"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.
New California Wine, as was appropriately dubbed by Jon Bonné in his excellent book, has brought to the forefront so many talented winemakers throughout the state who are working to express terroir through more minimal intervention and a scrupulous eye on balance. While so many exciting projects are coming from every corner of the state, Napa Valley as a region has been more tied to its recent history of bombastic wines than others. Today, there's no project more dynamic than what Massimo Di Costanzo is producing from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Coombville's Farella Vineyard.
I'm very happy to offer Di Costanzo's 2015 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 "DI CO".
Di Costanzo's Cabernet Sauvignon captures everything that's so thrilling about the variety when coming at it from a very sensitive and thoughtful approach. It's at once dark and savory with smoke, graphite, and scorched earth notes reminiscent of the volcanic ash scattered throughout the vineyard. And, at the same time the wine is supremely elegant and speaks to Massimo's travels throughout the world working with the tannic variety and getting accustomed to taming its burly predisposition.
Coombsville is perhaps the coolest AVA within all of Napa, thanks to moderating influences from the nearby San Pablo Bay. Before launching his label Massimo spent years working with the Farella winery getting intimately familiar with the nuances of the red gravel-dominant vineyard.
Massimo's 2016 "DI CO" Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a shale and sandstone vineyard at the foothills of Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley. Only 270 cases produced.
After receiving his Enology and Viticulture degrees from UC Davis in 2002, Massimo worked with wineries in Tuscany (Tignanello), Stellenbosch, Mendoza, ending at Ovidand then Screaming Eagle in Napa working as the winemaker alongside Andy Erickson. Massimo's extensive familiarity with old-school Napa Valley has greatly shaped his approach to production. It's these wines from the 1960's and 1970's that are the ultimate inspiration for what's being achieved today from this epic Coombsville site.
In the pursuit of crafting wines intended as the ultimate reflection of place we cannot help but turn to the old world for inspiration. Within California Pinot Noir we've seen so many styles garner attention, whether they be wines of elegance and structure, or dark extraction and overt ripeness. Obviously, my sensibilities have gravitated toward the former. Finding wines that fully realize the potential of this more delicate approach is rare. Justin Willet at Tyler Winery in Santa Barbara is one of the few who's found it. And it's no surprise the Santa Barbara native's intimate knowledge of place is the reason why.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Tyler Bien Nacido Vineyard - N Block Pinot Noir and Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay.
American Pinot Noir built upon nuance undoubtedly means turning to the variety's birthplace of Burgundy for many answers. However, in the end it's a connection to place here that will dictate the results. Justin Willet has a familiarity with these historic Pinot Noir vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills like few others do. He works with some of the very oldest parcels in the region, but one stands out from the pack.
Bien Nacido is one of California's most recognized vineyards and it's their N-Block parcel that contains rare ungrafted vines planted in the early 70's. Justin began with this parcel when he first launched his winery in 2005, and today he controls all aspects of farming. Of the full range from Tyler N Block is produced in the smallest quantity, sometimes yielding only a single barrel. As you can imagine it's always the first to sell out.
Justin's relationships with the regions's growers over many years have afforded him opportunities that few have. Aside from gaining access to the most choice parcels he takes a hands-on approach within the vine rows, working with a very small crew who have strict instructions. Yields are kept low, but it's the flexibility to alter practices each unique growing season that really highlight Willet's familiarity with this special site.
The hallmark of the N Block is bright and lifted qualities with a reserved tension that finishes with supreme focus. The Heritage and Martini clones from the 1973-planting brings a pure and transparent character that meshes perfectly with the low-extraction and minimal oak protocol in the cellar. If Justin produces wines with Burgundian sensibilities then N Block is the special bottling that brings this comparison closer than any other.
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.