• Bona Fide Cornas:  Domaine Auguste Clape 1988-2016

    Bona Fide Cornas: Domaine Auguste Clape 1988-2016

    Last July's visit through the Northern Rhone anxiously started in Burgundy when I hit the road at dawn on my birthday and drove south. Short on sleep from the night's festivities, but the anticipation for the next chapter on the tour was all the fuel I needed. First stop: Domaine Auguste Clape.

    Today, I'm happy to offer wines from the legendary Cornas family, stretching from 1988 to 2016.

    Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult. Eric Asimov does a much better job. Of course, being the original producer in Cornas to bottle under his own label is a notch on the belt. And, having worked exclusively by hand on these treacherously steep terraces is another. Sadly, the day after my visit with his son Pierre-Marie, Auguste Clape passed away at 93. 

    No domaine founded in the birthplace of Syrah captures the soul of its appellation like Clape has with Cornas. Having started with a domaine bottling in 1955 and having stopped all négociant sales in 1968, Auguste Clape is a pioneer of the Rhone joined in ranks with names like Verset, Trollat, and Juge. 

    Clape's 5.5 hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Reynard and Chaillot from Allemand fame, as well as Nöel Verset's cherished, 
    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 in the most traditional fashion with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre.

    The style of the domaine has always been one that's pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. This style of fruit-forward Cornas coming from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure, but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. Unlike Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, the argument is often made that of the Big 3, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the typical savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of the wines from this fabled domaine.

    Tasting through each parcel and visiting the vines with Pierre-Marie was a window into a time long ago. Methods and settings have remained unaltered. There hadn't been rain for some time, and just maintaining footing on these steep slopes was a challenge, as both of us used a grasp on the échelas stakes for support.

    In the cellar, tasting 2017 in foudre back through bottles from the 90's was a great lesson in the transformation of the wines. The highlight may have been that 2017 barrel sample of the isolated 80-yr-old, 1.2 hectare Reynard parcel. A concentrated and chiseled beast from the robust 2017 Northern Rhone vintage.


    Côtes du Rhone is 100% Syrah from 30-50-yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 6 months in cement, and another 6 months in foudre. 2% is comprised of free fun juice from young vine Cornas.

    Cornas is sourced from 30-60 yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 22 months in 6 or 22 hl-foudres.

    Cornas Renaissance is sourced from younger vines. Fermentation and aging is the same as the Cornas.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • Northern Rhône Syrah: There Will Be Scrolling

    Northern Rhône Syrah: There Will Be Scrolling

    Today's list is deep on the main appellations of the Northern Rhône Valley. If you're crazy for Syrah like me, you'll find something to hit every mark and every occasion. Supreme values like Xavier Gerard's Côte Rôtie is still gaining traction in the US as a new import. Hervé Souhaut and Jean-Michel Stephan approach Syrah like their mentor Marcel Lapierre did Gamay. And, old gems turned new with 1991 Gentaz-Dervieux Côte Rôtie and now 2016 Hommage à Gentaz-Dervieux from Rene Rostaing.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen