Clape Cornas 1995
This week another wine from the Northern Rhône, and indeed another example of Cornas. The vineyards of Cornas do not, as I explained last week, cover a huge expanse of the Rhône Valley, with an area of about 100 hectares planted to vines. Indeed, for many years the reputation of the wines was not expansive either; although there will no doubt be some who are very familiar with the wines, having tasted many vintages from the 1970s and 1980s, the appellation is not as widely acclaimed as Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie, and I expect there are many who have never tasted an example, or who have only recently met the wines. As a consequence this is not a region stuffed full of wealthy playboy vignerons, living off the riches made through selling wines at a high price. In fact many of the estates we know today and only developed through a gradual shift from polyculture to viticulture, focusing less on growing vegetables and fruit, and more on the vine, with the passage of time. Even today many vignerons still hold down two jobs, tending their vines in the morning, working in one of the local factories for the rest of the day.
The change only came to Cornas in the 1990s, when the reputation of the wines began to soar. Despite criticism from many corners, most notably Jancis Robinson's comments that the wines of the appellation were "obdurate", and that those that she tasted from Auguste Clape were "positively antediluvian" in 2000, the wines today are obviously much more widely appreciated than in the past. In part this may be due to wine drinkers seeking a new source of Northern Rhône Syrah as prices in other appellations rise, in part due to new efforts by Jean-Luc Colombo, who is certainly credited with shaking things up a little in Cornas, regardless what you may think of his wines, and it may also be related to a number of estates changing hands, wise but nevertheless aged vignerons being replaced by the young, dedicated and enthusiastic. Whatever the reason, the wines today have a stronger following than ever, and as a consequence prices are also higher. This is unfortunate for our pockets, but necessary if the appellation is to continue to attract the young blood that I think it needs.
In view of these thoughts and comments I thought I should take a look at this wine, the 1995 Cornas from Auguste Clape. Contrary to Robinson's opinion, Rhône guru John Livingstone-Learmonth seems to rate the estate very highly, and finds this wine to have particular appeal, citing a 'drink by' date of 2020-2025, so this is a very early look at this wine. It has a fine dark colour, a vibrant yet deep red core, fading a little at the edges, but not showing a hint of bricky age, merely a softening of its original dark hue. The nose is a little reticent, but carries a lot of reserved fruit, with a very stony and mineral character, plus a little ash, plum skin and cherry skin too. It is loaded with character but not in a plump, flattering or fleshy manner, it has more of a savage, brooding style. A lovely weight on entry, very firm and well knit together, with firm tannins at the finish coated in more ash. A sinewy texture, hard-nosed but not mean or wiry. In fact it remains rather austere in a way. A good length too, with a little cigar here. This is full of promise. With a little more time it opens out and broadens through the midpalate, and softens by just the faintest touch to coat the palate, but it never really relaxes in the mouth. This is a wine of gravitas which needs another five years, if not another ten. I am very glad this is my first bottle, and not my last. 18.5+/20 (28/1/08)