Clape Cornas: Why Everyone Wants the 2009 - Why No One Should Ignore the 2008

Posted by Ian McFadden

A Turning Point for the Northern Rhône Traditionalists?
2009 Auguste Clape Cornas
2008 Auguste Clape Cornas
Why Everyone Wants the 2009
Why No One Should Ignore the 2008

Last month's Parker review was shocking.

This is a very long email - apologies.

But there it was in last month's Wine Advocate, a nearly unfathomable 99-point score for the great traditionalist of Cornas, Auguste Clape, tucked right in there, unassumingly, along with the more familiar Parker favorites, Chapoutier, Chave, Guigal.

Now, the question may be asked: Why is this particularly shocking? Clape makes great wines, right?

Indeed he does, but historically they just haven't been Parker's thing. Clape's style of winemaking is markedly different than the richer, more fruit-forward wines that Parker has generally favored. We all have our preferences and we're not here to lionize one style and demonize the other - objectively one isn't necessarily better than the other, they're just different.

But still, look over the 28 vintages of Clape's Cornas that Parker has reviewed, going back to 1978: The average score? 89.92587 points (rounded to the nearest hundred-thousandth or so).

We are not fond of scores and we generally do not use them in our marketing; but the scores here are important as they provide the context for the 2009 Clape and its rather incredible reception. The 2009 Clape Cornas, and Parker's reaction to it, may very well represent a significant turning point for what we'll call the "traditionalists" of the Northern Rhône.

But let us step back a bit: Along with the likes of Gentaz-Derivieux, Noël Verset, Raymond Trollat, Thierry Allemand, Pierre Gonon, Marcel and Olga Juge and Bernard Levet, Auguste Clape has been what we might call a Northern Rhône traditionalist. Broadly speaking, the wines of the traditionalists are less about fruit and power as they are about granite and bramble, black olives and smoke, a raw meatiness that is pungent and savory. The wines are famously unfriendly in youth; they require cellaring and only truly flower with age.

So what happened with the 2009 Clape and Mr. Robert Parker? As we see it, there are two options. One the one hand, there is the possibility that Clape has changed his winemaking style, that in this vintage he went for a richer, more approachable, jammy style... catering to, consciously or unconsciously, the style Parker has historically awarded.

This seems unlikely... or even unfathomable. I don't know Auguste Clape or his son Pierre-Marie, I have no "insider information" - but if there is one man in the Northern Rhône who has a reputation for integrity, it is Clape. We've used this quote from the Rhône scholar Jonathan Livingston-Learmouth before but it is worth repeating:

"There should be a stone to Auguste Clape in the northern Rhône. A stone would suit more than a statue - it would be more fundamental and less pretentious. The legend on it should read something like 'Wisdom, Integrity and Humanity.' For this is an exceptional person." Auguste Clape worked his first harvest in Cornas in 1949 - in the last 60+ years little has changed. I see no reason why it would now.

The second option is that Parker's palate is changing, that for whatever reason, this style of winemaking is now more appealing to him then it once was. Parker is therefore reacting genuinely and honestly and the big points are now coming.

If this is true (and the early reviews on the 2010 suggest as much), then those of us who have enjoyed the relative obscurity of these wines are in for a painful, painful recogning.

And here is where this already-meandering email takes another detour (apologies again). The 2009 Clape is most likely a masterpiece and even without Parker's accolades this wine, this email, would have sold out - what we want to focus on today is the unheralded Clape.

And here, awkwardly, steps out the already forgotten 2008 Clape Cornas - a wine not even reviewed by Parker.

The skeptics are simply going to think that to get 2009 we had to buy 2008 and that's it - we're bundling a "loser" with a "winner" to try and move both. This just isn't true, on any count.

We do, however, want you to buy both (and yes, you'll get better pricing if you do), but the point is to show the diversity of style, the voice of two distinct vintages.

If there is a lesson we've learned (with Clape as with all truly profound winemakers), it's that the great winemakers overcome the vintage. Or, put another way, they seem able to shape from the vintage something of beauty, something worthwhile, often something extraordinary.

We've personally had this experience with Clape over and over again. This summer, the 1985 next to the 1988 and the leaner, more feminine 1988 (Parker: 89 points) simply overwhelmed everyone, despite the considerable fame of the 1985. It was absolutely haunting Cornas.

Just recently, the fresh and rocky 2004 (Parker: 92 points) at dinner at Franny's in Brooklyn was everything it should have been: compact, delineated, herbs smashed by rock and edged by wild grasses, fruit and smoke.

We have every reason to believe that the 2008, despite the difficulties of the vintage, will be every bit a beauty, bright and fresh, nuanced, feminine, delicate even (at least within the context of sturdy, muscle-bound Cornas).

It's worth noting that the 2008 is also, for the moment, a steal and if indeed this is a turning point for the Northern Rhône - if this is the beginning of a much (much, much) wider audience for these wines... this will also be last-stop pricing for the 2008 to say nothing of the 2009.

Quantities on both vintages are limited - please consider both vintages and let us know what you want. All orders subject to confirmation and preference will be given to balanced requests.

To order, please email us at or call the store at (212) 980-9463.

Stephen Bitterolf
Wine Director
Crush Wine & Spirits

Auguste Clape Cornas

2008/2009 Special Email Pack Price: $169.90
(1x 2008 @ $69.95 and 1x 2009 @ $99.95)

2008 Special Email Bottle Price: $69.95
Compare at up to $100
Not reviewed - as we've been talking point scores all email, lets assume it wouldn't make the 89.92587 point average... expect it to be delicious.

2009 Special Email Bottle Price: $114.95
Compare at $120-130
Robert Parker, Wine Advocate: "Tasting the 2009 Cornas reminds me of a lyric from the great Who anthem, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." As close to perfect as a Cornas can be, this is the single greatest Cornas I have ever tasted. Its black/purple color is accompanied by notes of blueberry liqueur, blackberries, charcoal, incense, licorice and a subtle notion of smoke. This seamless, full-bodied, exquisitely pure, complex, savory blockbuster is the most remarkable Cornas I have ever tasted."

Clapes are pre-arrival
NET | No further discount