Friday, November 23, 2012

Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009


Cornerstone Cellars has made its name producing high-end Napa Valley Cabs known as much for their brawn as for their beauty.  I have written about several of their Stepping Stone wines, a label designed to introduce the brand to everyday wine drinkers at an affordable price point, an effort I believe they achieve handily.  Cornerstone has also provided me with a sample of their top-shelf stuff, which is the subject of this article.

The Cornerstone '09 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon marks a departure for the way Cornerstone Cellars makes its Cabernet wines.  As Cornerstone’s Craig Camp puts it, “While you have seen hints of what was to come in our 2010 Stepping Stone releases, the 2009 Cornerstone red wines are the first to preview our vision of the future for our Cabernet Sauvignon.  Our new style is more restrained, more focused on balance and elegance without giving up the authentic power that makes Napa Valley unique.”

One area of departure is the varietal makeup.  While Cornerstone’s Cabs have previously been 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2009 vintage sees a bit of Merlot introduced.  95% of the wine is made from grapes grown in six desirable Cabernet spots of Napa Valley - Ink Grade Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Oakville Station, Oakville, Kairos Vineyard and Oak Knoll District.  The Merlot is taken from Carneros’ Stewart Ranch Vineyard.  Future releases will also see increased use of Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc.

The winery bottled 842 cases of this Napa Valley Cab.  The wine hits an alcohol number of 14.9% abv and Camp tells me the suggested retail price is $65.  Cornerstone notes that the wine shows "rich layers of complexity and remarkable overall balance.”  Winemaker Jeff Keene and the Cornerstone team spent months working on getting the blend where they want it.

It's a dark looking wine, and a dark smelling one.  Light barely gets through the purple and the nose offers black currant, balck cherry and blackberry.  If that's not dark enough for you, try some black licorice - that's in there, too.  Soft vanilla notes mingle with the opulent fruit.  The palate shows plenty of dark fruit as well, with a lacing of graphite and a touch of baking spices.  The tannins are rather young and brash, but the acidity really dominates the mouthfeel.  This wine is tailor-made to be paired with food, and the richer and meatier, the better.  I sipped it, but wished for a standing rib roast.  It paired with a skirt steak and blue cheese very nicely.

Camp comments on the wine's structure:  “It is always important to remember that acidity is a taste and tannin is a feeling.  It is not a good idea to try to manipulate taste... however, the feeling of a wine on the palate is something you can work with in the cellar without corrupting the nature of the wine.  In the cellar we treat it more like Pinot Noir, with a gentle touch, as extraction of flavor and color are the least of our worries here in the Napa Valley.”

The structure may seem full of youthful exuberance that cries to be paired with food, but it bodes well for aging purposes.  Cornerstone's '09 Napa Valley Cabernet has a rambunctious feel now which will certainly please those who have it on the dinner table.  In the future, it will please those who have it in their cellar.


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