Father and son Pierre and Olivier Clape take understatement to a level whereby you would think they were making home-brew rather than some of the most revered wines in the Rhône valley. Spend a few hours in their company, in their bijou cellars beneath the D86 and you soon realise there is a quick intelligence at work, an unbridled enthusiasm for their terroir and their métier; the whole infused with a gentle good humour and generosity of spirit.
The Clape's principal Cornas is made with whole bunch 'old vine' Syrah that is vinified in open concrete vats and matured in large oak foudres for up to two years before blending and bottling. It is always a dense, dark, age-worthy offering and in lighter vintages they simply produce less of it in order to meet their exacting qualitative standards. With a deep purple hue, signature violet and black fruit aromas and complex palate of cracked pepper and stewed hedgerow berries supported by tight knit tannins, it is a definitive vin de garde that benefits from 5 to 10 years bottle age and can cellar well for decades.
Since 1997, the Clapes have produced a second red wine called 'Renaissance'; although none was made in the 2017 vintage as they lost 40% of their potential harvest through drought and poor bud break. It has much the same vinification and characteristics as the senior wine but is theoretically more forward drinking and doesn't command quite such high prices on secondary markets. It, too, is an exemplary Cornas with at least 10 years ageing potential.
Maxime Graillot and his business partner Thomas Schmittel make a commendable Cornas under their 'Equis' négociant label from vines grown in the Sabarotte, La Côte and Chaillott lieux-dits. With an inky purple robe, a dark cherry and berry bouquet, sleek black fruit flavours and supple tannins. It drinks well from release, if decanted, and can be laid down for 5-10 years.
Another négociant bottling that is a one-off rather than an ongoing offering is Julien Montagnon's 'Maison Lombard' Cornas that is beginning to show the benefit of bottle age in the 2014 vintage. With diverse dark fruit scents and flavours, peppery undertones and a smooth finish, it is a well-structured wine ideally suited to warming daubes and casseroles.