Domaine A. Clape needs no introduction, though if you wish to brush up, you can reference my most recent notes from November 2014. A regular stop on my visits through the region, and a benchmark estate for the appellation, a tasting here is always presented in terms of the bits and pieces that make up the two Cornas cuvées.
Both Pierre Clape and his son Olivier were plenty busy when I arrived, having just bottled two cuvées and making room for the impending harvest. "2016 has been tricky, says Pierre, with a slightly strained expression as he glances skyward at a mottled gray sky. "It's been dry, very, very dry after the very wet spring. So there were disease pressures early and a little maturity blockage late. Right now we could use one good little rain."
As much as I adore the reds here, one of my favorite wines in all of the Rhône Valley is Clape's white, a small-production bottling from Marsanne. The 2015 St.-Péray offers scintillating starfruit, plantain, macadamia nut and salted butter notes, with lush edges and an ever so slightly crunchy interior, followed by the lightest of waxy hints on the finish.
"2015 was a little tricky too," says Pierre as we move into the reds. "We were running late after a wet spring, but then it got very hot and dry and everything wound up early. I thought the acidity would be low, but after the fermentations they were in the normal range, with alcohols a touch higher. Overall the wines are ripe, but they have a sense of freshness, so they are not unbalanced. Riper than 1996 or 2005, more like a little 2010 in style."
The 2015 Vin des Amis (Vin de Pays bottling) offers bitter plum, cherry pit and chalk notes with a fresh feel through the finish. The 2015 Côtes du Rhône (from Syrah just outside Cornas) was the wine bottled the morning of my visit. It's showing fleshy, broad plum sauce, anise and tobacco notes, with a light, tarry edge that should give it spine once it recovers from the mis.
The Cornas has not yet been bottled; its various pieces will wind up either in the Renaissance bottling (typically young vines) or the grand vin (typically old vines). The young vines from the Teyssier parcel were harvested Sept. 12 and 13, and they show the vintage's telltale lushness, with slightly loose edges to the plum compote fruit, and slightly rustic tannins appearing on the finish "young vines suffer more in drought," says Clape dryly (pun intended). The young-vine Reynard fruit is a touch reduced (last racked in April) yet plum, anise and better focus emerge with stead airing in the glass. The old vines from Mazards give off very, very ripe cherry compote and fruitcake notes, but a light tarry edge keeps it honest.
The Petit Cote lot, from 40-year-old vines, is superfresh despite its ripeness, with violet and white pepper notes kicking in for extra range. The La Sabarotte is dense and dark, with more charcoal grip, a marked contrast to the La Cote which shows red fruit notes and a racy, chalky spine. Finally, the heart of the cuvée is the old vines from Reynard, harvested first (Sept. 8 and 9), with warm tar, plum paste and graphite notes, along with dark olive and bay accents that always provide this wine's soul.
As always, Domaine A. Clape is humming along nicely.