Monday, April 9, 2012

Tasting of selected current Cornerstone Cellars offerings

While in Napa for the 2011 version of Premiere Napa Valley, I was invited to stop in at the Cornerstone Cellars Tasting Room in Yountville.  I showed up with my posse early on Thursday evening and spent a pleasant hour chatting, sharing experiences, and tasting wine with Craig Camp, the General Manager of the enterprise.  I had such pleasant memories of that evening that I arranged a return visit for my trip out to Napa in mid-March of this year.

Craig had arranged for us to have lunch, a plan which was placed in jeopardy by (i) the late arrival of my plane into Oakland, (ii) a steady rain between Oakland and Napa, and (iii) a slow, soggy, schedule-killing ride between Oakland and Napa.  Craig was understanding, however, and was ready and raring to go when I arrived at the Cornerstone tasting room 2 hours late.

Our (now) late lunch was at Bistro Jeanty, a country French restaurant just across the street from the Cornerstone tasting room.  Craig grabbed two bottles of wine and off we went.  After we were seated, talk turned to the Cornerstone Cellars current offerings and the bottles that Craig had brought along.

The table below shows that Cornerstone's current offerings are distributed across two labels: the flagship Cornerstone Cellars and the newer Stepping Stone by Cornerstone.  Craig went to great lengths to explain that Stepping Stone is a sister label rather than a second label using declassified fruit.  He sees one of the key differences between the two labels as being that the Stepping Stone has more south Napa fruit in its offerings.

Cornerstone Cellars does not grow its own fruit nor does it own any winemaking facilities.  Instead the grapes are sourced from  reputable growers and winery space is leased for winemaking and aging activities.  The table above shows the grape source(s) for each wine.  Names of specific vineyards are not available for the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

The first bottle opened was the 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  According to Craig, the grapes for this wine were grown 200 feet above the valley floor and, as such, provide a different range of aromatics.  The wine is cold fermented (2 - 3 months) after which it spends 6 months in 2- to 3-year-old barrels.  The barrels allow oxygen influence and lees contact for aromatics and texture.  This wine had great aromatics, inclusive of citrus, stone fruits, melon, and tropical fruit and a creaminess which accompanied a mineral acidity and a long, palate-pleasing finish.  In order to show its compatibility with food, Craig ordered Pike dumplings with lobster sauce as an appetizer.  The creaminess of the wine paired exquisitely with the creaminess of the lobster sauce.

Pike dumplings poached with lobster sauce (Source: Urbanspoon)

The second wine tasted at Bistro Jeanty was the 2009 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  As shown in the table, the wine is sourced from five different AVAs in the Willamette Valley.  They were aged for 14 months in 60% new French oak barrels.  I accompanied this wine with a tasty Beef Burgundy.  The wine exhibited classic Pinot Noir red fruit notes along with an earthiness and a soft finish.

At the conclusion of lunch we headed back over to the tasting room to savor additional wines from the 2009 portfolio.

Grapes for the 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc is sourced from one of the coolest zones in Napa according to Craig.  The wines were subjected to gentle fermentation, in order to yield softer tannins, and spent 18 months in oak. This wine has a herbaceous cherry character accompanying a round, red fruit mouthfeel and soft coating tannins.  A hint of bitterness on the finish.

Craig sees the 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon as being a little more accessible than the Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon.  It can be consumed in 2 to 3 years but can also age well.  On the nose stewed dark fruit, vanilla, and talcum powder.  On the palate chalky green tannins, dark fruit, jam, power.

The 2009 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a more characteristic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with copious amounts of rich black fruit and tannins along with licorice and soy.

The 2009 Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is inky in appearance with intense dark fruit notes and a phenolic spiciness.  Powerful black fruit on the palate with coating tannins.  This wine will need some resolution time.

The 2009 vintage was the market entry for the Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Red Wine, a four-vineyard blend which is aimed at being "... the most profound expression of the vintage ..."  This wine displayed rich dark fruits, cassis and oak on the nose and delivered on the palate.  Some green tannins and heat.  Long, powerful finish.

During the course of our conversation on this afternoon, Craig mentioned his admiration for the wines of Cathy Corison and his long-term goal of moving Cornerstone wines to more reflect that "balanced" style.  I applaud that sentiment as that particular style aligns with my perspective.  The question that Craig will face in that journey is whether his current grape providers will go along for that ride or whether he will have to align with sources that are already there.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

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