Cornerstone Cellars

2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

California: Napa Valley

Offer Expired:Feb 12, 2009 at 11:59 pm
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Mission Codename: The Foundation

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Infiltrate Cornerstone Cellars, where 2008 Winemaker of the year Celia Welch Masyczek makes wines of distinction

Mission Status: Accomplished

Current Winery: Cornerstone Cellars

Wine Subject: 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaker: Celia Welch Masyczek

Backgrounder: Winemaker Celia Welch Masyczek crafts some of the most remarkable and sought after wines in the United States. Her focus is on Napa Valley wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. She makes ultra-high end wines for some of the finest and most exclusive wineries in the Napa Valley. Agent Red was lucky enough to meet up with Celia recently to taste her 2005 Cornerstone Cellars 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Read his tasting notes and a transcript of their conversation, below

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Deep garnet red, this wine maintains its deeply concentrated color – right out to the edge of the glass, where the wine shows as a sudden sparkling ruby-color. At its heart, the wine has a deeper core of dark black cherry. When you give the wine a swirl, it shows a springy surface that spins for a medium interval, leaving behind tightly packed clusters of chubby legs that take a long time to emerge

Smell -Rich and intense with an initial rush of earthen cherry and cinnamon stick, followed by dark plum, ripe raspberry and soft spices

Feel – Medium round and velvety smooth on entry, then feather light weight across the mid. toward the back and around the edges of the mouth, the wine gently digs in, becoming grippy as medium tannins take hold, drying the back of the tongue and the roof of the mouth

Taste -This wine begins dusky and rich, with smoky flavors of dark cherry, black plum, ripe raspberry, soft tobacco and natural cola. As the wine opens up, softer and brighter flavors emerge, with blackberry, red plum and soft spice

Finish -Leads off dusky and dark and finishes sweet and then tart with dark fruit flavors that linger

Conclusion -What a pleasure to taste such a great wine. I am so impressed with this wine in its current, ready-to-drink state, and I can only imagine what a bottle will taste link in a few years! Refined, elegant, balanced and very food-friendly, this is a serious Napa Cab, to be sure – but it also has a delicate side to it. The wine is balanced and delicious and I LOVE it!

Mission Report:

I am pleased to present you with the following interview with winemaker, Celia Welch Masyczek. Celia, named 2008 Winemaker of the Year by Food and Wine Magazine, Celia was difficult to catch up with – and difficult to have more than a short conversation with. What follows is a transcript of our brief discussion:

AGENT RED: Hi, Celia. Thanks so much for taking some time out of your busy day to speak with me today. I’ll get right into it. We love your wines, particularly the wines that you crafted for Cornerstone Cellars.


RED: How did you first come to wine and winemaking?

CELIA: As a child, my father was a home winemaker, so you could say that I grew up in wine.

RED: When did you become interested in wine as a profession?

CELIA: It was a natural progression, and in 1982 I gradualted from U.C. Davis with a degree in Enology. After that, I visited vineyards and wineries in the Pacific Northwest, the East Coast, and New Zealand. I worked a harvest in the Barossa Valley of Australia, and then finally settled in the Napa Valley to craft wines.

RED: And in the Napa Valley, you have made wines from vineyards across the Valley. From Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak, and Howell Mountain to Carneros, and from benchland vineyards in St. Helena to Napa. This represents pretty much all of the Valley.

CELIA: Yes, I have had the great fortune to make wines from some of the finest vineyards and in all corners of the Valley.

RED: What do you strive for in making your wines?

CELIA: A balance of both ripe and soft, but not overly so.

RED: And how would you characterize your winemaking style?

CELIA: How do you mean?

RED: Well, are you a naturlaist? A scientist? Are you highly technical?

CELIA: (pause) I can’t really put myself into any of those boxes. Every wine, every vineyard, every situation – is different. I observe and I rely on my technical knowledge and my experience.

RED: Tell me about the 2005 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cab.

CELIA: The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville and Rutherford. Its a beautiful and juicy wine that was luscious in the vineyards and in fermentation.

RED: I find the wine to be ready to drink now, but I would guess that it will progress beautifully for years. Are your wines good food wines?

CELIA: Most of what I do is Napa Cabs – and they all go very nicely on the table, so, yes.

RED: Thanks for your time, Celia. I know that I need to let you go now.

CELIA: Cheers, Agent Red.

Wine Spies Pairing Recommendation:

This pairing comes to us directly from the winery, where General Manager Craig Camp is also a chef:

Braised Lamb Steaks

  • 2 lamb leg steaks
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 – 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes ( I recommend Muir Glen)
  • Flour
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the garlic, onion, carrots, celery and rosemary. Liberally salt and pepper the lamb steaks and thoroughly coat with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan (use a pan with a cover) at medium high and when the oil is hot, brown the lamb steaks on both sides and remove to a plate. Reduce heat add all the chopped vegetables and herbs and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes. Add back the lamb and pour in the wine. Return the wine to a boil for one minute then add the canned tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for three hours, or until the meat is falling away from the bone. Reduce the sauce if too thin. Serve with a big scoop of polenta or mashed potatoes and a generous helping of sauce over each steak. Reserve remaining sauce for pasta on another night.

Serves two.

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

Today’s wine was blended from grapes from several premier Napa Valley vineyards on the Rutherford and Oakville areas. Their locations are, at this point, highly classified. We could disclose this intel, but, you know…

What the Winery Says

Cornerstone Cellars, Member, Napa Valley Vintners

About The Wine:

Aromas display lovely bright cherry, cinnamon bark, slight anise/tobacco, and raspberry juice tones. At entry the structure is soft and round, with lively fresh cherry and baking spice flavors. A balanced mid-palate gives way slowly to a soft, berry-filled impression at the finish. The overall structure of the wine could be described as fresh and very approachable.

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon hails from three corners of Napa Valley: Howell Mountain, in the Northeast quadrant; the western edge of Oakville, next to the Mayacamas Mountains, and the Southeast corner of Napa Valley. Harvested by hand starting on September 28, 2005 and finishing on October 31, 2005, the grapes were gently destemmed and tank-fermented for approximately 14 days before being pressed. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 21 months, and bottled in July 2006.

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.

Technical Analysis:

Alcohol: 14.8%

Appellation: Napa Valley

Year: 2005

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