For a producer with a well established, albeit understated, reputation, we were surprised to find such a small winery. It lies between Rutherford and Oakville, just next to the main motorway that runs through the Napa Valley, Highway 29. The timber-framed Victorian-style building is the antithesis of some of the flashy modern estates that populate this region. This quiet authenticity was an ongoing refrain throughout our visit.

We walked upstairs, through a hall strewn with props from the recent school play, to a balcony from which we could survey winemaker and owner Cathy Corison’s pride and joy, the Kronos vineyard. Its boundaries were obvious due to the old-fashioned wide-spaced planting of the Cabernet vines, still planted on their original rootstocks. These are some of the oldest in Napa – at a middle-aged 40 years. This year will mark her 25th vintage. The three vineyards that she farms, all on bale loam (deep stony alluvial) soils, are organic. The wines are made with minimum intervention with the intention of “letting the vineyards speak”.

Her wines are in contrast to most other Napa Cabernets that we tasted during our visit. The cliché about Napa Cabs being very full-bodied, with very ripe fruit flavours, lots of oak influence and high alcohol often rang true. But none of the above could be said of the Corison Cabernets we tasted. They were medium to full-bodied, with ripe but not overripe flavours, with integrated oak and medium levels of alcohol. We were lucky enough to taste a number of the big names from the region, and they all had something special. The crafted purity of Dominus; the imposing power of Heitz ‘Martha’s Vineyard’. But Corison’s wines had something greater still: they made me want to drink them. Not just a taste, or a glass; a bottle. ‘Graceful’ is a word often used to describe a fine wine, but in itself, that descriptor is hard to explain and expand upon. It is not just about balance in the wine; Shafer’s wines are big, with high-everything, and as such they are balanced. But not as graceful as Corison’s.

Cathy Corison has steadfastly been making her own style of wine for a quarter of a century; or perhaps more accurately letting her vineyards express themselves, and bottling the result. Ahead of her time, she has largely been ignored by Robert Parker, and, as such, has been outside of the PR machine that surrounds The Wine Advocate. Her wines are delicious, and, importantly, drinkable. I suspect we will begin to see more wineries create wines in this style now Parker has turned his gaze away from the region. Perhaps it is Corison’s turn in the limelight. It is well deserved.

www.corison.com

 

Cabernet Sauvignon, Corison, 2004
100% Cabernet Sauvignon grape from Napa, California
Approximate UK price £50.00, hard to find: Bibendum Wine should be able to help

This still looked young; opaque, with a purple rim. Intense but mellow blackcurrant, vanilla and a hint of mint. Silky texture, medium-bodied with vibrant acidity and a long fruity finish. 92 points, fair value.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Corison, 2005
100% Cabernet Sauvignon grape from Napa, California
Approximate UK price £45.00, hard to find: Bibendum Wine should be able to help

Not as open as the 2004, with aromas of dark-skinned fruits and a touch of tar. Just over medium-bodied, again with a silky texture and medium ripe tannins. Well balanced overall, with fresh acidity. Very long, very impressive. 93 points, good value.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Corison, 2006
100% Cabernet Sauvignon grape from Napa, California
Approximate UK price £45.00, hard to find: Bibendum Wine should be able to help

Highly aromatic blackcurrant on the nose. Young, fresh, bright and minty. Some attractive vanilla also, but the oak is integrated and not overdone. Juicy fruit flavours, tannins still quite prominent and a touch grainy, but these should settle down. Very pure. 92 points, fair value.

Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Kronos Vineyard’, Corison, 2006
100% Cabernet Sauvignon grape from Napa, California
Approximate UK price £70.00, hard to find: Bibendum Wine should be able to help

Lots of dark fruit, especially blackcurrant. Some tea leaf and dark chocolate. Very aromatic. Lots of ripe tannin giving it an intense and grippy mouthfeel, but retaining a soft silky texture. Full-bodied, but with balanced acidity. Great purity and a long mineral finish. 94 points, fair value.

 

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