Last week I was lucky enough to be included in a small group of retailers and sommeliers to taste an incredible array of Napa Valley Cabernets (all in magnum) from one of my favorite winemakers in California, Cathy Corison. The vertical included Cathy's very first vintage of Corison, the 1987, and continued with 1989, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. This incredible retrospective look not only of just how good her wines are - no secret to me but her wines seem to be less well-known amongst the general public - but also to see just how gracefully and seamlessly they have aged.
The Napa Cabernet (as separate from her own Kronos Vineyard which she purchased in 1996 and is made as a separate single vineyard expression) is a blend of the same three vineyards located in the deep, stony alluvial (Bale loam) Bench land between Rutherford and Saint Helena. While she doesn't own them, she does manage the farming and takes a hands-on approach, walking the vineyards weekly, more frequently at key times such as flowering, veraison and as harvest approaches.
Her philosophy is simple: take what nature gives you (great vineyard sites) and work carefully to capture and express it, and for Cathy this means elegant, balance wines that have beautiful purity, lovely detail, good acidities, ripe tannins and concentration, but never over-ripe fruit, and well integrated oak that never stands out or dominates. To me they are such a refreshing change from the over ripe, over-oaked and over extracted high alcohol Cabernets that seem to be the rage today. That being said, vintages matter and the collection of wines reflect the subtle nuances and conditions of each year, but without doubt the uniformly high quality and Corison "touch" were there throughout the line up. All that time in and among the vines really shows in the wines - in the cool years the wines never seem green or lacking in anyway and the warm years, while showing more power and weight, never seem heavy, over-ripe, pruney or porty. Picking time and selection is key in the vineyard, and I am are it is in the cellar as well to select only the lots and barrels that fit.
The wines were in three phases of maturity, each group showing classic characteristics of its age, with even the older vintage, while mature, still quite fresh and superb, good color and lively fresh fruit still! Here are the notes, for more visit her winery online at Cathy Corison. Not the most detailed notes I have ever taken - but you'll get the gist!
The Mature Wines: Overall impression was of elegance, classic, mature Cabernet notes, still very good color, balanced, elegant and superb!
1987: First vintage. Ruby purple. Elegant. Leather. Dried berries. Cool. Old school. Some cedar and earth. Hints of leather and spice, very fine.
1989: Tough year, Cathy said the only time she had ever seen Cabernet rot until 2011, but this wine showed great! Med ruby purple. Deeper core than above by a bit, very expressive.
1991: Again very elegant. Hints of porcini. leather, spices. Perfumed, my favorite of the older years, with a core of lovely cassis fruit tempered and made more complex with the years.
The Middle Aged Wines: These wines have just evolved beyond their primary phase, with the edges rounded and lovely, warm aromas and dark fruited core with all the elements in place no doubt age gracefully as their elders above, in some cases perhaps even a bit longer.
1994: Deep dark fullish and chewy. Solid. Great presence. Big boned (for Corison!) but still with no heat or over-ripeness at all, impressive.
1995. More power and depth. lovely balance and good underlying acidity, long, deep lovely!
1996: I found this very elegant and fine. Focused. Supple.
1997: This is bigger and more chewy, solid. Long. Persisent. Mouth filling. Solid and dense and big boned. Bigger fruit. Long. Touch warm and ripe. One of the fuller and deeper of the bunch.
2001: This is beautiful. Some of the best elements of the riper years with the class and elegance of the cooler ones, leaning a tad towards full. Lovely pure. Chewy with well integrated oak. Spice. Dark fruits espresso. Beautiful. Long. Well knit harmonious and finely balanced. Best so far.
2004: While not exactly a baby, the 04 is more primary and showing youthful elements. Big, Deeper dark ruby purple. Full. Solid. Well knit dark fruits. Textural fine grained tannins. Superb. Solid. Dense yet still really well balanced. Dark chocolatey. A little like 97.
2005: Still youthful and fresh, lively dark fruits, pure fresh bright. Balanced. Elegant. Integrated iak. Supple ripe tannins. Very fine. Still youthful. Very long.
2006: Maybe a bit shut down? Definitely more youthful and primary, Tighter. All the elements here but in comparison to all the others just needs a little time.
2007: Full, solid, dark hints of espresso. Chocolate, dark fruits. Brooding gravelly. Big dark. Solid. Young and on the full side, generous and ample, with a great future!
2008: More elegant, cool and restrained. Youthful and a bit closed but still with very nice balance.
Down to Earth Wine is about what I love in the wine biz: small growers making honest wines that are the expression of the vineyards, grapes and people where they are made. It is about learning about why wines taste the way they do and delving beyond the numerical scores that have become a shorthand for knowledge. It's looking at wine from the ground up.
To me, the most amazing thing about wine is its ability capture and express the conditions of the time and place where they were grown. I find that in my 30 years involved with wine that the best wines are often the result of a philosophy of winemaking that believes that these natural influences should be the main story, creating wines with transparency, elegance, balance and finesse that allows the nature in the wine to shine though.
To help navigate the posts, they are categorized by type, and now include Vignettes: thoughts and musings on regions, travels, dinners and experiences; Cellar Defenders: favorite value wines; Vins de garde: Wine for the cellar; and Vins Vert, great organic, Biodynamic and naturally made wines.
Taste, travel, experiment, enjoy!