I seem to be on an “old wine, off vintages” kick right now. After my favorable experience with the 1986 Serafin Gevrey, I decided to go with an older, “off-vintage” Northern Rhone this time. Going over my inventory, I found a lone, long-forgotten bottle of 1981 Cornas, Auguste Clape just sitting there, waiting to be put out of its misery. There was an old note with the list entry, saying “medium rich, good fruit, slightly short, drink up.” Well, that note was from 1991, so I didn’t exactly take my own advice. 1981 was a mediocre year in the Northern Rhone to be sure, so this probably was best drunk in its robust youth. And yet, I thought, this is Clape—if any Cornas from 1981 was still alive, this would be the one. So, with rather low expectations, I pulled the cork, which broke into two pieces. The level was good and the cork was clean, so I had hope.
When poured the wine showed surprisingly good color, no browning at all. The nose seemed a bit musty, however, but not TCA musty, just the smell of an old wine that probably didn’t have very robust fruit to begin with and had been cooped up in the bottle too long. With air some fruit began to emerge, but faintly, as mostly secondary scents of forest mushrooms and game emerged. The first palate impression was all acid—uh oh, I thought, the fruit has left the building. But it came back, at least a bit, as I swirled the wine vigorously (I had not decanted this), bringing the acid into somewhat better balance as some fruit emerged, although on the tart end of the spectrum. A few sips, and it struck me how much this wine tasted like an older Bordeaux from a less-than-great vintage, but a bit more gamey and rustic, and with a slight metallic streak that clearly marked this as a wine that is well past its best. No hint of oxidation or obvious decay, my impression was that this was a sound wine that simply was well down the back-end of its aging curve. Still, I found some pleasure here, at least in the wine’s survival, if not its brilliance. And somewhat surprisingly, the wine held its remaining fruit and refused to oxydize or die in the glass over several hours.
Where wine’s concerned I’ll admit to a bit of the British tendency toward necrophilia, at least to the point of appreciating old, fading wines if not necessarily seeking them out. So I enjoyed this, even though in terms of drinking pleasure this was really more of an intellectual than a hedonistic experience. Find Clape Cornas Wines