The Many Faces of Granite: A Visit to the Clape Cellar in Cornas

Interview with Winemaker Olivier Clape: Climate Change and the Changing Faces of Cornas; How Alsatian Barrels Ended up in the Clape Cellar; Why Clape St Péray Will Be Even Better; 2013 and 2014 Barrel Sample and 2012 Cornas Tasting Notes

Olivier Clape.

Cornas, like all Northern Rhône Syrah, is a study in granite. Its different faces; different exposures, different densities and grades. Each vineyard yields a different iteration, which becomes readily apparent while tasting barrels divided by vineyard sites.

Doing so at Domaine Auguste Clape is the chance of a lifetime to witness this. The domaine has been universally celebrated as benchmark Cornas by everyone from Robert Parker to Kermit Lynch (an odd couple indeed).

Even though the Clape cellar is as rustic as can be — covered in a dense layer of white and grey mold that brings to mind ashed rind goat cheese — there is no barnyard, no bretty aroma which dominates Clape wines. They are bright and clean, yet savage and meaty. They are the very definition of Cornas.

The Clape bottle archive.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olivier Clape last month to taste 2013 and 2014 barrel samples. For individual tasting notes of the barrel samples, divided by vineyard, click here for a comparative chart. (Click to Read more)

The Two Invisible Forces Shaping Southern French Terroir

Life has a way of constantly reminding you that ‘You don’t know until you do something. Similarly, you can’t really understand a wine region until you visit it.

Take Avignon, the stunning, walled medieval city near the Châteauneuf du Pape vineyard, which has served as a cultural center for the Southern Rhône ever since popes and antipopes made it their home during the Whack-A-Mole-like papal succession crisis (ca. 1350).

There are no decorative flower pots in Avignon strewn over window ledges. There are no signs of life; no shoes, laundry or rugs set out. There is nothing at all, really, on display outside of the tightly closed windows of Avignon.

That’s because for 150 days each year, Avignon is a wind tunnel. A surreal test chamber for residents — so many fleshy vessels woefully undesigned for its brutal, drying forces.

Like me, you may have heard about the mistral, and imagined it was some gentle breeze which helped vines stay cool. Ha!

This is what we really mean when we say mistral:

You don’t have to be atop Mount Ventoux for the winds to reach up to 80 mph. When pressed, locals typically confess ‘I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’ve never (Click to Read more)

Flying Blind At Frenchie in Paris

What an exquisite dance we had with the sommelier at Frenchie last Wednesday! The head sommelier Aurélien Masse unveiled a stunning series of wines, which we were given the tantalizing task of identifying blind alongside our carte blanche1 tasting menu dinner.

It started like this: ‘I’ve got some stuff that’s not on the wine list, as well.

‘Any Jamet Côtes du Rhône?’

Yeah, I’d REALLY like to have that on my list, but unfortunately…

‘Tribut Chablis?’

No; there’s some Dauvissat that’s not on the list, but no Tribut. Too hard to get! I’ve got some Anne-Claude Leflaive Bourgogne blanc …

‘Hmm. Although would the oak élevage get in our way? Oh — how about Roulot Bourgogne blanc? Or, ooh! Any De Moor Bel Air et Clardy Chablis?’

Suddenly the sommelier leaned back, and his expression transformed into a serene contentedness. ‘Very well. I now perfectly understand your palate. No need for that wine list any more, here — I’ll take that. So. We’re going to stay within a budget of say 40-50 Euros a bottle, yes? And you’re going to just trust me.

So, carte blanche for the chef that evening, and carte blanche for the sommelier. Why not?

I’ll admit, at first I was worried. Sommeliers don’t always (Click to Read more)

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  1. ‘just trust the chef’ []