palate is closely bound together on its stylish but reserved gras richness, and a fine funnel of tannin to extend it – there is a real good role of tannin here. It finishes on quietly intense juice, from within. This is still closely packed, has strength and amplitude. It finishes on sun-influenced, fleshy content. It isn’t yet really declared in its true shape and character – it’s at an in-between stage now. “Decant it. “It’s compact, has power,” Olivier Clape. 2037-39  May 2016 Previously Dec 2007 ******

1995 ****** charming red robe, with an elegant, pale top. Coffee beans, rose hip, striking plum fruit show on the bouquet, with wet stones, mineral, “glimpses” of raspberry. This is a Real Rocker, highly provocative – it takes you on a tour of a hidden world of delights. The palate reveals beautiful dentelle qualities, with a really consistent, continuous run of fine content. There are absolutely no pauses or false steps. It is a light tread, tiptoe wine of great purity. You could travel far to find a better bouquet. It shows delicate flowers such as primrose on the aftertaste. It is still an STGT wine, has great balance. “Yields were small, ripening was correct enough. Once it was in bottle, it was not liked by commentators – it was very tannic and tight, but it’s starting to talk now,” Pierre Clape. 2033-36  May 2016 Previously July 2011 ******

The story so far from PIERRE CLAPE: “no surprises, except that the 1996 speaks a bit – I had feared worse. And the quality of the 1993; I haven’t tasted it in three to four years, and in my mind it was a lot more feeble than it showed today.”

LUNCH BREAK

2008, 1996, 1994 – vintages with high acidity after cool, sometimes cold summers, rain a factor. Full ripening difficult to achieve, so work to do in the bottle

2008 ***(*) plum red robe, a good central depth. This has a soft, gradually evolving aroma with plentiful spice, cinnamon, and a rounded florality. There is a semblance of red berry fruit inside; decanting will encourage it. It is expressive, and wants to run. This is handsome on the attack, delivers an immediate stimulus of dark fruits. The tannins have a little bite, and it ends on a glow of menthol. It is a little uneven along the palate, comes and goes. The overall final impression is of the cut of a cool year, the crunch of tannin and stems. It dips a little on the late stages. From 2019. “We had mildew in early June, and rain at the end of the month. July was beau, quite hot. In early September we had a lot of rain – 300 mm (12 inches), with 180 mm (7.2 in) in one night. We couldn’t get onto Reynard, and hired a digger to clear access. The grapes had been flattened by the force of the rain, so it’s a rainy, fresh, diluted year,” Pierre Clape. 2030-32  May 2016 Previously Nov 2010 ***(*) and **** 2 bottlings, I prefer the later one.

1996 *** ruby-plum robe, relatively deeper than the 1994. There is a swirl of dates, mature fruits on the nose, a hint of red meat, just a little mushroom. Sweet spices are included, cooked strawberry, cooked plums. The attack shows advancement, with a fungal, dry note threaded through it. It is still on its fresh drive of the vintage, declares spearmint and cooked black fruits as it finishes. This is tough to be tasted without food. It moves a round as it breathes, showing some more smooth texture towards the finish. It tucks in on the finish – it gets in on itself there. I expected a bit more from this. “The summer was cold, ripeness coming late. Yield was similar to 1994 – 35 hl/ha. There was a lot of acidity, which was always in the wine, and is still there today – keeping the wine going. It is less diluted than 2008,” Pierre Clape. 2024-26  May 2016 Previously ****

1994 ***(*) fine, ruby, light plum robe. Has a biscuity, gently floral, peony aroma, just a touch of Pinot, a real feather in the sky, floats hither and thither, has a most charming delicacy. The palate runs calmly, with a close and good link to the nose, comes with a savoury snug gras richness, then a spiced finish, with texture still there, not dry. It is all very neat, resembles an aged Burgundy, of pedigree. It’s a becoming, tender wine, very satisfying, is a real honeybunch of a wine. “We had hail. We regarded it as a good year as it followed 1992 and 1993! It was late, and ripening wasn’t fully achieved. The tannins weren’t noble either – they were dry,” Pierre Clape. 2023-25  May 2016 Previously **

2007, 1997 – two vintages with some drought stress in the vineyard, and ones that fly low on winelovers’ radar. The wines when young were not a real ensemble

2007 **** damson plum, dark red robe. The richness, up front style of the bouquet is consistent with past tastings. There is a chocolate density and a rather coated prune presence, along with primrose and peony. There are dark ink spots, mystery within it; it has the potential to really vary. The palate delivers immediate, sound gras richness and the texture to go with it – iut amounts to a generous display of date and prune with their thick, quite chewy skins. This has a humming motor, a sense of luxury with a more naughty, late spicing that breaks out of its flesh. Serene, atypical Cornas Clape based on fat. It shows global warming vis-à-vis the 1990s – you couldn’t have had a wine like this in 1996 or 1997, for example. “There was some dry weather stress, and we were on the 2003 route for a while. The wine was dis-associated when young, but today it’s more married. It’s not a vintage that is my great favourite,” Pierre Clape. 2034-36  May 2016 Previously Dec 2009 ***(*) this is the 1st bottling (for Yapp, GB)

1997 ***(*) attractive red robe. This has a delicately scented nose of pure qualities, gathers notably clear red fruits, bright redcurrant with sweet spice, cardoman, cocoa, has hints of red meat, blood. The palate offers an effortless flow of stylish red fruit. It gains intensity and sunny depth as it finishes. It is younger than the 1996 today. There is a typical floral hover on the finish, the aftertaste pure and precise. This is a wine of detail, finesse, and is tasting very close to its best now. “September and October were superb; we weren’t in a hurry to harvest, but the vines weren’t gaining much ground even with that approach,” Pierre Clape. 2025-27  May 2016   Previously Nov 2005 ***

2012, 1988 – classic, balanced years, with the vineyard dry during summer. The 2012 started with more sing-song than the initially tight 1988. The latter was one of my best jiggy moments of the tasting,  a wine that surprised me by its great style – showing that Cornas holds an intrinsic ripeness edge over Côte-Rôtie, for example. Many 1988 Côte-Rôties would hold nowhere near this level of richness today

2012 ****(*) full and shiny robe, black with a purple top. There is a little acetate (I am sensitive to that, more than most) on the nose, which has a blackberry, yeasty air, which serves to mask the clarity of the fruit a little. It has a ground force, inner depth. Other contributors are violet, prune, cold tea. This is savoury, warm wine with ripe, still furry tannins inset. It is full of beans, pushes along with vigour. It’s at a slightly quiet moment as it starts to move past its primary phase and fruit. It is a full wine with density on the agenda, so isn’t typical at this stage – it will get there, though. The tannins have punch, drive as it breathes. From 2023. 2036-38  May 2016 Previously June 2015 ****(*)

1988 ***** a pure ruby robe here. The bouquet issues toffee, sweet fig, like an aged Barolo; it has evolved into a ripe, near sudiste/southern wine. Red berries, black raisin, spice are present, and it denotes a noble, aged wine. The palate connects very well to the nose, offers plump, spiced gras, a concentrated, stately juice in it. This is tasty and well sustained; its freshness is holding it up, and it has evolved with maximum style, continuing its early richness very well. It is most satisfying and arresting, lovely. It is a a Grand Vin 1988, a year that wasn’t always up to this standard across the northern Rhône. “I started on the domaine on 1 May, 1988. I did most of my work in the vineyard. My father did the vinifications of the 1988 and the 1989. For this wine, I say, “merci, Auguste!”, Pierre Clape.  2026-28  May 2016 Previously ****(*)

2009, 2003 – shut the shutters at 09.00 hours, and sit out the high heat vintages. Full-on solar influences, so terroir in the back seat, a long way behind the weather trail. Both years were undoubtedly helped by high rainfall the previous year – in 2008 and 2002  

2009 ****(*) dark robe, black and violet-tinted, legs visible. The bouquet is almost violent in its delivery, shows acetate, has a big, deep heart founded around coulis, intense blackberry, with licorice, buffed black leather. It’s still a little rugged. The palate starts on a rich, thorough display of black berry, black stone fruits, courses with vigorous content, and holds nothing back; its richness goes deep. The tannins are bright, and are helping its late clarity. It is only half a wine. The finish is tangy, concentrated on a bite of darkness. It is a bit like 1999. From 2022. “This year we had fears that we were in for another 2003, but in the end, the vintage sorted itself out. We started the harvest on 2-3 September, we had a better canopy cover, having learned from the 2003 experience. The other factor that helped was 2008 and its legacy of high water reserves, so that allowed the vines to resists the drought this year,” Olivier Clape. 2036-38  May 2016 Previously Oct 2012 *****

2003 **** full plum red robe. The nose has reached a relative serenity, comes with soaked raspberries, and has found a certain Cornas harmony. Its sweet pastille style is of course very atypical. Its gives the image of big fruit lozenges. The palate has a flavour of soaked cherries, griottes, red cherries – the aroma springs out of the glass, a maximum air of griottes here. It is opulent, but continuous, not static. It doesn’t hold much mystery, is an open, gourmand book. The tannins have largely not fully softened . .  so its balance isn’t 100% as it stands. It goes pretty long, is stable and laden. There is a risk of late dryness. “It never has been balanced,” Olivier Clape. “The total acidity was 2.8, while the Reynard pH was 4.2. The speed of ripening and the rise in sugars took us by surprise; there were yellow leaves everywhere. We had a bit of spring frost on the low part of the slopes, and hail at the end of July from the west, then it went straight back to the heat wave.” From 2020? 2031-34 May 2016 Previously March 2007 *****

2010, 1991, 1990 – supreme balance years, well-timed rainfalls, not too many hot nights, all parts an ensemble. 1991 the most underestimated of the three vintages

2010 ****** sustained dark red colour, with its purple toning down. The bouquet is starting to vary and gain detail, has an oxtail depth, light meat stock, presents masses of black berries. It is full, abundant, also cool, not over sunny. It is a nose that captures bounty and freshness together, a mark of the quality of the vintage. Boy, this is good! Wowee. The most striking elegance and assured gras richness greets you; this is wonderfully, immediately a Grand Vin, it courses with a brilliant, all-round appeal, its balance primo. Its energy takes 10 years off one’s life. Thank you, Cornas Clape. It is still more vintage than terroir, but the ensemble is there for terroir in time. From, say 2025. “The 25-30 mm (1-1.2 in) of rain in August was a great help; the wine made itself by itself – all we had to do was the cut the grapes and put them in the vat, as we did in 1999,” Pierre Clape. “It has always been like this – it hasn’t budged at all,” Olivier Clape. 2043-46  May 2016 Previously Oct 2012 ******

1991 ***** this bottle I brought back to Cornas from my cellar in East Sussex, so it had had two homes, one in London and in Sussex. Plum red, ruby topped robe. This a floral, peony perhaps, very clearly defined nose: it tinkles with pure red fruit, redcurrant and quince, white pepper behind. It is stylish and Burgundian. The palate links very well to the nose via its bright, detailed features, takes on a little more kick of dark tannin on the close, where it deepens. This is serene and fascinating, and you have to concentrate to capture its rather coy offering. It hands out mineral as it closes. It is going very well, is still very young. An STGT wine of great finesse here. “This is a true Cornas. On the finish you find the wine as it was when starting out,” Pierre Clape. 2032-35  May 2016 Previously ****

1990 ***** the robe is notable for its brightness, a brilliant ruby shows real vigour to the eye. The nose curves and holds, takes you on a funfair ride of ripe and stylish fruit swoops. It has a wonderful harmony, not a detail out of place: Everly Brothers singing here. There is just a little grilling. The palate is silken, continuous, most engaging. Its gras has supreme style. It hasn’t evolved much, and reaches out with sweet toned appeal, is very long. The finish brings I a little nutty tannin, toffee, gives Cornas crunch there, dusted moments, close to garrigue herbs. The balance is great, the evolution slow on its content. It tones down on the finish. I didn’t consider this a real, true Cornas when it was younger, but it is certainly getting there now. “It is a bit more Hermitage than Cornas, with more elegant tannins than usual. I find a bit of carburant – diesel – on the nose, which I haven’t found before. The level in the bottle was a bit down,” Pierre Clape. 2034-37 May 2016 Previously March 2007 ******

Thus ended a most memorable day. The wines served in the next door village, with the two growers present, time to look into the soul of all the bottles present.

VIVE CORNAS! VIVE LA FAMILLE CLAPE!