Auguste Clape acquired access to 5 hectares of vines (3.5ha of which were in Cornas) through marriage to his wife Henriette in 1949. Over the ensuing decades, he quietly increased his vine holdings and through successive successful vintages, gradually built up an international following and reputation. His son Pierre left a career in engineering to join the family enterprise in 1989 and his son Olivier followed suit in 2002. When Auguste died in July 2018 aged 93, he was acclaimed as a Syrah-specialist and creator of an eponymous estate that produces wines of great consistency and longevity.
Today, Pierre and Olivier preside over 5.5 hectares in several parcels of varying vine age in Cornas along with just under a hectare in Saint-Péray, 1.1ha of Côtes du Rhône and 1.3ha of IGP Vin de Pays. Their principal focus is on growing Syrah from mature vines on granitic soils and producing complex, tight knit, ageworthy wines within the climatic context of any given vintage.
The Clape's classic Cornas hails from fully mature rootstock largely located on the 'Reynards' lieu-dit in the heart of the appellation. The house-style is deliberately non-interventionist with no destemming and a 12 day cuvaison in concrete vats before the wine is raised for 2 years in large Hungarian oak foudres before a fastidious assemblage and bottling. The young wine has an impressive deep-purple robe, intense black fruit scents and a wealth of dark autumnal fruit on the palate supported by a dense (sometimes impenetrable) structure of rugged tannins and cooling granitic undertones. It is often remarkably approachable on its young fruit but then closes up with bottle-age and really requires a decade or more for its complex infrastructure of fruit and tannin to soften and integrate. It is a wine that will support bold, flavoursome dishes of venison, beef or wild mushrooms.
Since 1997, the Clapes have bottled a second cuvée of Cornas called 'Renaissance' that hails from 5 separate parcels of vines and is intended to be a little less complex and more forward-drinking than its senior sibling and thus has a slightly shorter 18 month élevage. It is still, however, a strapping wine of great concentration that is brimming with briary, berry fruit over a background of peppery tannins. It drinks very well from 5 to 10 years of age and in superior vintages will age gracefully for a further decade thereafter.
Since an impressive debut in 2009, Maxime Graillot and his business partner Thomas Schmittel have tended a plot of rented vines on the upper slopes of Cornas from which they have conjured a cracking inky-dark wine under their 'Equis' label. With attractive plum and damson aromas and flavours, mineral notes, fine-grained tannins and deft integration of some subtle oak, this is a sleek, contemporary Syrah that will drink well at 5 to 10+ years of age.
Domaine Lombard's négociant offering of Cornas is an apposite example of prix-qualité from the often-underrated 2014 vintage in the Rhône. Full of dark forest fruit, peppery spice and with plenty of bottle maturity, this is readily approachable now and will continue to evolve over the next few years.