Sunday, August 5, 2012

2009 Cornas from Allemand and Clape, and the glorious wines of Northern Rhone

If you are in the mood for robust yet stylish, go no further than Cornas. Think viking in a suit.

Cornas has become one of the great wine appellations of the world. An unsung star of Northern Rhone, outshined for so long by Hermitage and Cote Rotie. In years past, considered savage and rustic. The current breed of winemakers have cleaned and dressed it up. Perhaps Cornas' time atop the vinous Olympus has come! And so have the prices (sigh!) In this rough terrain of Northern Rhone, Syrah reigns supreme among the reds. But the whites too achieve sublime. Here the deep, dark, black expressions of blueberry-and-olive drenched exotic-pepper-spices-n-herbs and primal, raw meat echo unmistakably from the depths of the thick elixirs, impossible anywhere else in the (new) world.

With our busy-bee 15-month-old, Rona and I don't get out much for gourmet dinners these days. So our friends master chefs Scott and Dan came to the rescue by agreeing to cook their Michelin-star dishes in Domaine du Chevsky kitchen. For Scott it was also a good excuse to check out his trio of 2009 Cornas that had just arrived and needed an immediate "expert" evaluation. Dan volunteered a couple of white-Burgundy-rivaling white Hermitage's, while Richard J. supplied a cool bottle of Cote-Rotie.

We kicked off the meal with a requisite magnum of the 1989 vintage Champagne from Heidsieck & Co. "Diamant Bleu" - a 23 year old sparkler in great shape that combined mature complexity with youthful vibrancy, and went oh-so-nice with a salad of heirloom tomatoes from Dan's garden.

Chef Dan followed that with two Hermitage blanc's - 2001 and 2004 Chante-Allouette from M. Chapoutier, paired with baked halibut and roasted corn. The corn added smoky sweetness to the delicate fish that paired gorgeously with the luscious, honeyed apricot-peach-pear-almond-and-nuts kaleidoscope of flavors of the 100% Marsanne-based white Hermitage from Northern Rhone. The older 2001 showed more complexity, and not a sign of fading. The 2004 was still quite a teenager.

Then followed the three Cornas - 2009 Allemand "Chaillot", 2009 Allemand "Reynard", and 2009 Clape, accompanied by a salad of figs and summer greens and a spider-like herbed rack of lamb - a perfect match to the sweet and exotic-pepper-spicy, meaty, iron-rich nuances of the ravishing Cornas, still babies.

In one evening we had wines from the 3 of the top 4 most celebrated winemakers of Northern Rhone - Chapoutier, Clape, and Allemand (Chave is the other great). Any time you can get your hands on (and afford) their wines, you will not be disappointed. Not inexpensive, but it doesn't really get much better than this!  We had such embarrassment of riches that I wish I had a separate evening with each wine. Rona was smitten with that  '01 Chapoutier Hermitage blanc!  Truly if there are white wines that can rival white Burgundy, those have to be white Rhones. Incredibly complex, especially as they reach maturity.

The majestic Cornas were gone quickly... along with the lamb... Since clearly we did not have enough wine for the six of us, Dan pulled out a 2007 Allemand Cornas "Reynard", for reference. After all, we needed something for the cheese course! The rest of the evening was a blur... The next afternoon I found myself slurping off the bottoms of the empty bottles - even the half ounces that were still left were juicy, and not oxidized after sitting on the counter uncovered for a day - pepper spices and meat nuances in all three! These wines can stand up to air, and will most certainly last and evolve beautifully!  I didn't realize that Clape was a Parker 99-pointer and the greatest Cornas he said he had ever tasted! Wow (I know that nobody cared about RP in that group, but still... :). The Clape seemed denser at the dinner, but after trying the drippings the next day, I think it was actually less fruity and maybe a bit leaner than the Allemands, with more sleek cool herbs...  Between the Chaillot and the Reynard, the Reynard seemed sweeter, denser, and fatter, and likely more interesting long-term...  The Chaillot was probably the best of the three for drinking in the shorter-term...To my palate, at the end of the (second) day, I preferred the Clape's Cornas by the thinnest of margins. But considering that on wine-searcher it's almost twice the price of the Allemands (although the pre-arrival prices from Kermit Lynch were close), it's clear that Scott made the only choice he could -- to get ALL of them! :)

Thanks a lot guys!  You rock!

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