Friday, July 11, 2014

Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Vertical 2009-2011

In the summertime, Sauvignon Blanc is as popular on wine-loving patios as is an Arnold Palmer at a golf course restaurant.  The dynamic white grape variety is light, crisp and refreshing, making it a perfect choice for the warmer months.  But it can be a lot more than something cool to wash away the heat.

It’s a popular grape all over the world, and the styles produced in France, New Zealand, South Africa and California vary greatly.

Craig Camp, Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner, feels that Sauvignon Blanc is the white grape which is most at home in the Napa Valley.  “We're serious about Sauvignon,” Camp says.  Due to its relatively inexpensive cost and the notion that its rather untamed personality means its not really a wine for the masses, Camp says that “savvy wine buyers all know that it's the best deal in serious white wine on the wine list.”

Why Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc?  Camp goes to bat, claiming “the generous, warm climate of the Napa Valley is custom made to create sauvignon blanc of richness, depth and complexity.”  Cornerstone made a vertical tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc wines available to me - 2009, 2010 and 2011 - to show this style’s ability to age into something even greater than its beginning state.

Camp promises, "In the 2011 you'll find the racy, mineral freshness of a young wine, while in the 2010 the developing richness that can only come with bottle age and in the 2009 the round, mouth-filling complexity of a fully mature wine."

The wines look serious, even before they are opened.  They are in dark bottles, not the usual clear style which house most Sauvignon Blancs.  Camp says this is done specifically because the wines are made to age, and the dark glass protects the wine from light.  The wines spent nearly six months aging in barrels, then another year in the bottles.

These three vintages of the Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc are made from grapes grown in the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena, 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  The vines in this mature vineyard average over twenty years old and are dry-farmed.  All three wines underwent a slow and cold fermentation in stainless steel, then were racked into French oak barrels for five months of aging sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast cells.  This adds richness and complexity to wine.  Winemaker Jeff Keene gets great fruit from the vineyard and makes the most of it in the winery.

For pairing suggestions, Camp says Cornerstone makes their Sauvignon Blanc “for lobster and crab, not oysters.”

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 

The 2009 vintage was mild, with spring rains that brought the vines to lush life and nice, even ripening throughout the summer.  The wine carries a restrained alcohol content of 13.9% abv and is now available only from the Cornerstone library at a price of $70.

Of the three wines here, this one has the darkest color.  A very smoky nose is bursting  with extremely ripe peaches and apricots and layered with hints of grass and herbs.  This wine is drinking very well.  The fruit elements almost have a whiskey flavor to them, so great is the barrel and aging influence.  Citrus, green apple, and apricot take on a smoky sensibility.  The acidity is positively gripping, and refuses to quit until the sipper is refreshed.  A white wine with some barrel age is a fine and elegant thing, and this is a prime example.

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 

The 2010 vintage was unusually cool, with cloud cover lasting through the summer and extending the growing season.  The crop was smaller than 2009, and the grapes show more intensity as a result.

The alcohol content is a little higher in this one, 14.1% abv.  The wine retails for $50 and is also available only from the Cornerstone library.

The color of this wine is much lighter than that of the ‘09.  An explosive nose sports tons of tropical fruit, like pineapples and mangoes, with a layer of grass underneath.  The palate shows grapefruit that is sweetened by the tropical side.  A bit of cantaloupe also appears.  The grapefruit minerality lingers on the palate, with some of that melon along for the ride.  The smoky side is starting to come through, but it is still just a savory notion.  Make no mistake, it is a dry wine, but the sweetness on the palate is simply remarkable, as is the bracing acidity.

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 

The alcohol content is about the same as in the ‘10, at 14.1% abv.  The wine retails for $30 per bottle.

Of the three wines in this vertical, this one shows the lightest color, but it is very close to the shading of the ‘10.  Its nose is fresh and grassy with tasteful hints of citrus and apple.  A very subtle palate is sumptuous when compared to what is usually delivered by Sauvignon Blanc.  Flavors of citrus and apple carry traces of the oak aging, which is just starting to make itself known.

This is a wine with enough acidity to handle lunch pairings, but smooth enough to just sip.  And sip.  The finish is quite lengthy and pleasant, marked by Meyer lemon.

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