What We Say 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
SUPERIOR WINE ALERT:
Today’s selection from Cornerstone Cellars is truly a fantastic wine of great distinction. If you are a fan a big, rich and elegant Napa Cabs, then this wine belongs in your cellar.
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Mission Codename: 1/3 High, 1/3 Low and 1/3 Right in the Middle
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Return to Cornerstone Cellars and procure their delicious Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Cornerstone Cellars
Wine Subject: 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaker: Jeff Keene
For today’s wine, we sent Agent White back to Cornerstone Cellars, a Wine Spies favorite. Cornerstone produces some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon that the The Wine Spies have had the pleasure to taste. The Wine Spies were extremely lucky to meet up with winemaker, Jeff Keene, to taste his fantastic 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Read Agent White’s tasting notes, along with his exclusive interview with Jeff Keene, below.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Densely garnet purple hued and nearly black with a barely clear dark core. Along the edges the purple hues lighten just slightly. When swirled, thin legs of random speeds descend to the wine below
Smell – Rich and bold, as a classic Napa Cab has layers of dark black fruit including blackberry, cassis, currants and hints of plum melding with earthy and mineral laced undertones. Quite complex with aromas of leather, cocoa, white pepper, exotic spice and green bell pepper and herbs all making appearances in sequence.
Feel – Full-bodied and dry, this smooth and bold Cab has compact firm tannins and excellent mineral qualities but does so in without being abusive on the palate. Balance and well developed with sufficient acidity that frames the fruit into the finish.
Taste – Great dark and black fruit including blackberry, cassis, blueberry, currants and plum all present in a somewhat restrained manner. Just under the delicious fruit are all the complex flavors to match the aromas found on the nose including toasted oak. The textured palate also includes a touch of mineral graphite that lingers.
Finish – Long and clean with the fruit fading first followed by complex spice and then the oak leaving the graphite and minerals behind.
Conclusion – The 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a fantastic Cab that has all the complexity and richness that you’d expect without being overly fruit forward. The fantastic mineral qualities and compact tannins really deliver an elegant experience. Please be sure to let this wine open for an hour or more to reveal all of its aromas and flavors; or cellar for up to ten years. As for food pairing, a double cut porterhouse cooked rare with only sea-salt, cracked pepper and rosemary and you can call the executioner…
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Jeff Keene
WINE EDUCATION: Postgraduate Degree in Oenology and Viticulture from Lincoln University, New Zealand.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Cornerstone Cellars, Peter Franus Wine Company and Havens Wine Cellars
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: To produce wines that reflect site and appellation, respecting traditions and to make wines we love to drink.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
AGENT WHITE: Greetings, Jeff. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JEFF: Thanks, Agent Red! It’s great to be back with you.
WHITE: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
JEFF: Well, growing up in a house where there was nothing, but the ‘bag in the box’ wine on offer, I can tell you it inspired me to find better wine, so you could say my parents inspired me…
WHITE: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
JEFF: All wines I try influence me in one way or another, but in terms of winemakers I have learned – and still learning from – Peter Franus and Michael Havens. These are two great but stylistically different winemakers.
WHITE: Who do you make wine for?
JEFF: You, me and all the consumers out there who enjoy great wines.
WHITE: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
JEFF: The 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is the first step of our “new generation” of wines. Our goal was to move towards a more elegant and expressive wine, which spoke fluently of the power of the Napa Valley, yet expressed a harmonious balance. With this vintage we begin including larger percentages of fruit from cooler, southern Napa vineyards, in this case our Hardman Road block. This raises the acidity and aromatics perfectly complimenting the powerful Howell Mountain and velvety Oakville blocks. Each represents about a third of the final blend.
WHITE: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JEFF: Well there is certainly no better match with a young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon than a well aged steak grilled to perfection. The youthful tannin of the Cabernet makes the perfect foil to the richness of the meat and the deep fruit flavors contrast with the smoky flavors of the charring. Ten years from now I’d lean to lamb, which is the ultimate mate to Cabernet.
WHITE: In your opinion, what makes the Napa Valley so special?
JEFF: There are a small number of wine regions in the world whose names are synonymous with a single variety because they are so perfectly suited to growing distinctive wines from that variety. For example, Burgundy or Oregon with Pinot Noir, Chablis with chardonnay or Piedmont with Nebbiolo. The Napa Valley means Cabernet Sauvignon because we have the perfect combination of soil types and climate to produce Cabernet Sauvignon of great intensity and complexity. The slow ripening Cabernet Sauvignon is able to achieve perfect ripeness in our long, dry growing season.
WHITE: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JEFF: It’s bottling season and we’re getting ready to bottle our 2009 Stepping Stone red wines and Cornerstone Cellars selections. We’re very excited to be bottling a new wine at Cornerstone this year, which by the way is our 20th vintage. Our 2009 Cornerstone Cellars, “The Cornerstone” is our new top reserve selection. Each vintage this will be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from individually selected barrels of our finest wines from each vintage. No single variety will be listed on the label so we can craft to the blend according to the unique personality of each vintage. The 2009 “The Cornerstone” will be released in September 2012. In the vineyards it has been a cool spring with a good bud break with little frost threat and now we’re watching for the first sign of flowering. The long range forecast is for another cool vintage, which we like as it produces more elegant wines that better show the individual vineyard characteristics.
WHITE: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
JEFF: With great enthusiasm and vigor. With wine in general, don’t be afraid to try new wines, new winemakers, new regions / new experiences. Let your own intuition guide you.
WHITE: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JEFF: I would just like thank The Wine Spies for this fantastic opportunity to showcase one of our wines and to thank all your readers out there for their amazing support. Thank you.
WHITE: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Cornerstone tasting room, in the heart of downtown Yountville, can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About The Wine:
Deep royal purple fades to shades of magenta in this thoroughly structured offering. Complex, rich and velvety this wine delivers on all fronts. Ripe black cherries, cassis, a hint of clove and fresh potting soil transition in to a mid palate that presents surprisingly smooth round tannins for a wine this young. The oak is very well integrated providing subtle hints of caramel and cinnamon. The finish is something all its own with a dash of black tea and white pepper.
This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was blended from three Napa Valley AVA’s: 33% Howell Mountain (Ink Grade Block), 33% Oakville (Davis Block, Casanova Vineyards) and southern Napa County (Hardman Road). Each of these vineyards add a unique personality to the wine, which is the secret to its silky textures and rich balance. Each of the vineyards were harvested in late September and early October in perfect conditions. All the lots were hand sorted and fermented separately. After a three day cold soak, the tanks were inoculated with selected yeasts. Extended skin contact in the fermenter helped round out the tannins, with alcoholic fermentation taking about ten days with skin contact lasting up to fifteen days. The wine was aged for 21 months in French Oak Barrels, of which 75% were new.
Winemaker Notes: The 2007 is a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from a great vintage. It will develop and increase in complexity as it ages and should be fully ready to drink in five to seven years. However, the silky tannins will make this wine enjoyable to drink throughout its life. For drinking young we recommend an hour or more in a decanter to allow the wine to fully open and show all of its charms.
About The Winery:
1991 was the first vintage of Cornerstone Cellars – and a head-first plunge into the wonderful world of long-distance wine production for Memphis physicians, Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas.
Back in the fall of 1991, Sloas was visiting the Napa Valley. He and Napa wine merchant Bruce Scotland went up to see Randy Dunn on Howell Mountain, taste his wines and watch harvest. As the trailers unloaded, Dunn told them he had five tons more Cabernet coming in than he could manage at his place. Would Sloas want to buy it? He called back to Dragutsky in Memphis for a reality check. They agreed they had both lost their minds – and purchased the overage of 4.8 tons of premium Howell Mountain Cabernet. They were in the wine business.
Taken somewhat by surprise by their overwhelming reception, Dragutsky and Sloas decided that their love of good wine would prevail over all else. “From the beginning our philosophy was to use the best grapes, the best barrels, the best facilities,” says CFO and Vice President, Dragutsky. “Making the best wine we can bottle is the real bottom line for us. It’s thrilling to be out to a fine meal with friends, order our wine and see the great response to our Cornerstone wines.”
From the first, the wines have been extremely well received in the press, getting ratings in the mid-nineties in the Wine Spectator and excellent reviews in The Wine Advocate and Connoisseurs’ Guide.
Cornerstone Cellars was rated one of eight “World Class” Cabernet Sauvignon producers (along with Dunn Howell Mountain, Dunn Napa Valley, La Jota Anniversary, Mondavi Reserve, Phelps Insignia, Ridge Monte Bello, and Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23) in The Connoisseurs’ Handbook of the Wines of California and the Pacific Northwest, 4th Edition.
1991 was a great vintage year and Cornerstone Cellars found a cult niche: powerful Howell Mountain Cabernets – big, ripe and muscular with focused fruit of currant, cherry and plum – and a miniscule production of 400 cases. This is some of the latest Cabernet in the valley to ripen due to the lean hillside soils and the elevation of the vineyards on Howell Mountain (the vineyard sources are from 1700 to 2400 feet). The yield averages two to two-and-a-half tons per acre. While the temperatures are moderate, the daily pattern is reversed: on a hot day it is warmer in the morning since the vineyard is above the fog on the valley floor, and it is cooler later in the day which makes the flavors more concentrated. The later ripening allows “hang time” when the intensity of flavor develops and the tannins soften.
In 1997, Dragutsky and Sloas bought into a 12 acre vineyard on Liparita Road which had been the primary fruit source since the first vintage. The site is at approximately 1700 feet with red mountain clay soil typical of this part of Howell Mountain. In 2002 the vineyard was sold to next door neighbor and vintner, Mark Neal. A gradual replant is underway with all aspects of the project focused on putting the best wine possible in the bottle. Long term contracts with Neal ensure continuity of fruit source for many years to come.
About The Winemaker:
Celia Masyczek, Winemaker, 2008 Winemaker of the Year, Food and Wine Magazine – Born and raised in Medford, Oregon as the daughter of an avid wine collector and enthusiastic home winemaker, Celia Welch Masyczek had an early introduction to both wine appreciation and the basics of wine making.
Realizing that professional wine making would combine her early fascination with flavors and aromas, her strengths in science and her love of the rural lifestyle, she decided to attend University of California at Davis and study Enology, or the study of wine making. She earned her B. S. degree in Fermentation Science in 1982.
After graduation, Celia extended her education by traveling throughout the wine growing regions of the Northwest, the East Coast, and New Zealand, and by working in Australia’s Barossa Valley. Upon returning to Napa Valley, she spent several years assisting in wine production on Mt. Veeder and in the Carneros. She joined Silverado Vineyards in 1987 to design, implement and supervise a quality control program. In 1991 she became the assistant winemaker at Robert Pepi Winery. In 1992 she began consulting for Staglin Family Vineyard, a small, ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon producer. She resigned from Robert Pepi in 1995 to pursue her consulting career, and has acted as an independent winemaking consultant since that time.
Celia currently consults for a limited selection of ultra-premium Napa Valley clients, primarily with their own estate vineyards, and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Chardonnay. Vineyard sources include Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain and Carneros, in addition to bench land locations from St. Helena to Napa.
Celia has been honored with The Rising Star Award, from the Southern California Chapter of Women for Wine sense, and has been admitted to the Winemaker’s Hall of Fame by the national chapter of the same organization. She is a professional member of the ASEV (American Society for Enology and Viticulture), and a past co-chair of the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group.
When not making wine, Celia enjoys bicycling, tennis, skiing and hiking. She lives in St. Helena with her two children, John and Marie.
Appellation: Napa Valley
Aging: 21 Months in Barrel