Visiting California's Napa Valley, part 3


Corison took me by surprise a bit: it's a smaller operation than I had been expecting, and the wines were made in a style I love: the antithesis of the big, in-yer-face, points chasing excess. Cathy Corison wasn't around (she was in a plane at the time), but I was ably hosted by Maurey Feaver. We tasted and lunched on the balcony of the top floor of the winery, warmed by the late autumn sun, and looking across to the Mayacamas Range and Spring Mountain.

Cathy spent 30 years making wine for other people, including Chappellet, Staglin Family, York Creek and Long Meadow Ranch. She began her own operation in 1987, and the winery is housed in a distinctive (and pretty) barn designed by her husband, William Martin.

The winery is located on the home vineyard, Kronos, which has some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the valley (40 years old). They're planted on gravelly loam soils and are managed organically. The bulk of the fruit used here comes from vineyards on the west side of the valley, but there's also a but of mountain fruit.

Cathy chooses to make the wines in a more restrained, ageworthy style than many here. She picks a little earlier, and so doesn't have to add acid. As well as coming from the Kronos vineyard around the winery, grapes are sourced from other vineyards from this west side of the valley floor, plus some mountain fruit.

A vertical of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon from 1998-2002 showed how well these wines age. Indeed, they positively need age: the current release 2006 is tight, tannic and brooding, only hinting at what is to come. They are fantastic, pure, structured, ageworthy wines, and with the library releases the same price as the current release ($70), I'd suggest that the remaining bottles of 1998 are one of the Valley's great bargains.

The temptation for writers is sometime to praise certain wines for what they are not. In this case, I'd reassure you I'm not just plugging Corison because the wines are not made in the big point-chasing spoofulated style, but because they actually have complexity and character as well as restraint.


Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Napa Valley
Very nicely focused elegant, pure cherry fruit on the nose. Delicate but hauntingly perfumed. The palate is pure, fresh and elegant. It's midweight and evolving beautifully. Very stylish with nice minerally complexity. 94/100 (some still available at $70)

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Napa Valley
Taut, well defined spicy nose with some nice, savoury, olive richness. The palate is fresh with a minty edge. Nice focus and some spicy depth. Fresh, delicious and quite distinctive. 93/100

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 Napa Valley
Fine, elegant and mineral aromatics with olive and spice alongside the dark fruits. Generous, ripe and supple on the palate with lovely richness and texture, as well as spicy tannins. A brilliantly balanced wine with great personality. 94/100

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Napa Valley
Beautifully aromatic with a nice savoury, spicy dimension. The palate has lovely pure, fresh plum and blackcurrant fruit, with savoury, spicy tannic structure. Very well proportioned and balanced with nice minerality. Warm climate in style but still quite fresh. Beginning to start showing its best. 93/100

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Napa Valley
Beautifully fresh and focused with nice, well-defined, tightly structured dark fruits. Lovely freshness and acidity. Real potential for future development. 93/100

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Napa Valley
Tight, focused dark fruits nose is brooding with notes of olives and meat. The palate is fresh, taut and structured with firm but not aggressive tannins. Mineral and brooding, this has a long future ahead of it. 94/100

Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley
Powerful, mineral, spicy, subtly tarry nose with plum and blackberry fruit. The palate is savoury and intense with complex, structured, earthy, spicy fruit and lots of tannin. It's a backward wine with lovely acidity. Intense and powerful. 94/100

Corison Helios Merlot 2004 Napa Valley
Elegant, fresh nose with lovely varietal character. Sweet but with a subtle chalky greenness. The palate is fresh and a bit sappy with subtle cherry and berry fruit. Very stylish. 90/100


Photos from Napa Valley
Part 1, Cain
Part 2, Schramsberg

Part 3, Corison

Part 4, Saintsbury
Part 5, Lagier Meredith
Part 6, Trefethen
Part 7, Trinchero
Part 8, Grgich Hills
Part 9, Cakebread

Wines tasted as 11/09  
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