"One of the things that is so remarkable about Cathy Corison’s cabernets is how cool and classic they are in profile, hearkening back stylistically to the great Rutherford Bench wines made on the valley floor in the 1960s and 1970s, when so many other winemakers in Napa will tell you today that it is simply not possible in an era of global warming to make wines in that style anymore! "
- John Gilman, View from the Cellar (05/17)
When asked to name favorite Napa Cabernet Sauvignon my mind goes two places instantly: Cathy Corison in the valley and Philip Togni on the mountain. Not to take anything away from the brilliant wines produced elsewhere in Napa, but these two heroes simply sit at a different table as I see things. If Togni is famous for his rugged and dark fruit-inflected Spring Mountain wines, then Cathy Corison is the standard bearer for Napa's most restrained and finessed style.
Today, I'm happy to offer the newly released 2016 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Corison Cabernets always strike me for their more ethereal style, but still just as defined by their concentrated black cherry, violets, cigar box, and graphite tones. The surprising feature in how these wines are characterized vs. Napa neighbors is they age beautifully despite being lauded for their "grace" and "elegance". Experiences tasting Cathy's wines back to her 1990 vintage (just last month) are great reminders of how well these age, still holding structure and fruit.
The Corison Napa Valley designate bottling is sourced from vineyards that span that Rutherford Bench. The Kronos Vineyard comes from Kathy's home winery in Saint Helena, old vines planted on that famed phylloxera resistant St. George rootstock. The Kronos bottling may not be dubbed "Cult California" like some of the behemoth "100-pointers", but it is still among the rarest and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the very greatest wines of America.
Terroir-driven Napa Cabernet has become a bit of a selling point over the last decade, but Cathy Corison has been on this path since she founded her winery in 1987. Or course, the real story of Corison began many years before. After graduating from UC Davis with a Masters degree in Enology, Cathy began working in 1978 at Freemark Abbey and then was the winemaker at Chappellet throughout the 80's. As stylistic tides shifted in Napa she was resolute in telling her own story, one emphasizing a sense of place without artifice. And so, Corison was born, sourcing grapes from the famed 7-mile long, 2-mile wide Rutherford bench, located just west of Highway 29.
Visiting with Christoph Schaefer seven years ago at his family's cellar at the foot of the wickedly steep Domprobst vineyard of Graach (pictured above) was an unforgettable experience. The wines have long impressed me for their featherweight lightness and mineral spring purity of fruit. The balance found throughout the wines coming from the Mosel River Valley captivate us at every turn, but, for me, those from Willi Schaefer sit in a select category. Along with J.J. Prüm, this is where the Mosel reaches its crescendo.
Today, I'm happy to offer the full range of in-stock Willi Schaefer Rieslings.
The list covers current releases as well as extreme rarities. Value can be found with age, now at 15 years the 2004 Riesling QBA at $34/btl is a great example of the magic capable of developing in bottle. And, several Auction (Grosser Ring) bottlings with a big emphasis on the epic 2001 vintage certainly marks the highlight of this group.
Schaefer's minute holding of 4.2 hectares almost exclusively focuses on two vineyards in the village of Graach, the Himmelreich and Domprobst - both comprised of Devonian slate soils.
The Himmelreich, in its youth, is the more approachable, fruity, and silky. Lots of citrus and white peach tend to dominate. There's an agility and sense of weightlessness to Himmelreich that personifies the magic of the Mosel.
The Domprobst is the more deep, spicy, and powerful. Earthy characteristics reveal themselves here in wines with slightly higher acidity. Flavor profile tends to push further away from the citrus register and into yellow and red orchard fruit notes.
An epic retrospective tasting of the wines from Giuseppe Rinaldi were featured by Antonio Galloni in Vinous in May of 2017. This dinner in London was complete with vintages spanning 1990-2010. Looking back at these notes recently was the impetus for today's offer. A visit just before harvest in 2012 to the cantina was one of my very fondest memories of travels on the wine route. It was a true privilege to meet the family and taste the wines, including the monumental 2010's still in botti.
Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range from Giuseppe Rinaldi stretching back to the epic 1967 Brunate Riserva.
The first wines labeled under Giuseppe Rinaldi came in 1921 (pictured below). Battista Rinaldi continued the tradition at the estate in 1945, and after his passing his son Beppe returned home in 1992. Beppe's spirit over the last decades has been even more immortalized than the legendary wines he's produced. It was over this span that worldwide attention on Piedmont had gradually increased, and even in the last 15 years pricing and scarcity of the wines has drastically changed. In 2010 Beppe's daughter's Marta and Carlotta began making the wines, continuing in the same traditional fashion.
Along with drinking the wines of Bartolo Mascarello and Giacomo Conterno, Rinaldis are among the most memorable I've had in Barolo. They appeal to every aspect of the senses and continually remind me that no matter how articulate experiences can be conveyed the true magic of them is a deeply personal one.
As noted by Galloni, most of the production from this cantina had been sold to private customers. Finding back-vintage wines is not a common occurrence today. I was thrilled to be able to work over the last year with Rinaldi's US importer, Vinifera Imports, to acquire several older wines directly from the Rinaldi estate.
Rinaldi is a revered traditionalist, following the techniques Battista and Giuseppe had employed in the early and mid 1900's. Wines are macerated on their skins for a long time, and aging takes place large botti. The results are powerful, deep Barolos that are met with the precision and aromatics that make them incomparable. They offer wild spices, gamey notes, and of course Nebbiolo's tell-tale tar and roses.
Essentially two Barolos were made, the Brunate-Le Coste and the Cannubi (San Lorenzo)-Ravera. Laws recently changed and now multiple crus aren't permitted on labels. Starting in 2010 the Brunate-Le Coste was bottled with a higher 85% Brunate and just 15% Le Coste (the maximum legal addition). The Cannubi (San Lorenzo)-Ravera began to implement wine from Le Coste and the new name for the bottling is "Tre Tine" (three vats).
Eloi Dürrbach believed Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon made a compelling duo in a very particular pocket of Provence. Through the decades he's proved this slice in Les Alpilles, The Little Alps, can produce some of the very most celebrated wines in France.
Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range from Domaine de Trévallon.
Domaine de Trévallon set out from inception in 1973 to tell the story of place despite rigorous opposition. 44 years later Eloi Dürrbach's vision of a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend from his family's estate has won the hearts of collectors across the globe. Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, and Loire have taken the lion’s share of my most significant experiences drinking French reds over the years, but the consistency and heights that Trévallon achieves each vintage is unsurpassed. These are Grand Crulevel wines in all but name, with pricing that’s a welcomed reminder of its humble origins.
Eloi Dürrbach planted these two varieties in the remote village of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, a limestone goldmine on the north side of Alpilles mountains. Before phylloxera ravaged vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century Cabernet Sauvignon had been widely planted here. The appellation system set rules in the 1930's to establish which varieties could be labeled under particular zones, and Cabernet Sauvignon was given the boot. Dürbach understood his unique terroir offered the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend potential for greatness, so he chose to label his wines as France’s lowly Vin de Pays category.
Driving north into the hills of Provence from Bandol on one sweltering July afternoon I began to wonder just how Cabernet Sauvignon could strive here. As I climbed the Alpilles with the Mediterranean shrinking in my rear-view, the road began to narrow and the incline slowly steepened. Coming down onto the northern side temperatures quickly dropped and I immediately felt ushered into this new land, Baux de Provence. The garrigue shrubbery of the south was quickly replaced by the picturesque roadway (below) leading to Trévallon.
The Trévallon estate covers 17 hectares of almond and olive trees and vines, of which nearly all are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The whole cluster-fermented reds age in large, old foudre, a critical element in giving this wine its tremendous clarity and brightness. While the gravel of Bordeaux is home to the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon, and the granite northern Rhone to the greatest Syrah, Dürbach knows here on limestone the sum of the parts achieves something far greater than each posses on their own.
These are magnificent wines that call to mind the dark graphite and tobacco-inflected wines of Pauillac, the black olive and violet of Côte Rôtie. And a seductive quality that reminds me each time of the treasure trove of older Burgundy that lined Eloi's personal cellar.
To give context to the aging curve of these wines, a bottle of 1988 opened in September was incredibly fresh and continued to develop in the glass. It single-handedly made the case for the elegance and cellar potential that Provence is capable of.
The rare blanc (3 bottles available) is comprised of 50% Marsanne, 24% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Grenache Blanc, 8% Clairette. Each grape variety is aged separately in barrel prior to assemblage and bottling.