France is very quiet on Sundays. Very quiet. Even the restaurant in the hotel is closed. Since it's difficult to get visits at domaines on this day of the week, I took the opportunity to get some work done at my hotel, primarily tasting two verticals; one each from A. Clape in Cornas (a 1997 was provided as well, but no score given due to a bad cork) and Jean-Paul & Jean-Luc Jamet in Côte-Rôtie. Both domaines are revered by Rhône aficionados for producing distinctive, long-lived Syrah bottlings.
During the '80s and '90s both domaines were in transitional periods, yet now, with 20-plus vintages under their respective belts, both Pierre Clape and Jean-Paul Jamet may be producing their best wines yet.
Clape took over the running of the domaine in the late 1980s, though his father, Auguste, and son, Olivier, are always on hand. The major change during Clape's early years at the helm was to shift from aging in barrel to foudre. The domaine began purchasing foudres (larger oak vessels usually containing 1,500 liters or more of wine) in the mid-'80s and Clape had shifted entirely to foudre in time for the '94 vintage. In 1997 he began removing his younger vine parcels from the grand vin, a selection process that upped the quality of the wine, yet he still kept the grand vin as the larger production wine of the two. And as Noël Verset, one of Cornas' old guard vignerons, moved into retirement earlier this decade, Clape acquired some of his choicest parcels in the Sabarotte lieu-dit (named vineyard), which now form an important part of the final cuvée. As the tasting notes below show, Clape's most impressive run started this decade, culminating, so far, in an iron-clad 2005 that should be very long lived.
Clape's style—no destemming, neutral oak—results in a firm, muscular profile that typically needs several years to soften. The wines all showed well out of the bottle, but improved dramatically after more than two hours of decanting. It's a very tannic-driven wine that almost plods along its evolutionary tract, but is a wine that truly rewards patience.
Around the same time that Clape was taking over at his domaine, Jean-Paul Jamet was doing the same at his. In the 1970s, his father had begun the domaine with just one wine from the famed Côte Brune lieu-dit. As Jamet acquired additional parcels (it now totals 25 parcels in 15 different lieux-dits) Jamet used them to assemble a blend, which eventually grew in production volume and now easily surpasses the Côte Brune bottling.
Auguste, Olivier and Pierre-Marie Clape in the family's cellar.
Jamet personally believes in the one estate-one wine theory, as opposed to having multiple cuvées. However, he produces the separate, smaller Côte Brune bottling every year in homage to his father. Its very limited production, usually just a few hundred cases, sometimes prevents it from officially getting it into the U.S. marketplace, making it one of the Rhône's most sought-after collectibles. While it tends to have a darker, more roasted profile than the blended cuvée, the two are often splitting hairs in quality.
The Jamet style is very distinctive. It's acid-driven, with mouthwatering iron and sanguine notes and a broad range of wild roasted game, tobacco, olive and dark fruit aromas and flavors. It can show well when young, as opposed to Clape's typically backward Cornas, but it ages equally as well. The most eye-opening wine of the day was Jamet's 1991, from a markedly cool vintage overshadowed by the hyped '90 harvest. It's a wine that demonstrates how balance, as opposed to sheer power, is the ultimate key to a wine's longevity.
For more background on these two domaines, you can reference my blog notes from visits during this current trip, as well as additional notes from visits to A. Clape in October 2007 and November 2009 and to Jamet in November 2006, March 2007 and July 2008.
Both verticals were provided by the domaines to ensure pristine provenance, with the vintages selected at the domaine's discretion. The wines were not tasted blind, though they were tasted privately without anyone from the domaines in attendance. Notes are listed below in descending vintage order.
(Read my official reviews of A. Clape's bottled wines from previous vintages and Jean-Paul & Jean-Luc Jamet's bottled wines from previous vintages.)
This is the Rock of Gibraltar vintage. A brick house of a wine, with a tremendous core of racy red currant and black cherry fruit that's locked behind a wall of dense but sleek tannins. Still very taut, but so pure and racy, with the minerality blazing through the finish. Wait, wait, wait. Best from 2013 through 2030. 1,330 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
The fruit here has shifted from dark to bright and inviting, with damson plum, red currant and loganberry notes mingling nicely, though the back end of iron-laced grip quickly takes over. Not nearly as compacted as the 2005, with excellent precision and a long, chiseled finish. Best from 2011 through 2020. 1,500 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
This heat-marked vintage really sticks out in this flight, with juicy raspberry, blackberry and boysenberry fruit leaping to the fore. Open and lush, with hints of fig paste, graphite and dark olive adding just enough definition to the finish, where the core of raspberry ganache lingers. Probably won't go the distance of the others, but it's delicious. Drink now through 2018. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
The weakest vintage for the Northern Rhône since the early 1990s, this nonetheless manages to offer a solid core of mulled raspberry and plum fruit, laced with chalk, grilled herb and iron notes that stay true to the appellation. Not concentrated enough to be outstanding, but there's no hard edges at all. A very admirable effort for the vintage. Drink now through 2015. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
This is really starting to develop nicely, with a racy, iron- and chalk-loaded spine that drives the mouthwatering red currant, damson plum and cherry pit notes. The long, driven finish lets the iron note take a lengthy encore. After two hours, this was continuing to open up while showing more polish around the edges. Best from 2011 through 2021. 1,540 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
Gorgeous, this seemingly relies more on pure, driven plum, raspberry and cherry fruit than other vintages-until the finish takes over, where dark briar patch, sweet tapenade and mesquite notes assert themselves authoritatively. Ends with nice tension between the two sides. This should meld together a bit more slowly than the 2001. Best from 2012 through 2022. 1,500 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
This is starting to kick into second gear, with the firm bitter cherry and tobacco notes melding into the core of cherry preserve, crushed plum and dark fig fruit. Nice tangy minerality keeps the edges nervy, ending on a vibrant, slightly high-toned note. Best from 2011 through 2021. 1,500 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
Very expressive, with mature aromas of cedar, black tea and sandalwood giving way to a slightly firm-edged palate of charred mesquite, roasted plum and warm red currant preserve. Smoky and brawny on the finish, with a rugged feel to the grip, taking over from the maturing fruit. A harder-edged vintage, though softening somewhat with time in the glass. Drink now through 2016. 1,415 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
This is hitting its stride now, with cherry pit and bitter orange notes framing the mulled plum, blackberry and cherry fruit, all backed by roasted olive and aged tobacco. There's still rather strident tannins that may never fully give way. The last vintage before the young vine parcels were bottled separately for the Renaissance cuvée. Drink now through 2018. 1,330 cases made. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
At peak, this delivers mulled currant and fig notes liberally laced now with cedar, sandalwood, incense, dried clove and saucisson sec notes that hang on well enough before the charcoal-tinged finish takes over. One of the last vintages to see any barrel before foudres were used solely, beginning in 1994. Drink now. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
This offers beguiling aromas of sandalwood and patchouli, along with bay leaf and warm sautéed mushroom. The fruit is dry and almost wispy in feel, with hints of cherry pit and dried red currant that then give way to bitter orange and clove, which smolder on the finish. Starting to dry up, but still has complexity to offer. Vinified by Auguste before Pierre joined in 1987 and aged entirely in barrel, as the first foudres didn't arrive until 1985. Drink now. Non-blind Clape Cornas vertical (2010).—J.M.
Youthfully tight, with hints of lilac, white pepper and red currant quickly overrun by a strong iron note. The finish is taut, with a damson plum note lingering, but it's also seriously long, and this should more than fill out nicely. Best from 2012 through 2020. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
Totally closed for business right now, with demure aromas and a hard-as-nails structure holding the core of damson plum, iron, red currant and lavender at bay for now. Yet the tannins are ripe and integrated, and the finish won't let go. Should be a classic when it emerges fully. Best from 2013 through 2025. 2,000 cases made. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
A different animal, this is open and inviting, with mouthwatering rosemary, olive and aged tobacco notes weaving through a core of damson plum and red currant fruit. Turns darker through the finish, with braised fig and roasted cep notes backed by impressive grip. Drink now through 2022. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
This hasn't moved much from when I tasted it in a horizontal of 1999 Côte-Rôtie 18 months ago. A textbook Jamet, with loads of macerated fig, currant and blackberry fruit flavors laid over a riveting minerally edge and a long finish filled with sanguine, hoisin sauce and incense notes. Showing beautifully. Drink now through 2018. 1,665 cases made. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
A fresh, elegant-styled vintage that is also at peak now, but should hold. There's tangy red currant, violet and white pepper notes backed by brisk but integrated structure. The finish isn't as expansive as the top vintage, but shows excellent cut and drive. Drink now through 2018. 2,080 cases made. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
At peak, with a light tobacco leaf note framing the mix of olive, red currant, pomegranate, cherry pit and grilled herb flavors. Shows a slightly chalkier edge than other vintages, but stays vigorous through the finish. Puts on weight in the glass. Drink now through 2017. 2,080 cases made. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
Shows the brisk edge of the vintage, but is a few shades darker than the regular cuvées, with additional mulled fig and currant fruit laced with maduro tobacco, roasted cep and briar notes that really take off nicely through the finish. Drink now through 2020. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
This nicely marries mature, lacy structure with the vintage's more modest fruit profile and the cuvée's typically darker edge. The roasted fig, briar and tobacco notes have fully melded together, while saucisson sec and pepper hints are taking over on the lightly firm finish. Drink now through 2015. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
Fully mature, but not showing any signs of breaking down soon, this has a still-dark core of very suave fig, crushed plum and blackberry fruit liberally laced with cocoa power, maduro tobacco and roasted cep notes, all backed by a long, charcoal-tinged finish. The acidity is mouthwatering and won't let go, extending the seamless finish into the distant horizon. Extremely impressive. Even the awesome 2005 will be hard pressed to catch up to this one. Drink now through 2018. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
Also fully mature, with the cedar, saucisson sec, dried currant and bitter cherry flavors framed by sandalwood, black tea and sanguine notes. Shows a firmer, slightly more rustic edge than the others, but a lingering note of cocoa-dusted black currant gives this the balance it needs. Drink now through 2014. Non-blind Jamet Côte-Rôtie vertical (2010).—J.M.
Dave — Idaho — March 20, 2010 8:33pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — March 21, 2010 8:05am ET
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