"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.
Today's magnum-only offer is a first. But, I cannot think of a wine better suited to the format than Enfield Wine Co's 2015 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay. While 750ml's disappeared in a flash, I made sure to go deep on magnums of this personal favorite, from the growing legend that is, John Lockwood.
When John Lockwood's 2015 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay floored me, his initial reaction was to point to a "perfect storm" of growing conditions. Knowing John, this modesty is key to the success in all his wines. But actually, it's his relentless curiosity and ever-questioning approach that's responsible for one of the greatest wines from California I've yet to drink.
Sommeliers have blinded it as Pierre Yves Colin-Morey. Descriptors like laser-focused and weightless flood the mind when tasting. Lockwood has produced some terrific wines, but for me the 2015 Haynes Chardonnay is his most thrilling achievement to date. This month, Eric Asimov of the New York Times gave us a close look into Lockwood's steady rise in becoming a household name in the wine world.
Today, I'm happy to offer John's 2015 Enfield Wine Co. Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay 1.5L for $100 per bottle. Also featured is a wide range of additional wines from Lockwood.
John and I met while working at Failla Wines in 2011. From a solar-powered cabin on the extreme Sonoma Coast, four of us in total organically-farmed the Failla Estate Vineyard, home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. In retrospect, taking the leap to that plot of vines was perhaps the single most important professional choice I've made.
Getting to know John in tight quarters and amongst vine rows was a never-ending exploration into all things wine. Early mornings, late nights, the discussions never ceased. It was clear immediately that his thirst for discovery would be the root of all accomplishments to come. It was that summer of 2011 that John bottled his very first wine for his Enfield Wine Co. label, from Haynes Vineyard.
Haynes, located in Napa's coolest AVA Coombsville, is home to a special parcel of 51-yr-old Chardonnay vines. These same vines were the source of John Kongsgaard's early work with the seminal Newton "Unfiltered" Chardonnay of the 70's. Lockwood had sourced from Haynes since 2010, but it wasn't until 2015 that he was given the opportunity to work with this prized, old vine parcel.
The magic of these old vines isn't just in the obvious concentration, but rather it's a story of soil. Haynes is famous for a very high pH powdery white volcanic ash subsoil, endowing wines with wild levels of acidity that are rare to find in this region where ripeness is never too shy. The younger vines John had previously worked with here had shallower root systems that only tapped into the alluvial gravel topsoil. When the change was made to the old vine parcel in 2015 the real magic of this fascinating subsoil came to fruition in bottle.
The 2015 growing season saw a heat spike toward the end where sugars rapidly rose, outpacing the expected drop in natural acidity. Lockwood was given substantially ripe Chardonnay with wildly high acidity levels - an easy comparison would be 2010 in the Mosel. The wine was gently and directly-pressed to avoid any unwanted phenolic character. And the wine was aged in large 500L neutral French oak barrels and did not see sulphur until after 1 year in barrel.
For me, finding white wines in California that are built upon their focus and agility is the ultimate rarity. There's a head-spinning level of refinement and incisiveness to this wine that will appeal to every single white Burgundy lover. There are no bones thrown when it comes to selections for the shop. I buy what I love to drink, it's that simple.
And, I'm so confident this wine will appeal to lovers of finely-tuned styled white Burgundy and Chenin Blanc that I will give a full credit to the shop for anyone who isn't pleased with what they find in their glass. That's a guarantee.
Today, we turn to my prime personal destination for American Cabernet Sauvignon, the Santa Cruz Mountains and the top new release from the rockstar duo of Duncan Arnot and Nathan Lee Roberts.
Living in St. Helena in 2011 I had the opportunity to drink a wide range of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. From Calistoga south through Carneros, from Howell Mountain west across the valley to Spring Mountain. And everything in between. Of all the young wines opened there's only one that still stays with me, as if it was only last night I was with friends in front of a fire atop Diamond Mountain.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 & 2016 Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Also featured is an Arnot-Roberts Discovery 6-Pack featuring a stellar range of Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Ribolla Gialla, Touriga Nacional rosé, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Like the two most historic Cabernets from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge's Monte Bello and Mount Eden's Estate Cabernet, Fellom Ranch falls into an ideal landing spot between the styles of Napa Valley's sun-kissed fruit and the gravel and more earthy characteristics common in Bordeaux's left bank. Elevation of 2,200 feet and cool winds racing through from the nearby Pacific ensure gradual ripening and serious freshness in the finished wine. The amalgamation of shale, loam, and limestone soils bring a diversity of terroir, and gives layers of complexity.
Fellom Ranch is powerful, but balanced with bright acids and a freshness that always makes it emptied quickly - the real litmus test for any great wine. Smoke, graphite, mint, and dried herbs dazzle each vintage, and the 30% use of whole cluster fermentation adds savory, yet bright qualities that make it so distinctive. Duncan and Nathan's fondness for the wines of Marcel Juge and Thierry Allemand of Cornas, to me, make themselves known in Fellom's dark and decidedly savage traits. *(And to see more of their reverence for those aforementioned icons I implore you to take close look at their fabulous Syrahs also listed below).
Like all the wines of Arnot-Roberts, production here is very limited. I'm thrilled today to offer a wine that captures the most exciting elements of California Cabernet Sauvignon, and the adventurous spirit of the two friends who've brought this epic vineyard to the forefront.
For those who find themselves sticking with France primarily, I highly recommend you see the ultimate execution in crafting California wines of place deeply-rooted in French influence.
My fondness for the old school winemaking mentality that can be regularly found in pockets of the Santa Cruz Mountains is no surprise. Names like Ridge, Mount Eden, and more recently Arnot-Roberts have proved emblematic of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon's ability to show a more nuanced and earth-inflected tone in this ultra-cool zone of California. This is where my excitement for the variety reaches its fever pitch in America.
There's always an element of mystery to these vineyards that have remained way off the radar as compared to Napa counterparts. Among the mysteries residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, no winery elicits the same intrigue as that of the former Ahlgren Vineyards and their Bates Ranch bottlings.
Today, I'm happy to offer the late release direct from the winery of Ahlgren's 2005 Merlot for $47 per bottle.
Val and Dexter Ahlgren had been producing wines from this Boulder Creek zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains since the 70's. Upon their relatively recent retirement they had sold all of their library stock to a favorite distributor of mine whom I've long turned to for everything from Soldera Brunello to Foradori Teroldgeo to Cedric Bouchard champagne. When they announced these Ahlgren wines would be poured at their portfolio tasting I was very excited to taste. The results in bottle were so impressive I took every bottle available.
Now, I've painted the Santa Cruz Mountains with a broad brush in the past, describing a middle ground between Napa and Bordeaux for the Merlot-based wines. When we talk about Ahlgren we need to pull away from this simple analogy a bit. Ahlgren produces wines from Merlot with a transparency and light extraction that actually bears little resemblance to either Napa or Bordeaux. Ahlgren exists in its own category of style, and pointing to similar references wouldn't do these wines justice or accurately explain what you'll find in bottle. The 2005 Merlot pulls us further away from primary fruit and into a deeper emphasis on the tertiary, floral, and earth tones.
For me, these late releases impress first and foremost in their soundness of fruit. These had been resting at the winery since initial bottling until their recent purchase.There's a singular sweet brown spice I find in the 2005 Merlot that's simply Bates Ranch. Tannin was never the basis of structure for these wines, interestingly enough from a variety that rarely has any shortage in that department. Instead, it's the acidity and freshness that serves as the wines' foundation today with bright red and black fruits pulsating with energy. There's a soft, drinkable quality that's at once fun and playful, yet lingers with dead-serious earthy inflection that puts terroir front-and-center.
Late releases from wineries always offer something that's worthy of getting excited about. Especially in these more delicately constructed wines, the provenance is so critical in enjoying them at their apogee. Today's final release from Ahlgren Vineyards Bates' Ranch is one that sums up why this ultra old school zone of California warrants so much attention.
There's no name in Russian River Valley Pinot Noir who's demanded more attention during the grape's rapid rise in popularity through the last decades like J. Rochioli.Today's offer includes limited quantities of Rochioli's best parcels spanning 2006 to 2009.
As great as the demand was for Rochioli upon release, today's enthusiasm for these vintages has increased tenfold. The upfront pleasure these initially provided meant that very few have been left to age, and those that do become available are quickly snatched up by collectors. Many featured today are the only offers in the country.
Rochioli Pinot Noir from this era marks an important shift at the winery where the power and extraction was dialed back, giving way to a more nuanced and energetic style. Although the micro-batch, non-interventionist approach draws inspiration from a Burgundian model, the wines are Russian River Valley through and through. The sun-kissed element of Pinot Noir from this section of Sonoma is the centerpiece of the wines. However, it was Rochioli that was a leader in the region's focus toward extreme site-specific winemaking. The unique alluvial and sandy "Yolo" loam soil along the Russian River gave an opportunity to vinify each parcel separately, offering wild distinctions between plots.
Joe Rochioli Sr. settled on this land in 1934, originally planting Cabernet Sauvingon in 1959. His son, Joe Rochioli Jr., realized Pinot Noir was better suited and was a pioneer in bringing clones in from Burgundy in 1968. At this time very little was known in Sonoma about the grape. But, when Williams-Selyem began purchasing the fruit in the early 80's everything began to change, and the successes convinced the Rochioli family to begin to estate-bottle.
Today, Rochioli is very much to Sonoma Pinot Noir what Mondavi is to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately, concerning availability, the scale of production has continued to be very small. Today's perfectly stored, back-vintage releases of their top parcels is a rare collection not to be missed!