Friday, December 27, 2013

Napa's Cornerstone Cellars Loves Cool Vintages

Craig Camp, managing partner at Cornerstone Cellars, has given his outfit just what you would expect from a wine guy - more balance.  Once known only for their high-end Cabs, the line now offers everyday wines under the Stepping Stone banner, Oregon Pinot Noir and a killer rosé.  Don't think for a minute, though, that he has forgotten about those high-end Cabs.

Camp talks in his blog about two of his company's latest offerings, a Napa Valley Cab and a Howell Mountain Cab.  He says, "By Napa Valley standards 2010 was a cooler vintage, which means by Bordeaux standards it was a a very good year.  It reemphasizes my opinion that the problem vintages in Napa are the hot ones , not the cooler ones. The cooler weather helped us towards our goal to make balanced wines."

“Our first goal was to craft wines with elegance and finesse while still honoring the power," says Camp.  "It was also our goal to achieve wines with appropriate levels of alcohol. We do not simply want to have low alcohol levels for the sake of that alone by following some pre-set recipe, but to produce wines from grapes harvested at just the right moment, the moment that defines that vintage. We don't want underripe grapes anymore than overripe ones."

Camp says the Cornerstone Cabs are meant to have acidity levels that make the wines refreshing, even in their youth.  But he warns off big alcohol fans.  "If you like massive, oaky cabernet with 16% alcohol (no matter what it says on the label) with high pH and residual sugar you won't like these wines and we can live with that.  Our first goal is to make wines we love to drink and our second goal is to find wine lovers who agree with us.  We are not interested in making wines that try to satisfy the broadest range of consumers possible."

That said - or ranted - it is hard to imagine a wine lover who would find a bone to pick with either of these Bordeaux-style beauties.  I will cover the Howell Mountain Cab in a later article and write about the Napa Valley bottle here.

The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a blend of Cabs Sauvignon and Franc with Merlot in the mix.  It's the Bordeaux version of the Rhone's GSM - Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre - but CSCFM hasn't quite caught on yet.  The Cabernet Sauvignon represents 85% of the blend and alcohol stands at 14.5% abv, while the wine has the influence of 22 months in French oak, 65% of which is new.

Camp says this wine “expresses the personality of three exceptional vineyards: Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Kairos in Oak Knoll.  The power and structure of Howell Mountain combines with the rich velvety Oakville Station and both are lifted by the bright aromatics and freshness of Kairos.  However, Cabernet Sauvignon alone does not tell the whole story in this wine.  Often I find that Cabernet Sauvignon on its own has a big start and finish, but can be a bit hollow in the middle.  Here is where Cabernet Franc and Merlot come in.  A touch of Merlot fills that hole in the middle and brings a beautiful silky texture.  Cabernet Franc is like MSG in a dish lifting and defining flavors.  Together they achieve umami, that elusive savory personality that defines great wine."

Showing a dark red color in the glass, this Napa Cab smells delightful, with blackberry and currant aromas to burn.  Spices, notably nutmeg and clove, come through with a touch of pencil lead trailing behind.  On the palate, that dark fruit barrels forth with the same set of spices and graphite featured on the nose.  A hint of mint stays around for the finish.  The wine has great acidity and fine tannins - "food-friendly" is an understatement.  It's great just for sipping, too.  There is plenty here upon which to ruminate while doing so.

The Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2010 is a Bordeaux blend with a California heart.  At $65, it is on the pricey side.  If, however, you are in the habit of pulling from that rarified top shelf, you may find this a great value.

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