Auguste Clape Cornas 2006

Last Saturday afternoon, I found myself in Berkeley, California, home of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. For you Aussie readers, I’ll just say that Kermit is no Dan Murphy; he’s been in the business for decades and could well be said to have single-handedly revolutionized the import business by traveling to Europe (OK, mostly France) by himself, tasting small, handmade wines from family-owned wineries, and then going to the trouble of importing them in refrigerated containers to preserve the wine’s quality. The California wine scene hasn’t been the same since Kermit hung out a shingle, and we are very much the richer for it. Where else can you find an artisanal Côtes du Rhône for less than $12 or small production wines from places you’ve never even heard of?As Randall Grahm once wrote, one should “Go to Berserkeley, get a case of Clape” – so I figured sure, why not. Probably not a case – I mean, a case of this stuff costs more than most studio apartments in Berkeley – but a single bottle? That, I could do, even if I think it’s a new record for me (even Ridge Monte Bello costs less as futures here). We stopped next door at Acme Bread for a whole wheat walnut levain and pain de mie, hit the Cheese Board for some delicious cooperatively retailed small production cheese from Marin County, ran by Genova Deli in Oakland for some prosciutto di Parma, and we were good to go.Back in Oakland – I had come up for the weekend to spend time with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years – we got to work. I opened the wine, poured two glasses… and was instantly greatly relieved that it was obviously worth the money. The best wines in the world defy description; the only word that comes to mind in that situation (to me) is ineffable. I experienced a visceral, physical reaction: the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, I stopped thinking, and a few moments later I came to again. Thinking that this puppy would need a lot of exposure to air, I headed back to the kitchen and helped prep the food; later, armed with an array of cheese (if you’ve never had Cowgirl Creamery‘s Red Hawk, by the way, I can’t recommend it highly enough), freshly baked bread, zucchini torta, and a mountain of charcuterie, we got down to drinking.If memory serves me correctly, the primary aromas of this wine were steely minerality, a fleeting floral note, dark red or black fruits (think cassis, perhaps), wet, stony earth, leather, a little bit of smoke (perhaps from a butcher’s), and a trace of bacon fat. In short, this is exactly what you would expect from syrah from the northern Rhône. No matter how many times I returned to the glass, it absolutely refused to settle down into any kind of a predictable pattern. Just as a good perfume is designed to constantly change every time you smell it, this wine was a beautiful, living, breathing thing constantly suggesting new ways of approaching it. Over time – it took a few hours to dust the bottle – it did mellow out somewhat, with the tooth-staining, formidable tannins relaxing somewhat into a sweeter, less aggressive profile – but even then, it threw forth an impenetrable aura of undeniable, reserved elegance very much like traditional luxury goods do: you know it’s expensive, you know it’s the best – and there’s also a certain humorlessness that goes with the terroir, er, territory.Lest I leave out any part of a standard tasting note, I will here perfunctorily note that the color was an exuberantly youthful purple, noticeably clear at the rim, and very clean. The finish was masculine and tannic, but no match for the initial attack of the wine: the initial sensation of leathery minerals with raspberry darkness was more than you could possibly want.Thinking about the wine for the next two days, however, I almost found myself longing for something a bit more, well, strange about this wine. In a very real sense, this wine is indeed brilliantly made and an archetype of a style, the obvious bottle that launched a thousand New World imitators. But what if you’re a New World kind of guy? To me, this wine was almost more of a learning experience than pure physical pleasure: to drink this wine is to understand where you (and your country’s wines, in part) came from. To drink this wine is to be properly schooled in How It Is Done. To drink this wine is to be presented with a tangible challenge: How are we in the New World to respond to this? The country that we have: where is the place that could produce a wine anywhere this elegant, this powerful, this beautiful? Do we even know where it is? And if we did, how would we farm it? Would we succeed?I believe that I have had the great good fortune to taste several New World wines that approach, equal, or even exceed the greatness that this wine personifies. Christophe Baron and Tim Kirk have both (in my mind) proven that great Syrah can be grown outside of the northern Rhone: a Cayuse or Clonakilla syrah exhibits all of the same characteristics in of course regionally distinct ways… and I have to guiltily admit that I admire their wines the more for it. The Clape family figured it out a long time ago; Baron and Kirk are relatively new at this, and I find their achievements all the more impressive for it. However, parochialism and nationalism aside (on my part), I am ultimately simply grateful that wines like this exist. After all, that moment of pure physical pleasure, of experiencing a beauty outside of time, isn’t something that just happens: it takes hard work. Without the dedication and efforts of these men, experiences like this would simply not exist.Auguste Clape
Price: $87
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

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