A visit to the Northern Rhone for my birthday started by hitting the road at dawn. I was short on sleep from the previous night's festivities in Burgundy, but the anticipation for the next stop on the tour was all of the fuel I needed: Domaine Auguste Clape.

The style here has always pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. These fruit-forward Cornas from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. It's often argued that of the Big Three, including Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of this fabled domaine.

Clape's five hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Allemand's Reynard and Chaillot and Nöel Verset's Sabarotte. This dizzying array of Cornas terroir plays a huge role in the success that's spanned so many decades here. The wines are produced most traditionally with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre.

Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult—Eric Asimov does a much better job in the NYT. Auguste started bottling under his own name in 1955 and stopped all négociant sales in 1968. Sadly, the day after I visited his son Pierre-Marie, he passed away at 93. Auguste is a pioneer of the Rhone alongside Noël Verset, Raymond Trollat, and Marcel Juge.

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