Friday, January 31, 2014

Howell-ing At The Mountain With Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

If you follow this space much, you may have noticed that an article about the Cornerstone Napa Valley Cab appeared a little while back.  They released another Cab along with that one, the Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010.  Cornerstone’s managing partner Craig Camp says the Napa Cab and the Howell Mountain Cab "are very different wines telling two distinct stories,"   adding that each expresses different aspects of Napa Valley.

As mentioned in the previous article, while other Napa winemakers may be complaining (privately, anyway) about cool vintages, Camp and Cornerstone winemaker Jeff Keene rejoice in them.  "By Napa Valley standards 2010 was a cooler vintage, which means by Bordeaux standards it was a a very good year," says Camp.  "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.  While the "big wine" folks struggled with 2010, we loved it."

Here’s a glimpse of what grapegrowers go through during the growing season, from Camp’s notes on the 2010 vintage:

“The Napa Valley experienced an unusually cool, damp summer which delayed ripening by a good 3 weeks. These cooler temperatures, coupled with a stubborn coastal cloud layer that seemed never to break up, caused the vineyard growth cycle to move along slowly.
“Then we got SLAMMED...third week of August, a heat wave sent triple digit temperatures across the state and any exposed fruit succumbed to sunburn damage. When it came time to pick the crews had to first make a pass through the vineyard and remove all the sunburned or shriveled grapes. They then went back through to pick the clusters that were optimally ripe. This is a textbook case of ‘precision farming’, it can be very time consuming, but the results are worth all the extra effort.
“Cooler than average temperatures returned again in early September, but gave way to a welcome and consistent Indian Summer, bringing concentrated flavors and tannin development at lower sugar levels allowing us to make elegant, structured, impeccably balanced wines.”

So, the Cornerstone folks are happy making a balanced wine, but they they aim a lot higher.  They still want high aromatics, a bright palate and a big finish, and this wine hits all three pitches out of the park.

The grapes for the 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon are sourced from the organically farmed Ink Grade Vineyard.  This spot, 1,800 feet up on Howell Mountain's eastern side sports powdery, white, volcanic soil, not the red clay soil found in many of the vineyards on Howell Mountain.  A 10% splash of Merlot - sourced from Stewart Ranch Vineyard in Carneros - is used in the blend.

Camp notes that the wine is firmly structured, and that it's made to express, not hide, its tannic character.  "This is a wine born and made to age", he continues, recommending you wait "five or more years to let the many layers in this wine to expand and integrate."  Cornerstone's notes suggest a wait of twenty years wouldn't be out of order"

The wine aged for 22 months in French oak barrels, three-quarters of them new.  It hits 14.7% abv and retails for $80 per bottle.  Only 470 cases and five dozen magnums were produced.

This Cab is dense and dark, with no light coming through it at the midpoint.  The nose is amazing, with blackberry, black currant and a whiff of blueberry holding down the fruit basket.  Spices galore come through in the form of vanilla, clove and nutmeg, with some sandlewood wafting up, too.  The palate is just as lush, with more dark fruit and great spices joined by firm tannins and a riveting acidity.  A bit of mocha and cocoa add to a delightful smorgasbord of flavors, while the long finish is satisfying and delicious.


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