A recent run of warm vintages with early harvests has shrunk the growing season in Cornas but the quality of the fruit picked has been excellent. The Clape family began picking their 2020 Syrah crop on 24th August and had finished by 2nd September. Although that is weeks ahead of the traditional vendanges (as in much of France in 2020), they averred that their grapes were in 'outstanding' condition on arrival at the cellar door. The family have 5.5 hectares in Cornas located in 15 plots: all of which are on granitic soils. This gives a broad palette of fruit to work with and means that the blending is critical within the context of any vintage. The family's wines are widely regarded as being the reference point for the appéllation and are celebrated for the purity of their fruit and longevity.
The Clape's principal cuvée of Cornas hails from vines dating back to 1890 and is made from whole bunch fruit vinified in open concrete vats then raised in large oak foudres for two years before blending and bottling. Typically, the finished wine has a deep purple robe, an intense bouquet of violets and hedgerow berries and a complex palate of dark autumnal fruit with undertones of spice and pepper and a tannic structure that will support decades of bottle age. Since 1997, a second wine - called 'Renaissance' - that comes from younger rootstock - has also been produced (although none was made in 2017 as the crop was so small they had to use all the fruit in the main estate wine). It has much the same vinification and characteristics as the regular Cornas but a shorter 17 month élévage makes it marginally more forward drinking and a little less long-lived.
Since 2009, Maxime Graillot and Thomas Schmittel (of Crozes-Hermitage renown) have produced a cracking négociant Cornas from a prime parcel of vines rented from veteran vigneronne Elie Bancel. Made from de-stemmed fruit raised in an assortment of new and used oak barrels for 18 months before blending and bottling, it has an inky dark colour, sweet blackcurrant and blueberry scents and a concentrated palate of stewed red and black fruit supported by ample tannins.
Juilen Montagnon's 'Maison Lombard' Cornas is another fine négociant offering and the sleekly-fruited, peppery 2014 vintage is beginning to show the benefit of bottle age and is readily approachable. Julien is going to be giving his full attention to developing his interests outside the Rhône in future so this wine is a 'WIGIG' – when it's gone it's gone.