Taking a Ride in the Dark (with my father-in-law)

My in-laws were in town for close to two weeks (!). Don’t get me wrong–I love my in-laws dearly and there is no doubt that I am well ahead of the curve when it comes to marrying into a great family, but two weeks is two weeks. It helped that my father-in-law loves to drink wine, particularly those wines that he knows have received 90+ points from the critics.

While they were here, we went through a fair amount of wine, and on their last night, I asked my dad if he would like to join me in tasting through a couple of samples that were sent to me by Cornerstone Cellars in Napa. At first, my father-in-law did not fully comprehend the concept of “samples” (particularly why anyone would send me wine) but once my wife filled him in, he was more than willing to participate.

Tasting wine upon release is a rather strange concept to me: I prefer holding on to wine for a few years–with many wines I have waited more than a decade to open them. Even the notes sent to me by Craig Camp at Cornerstone suggested that the wines would likely benefit from some more time in the cellar. So this was going to be a bit of uncharted territory for me–a ride in the dark, if you will.

My father-in-law, mother-in-law (who rarely drinks wine, but liked both of these) and Sebastian (who has to be in every photo).

My father-in-law, mother-in-law (who rarely drinks wine, but liked both of these) and Sebastian (who has to be in every photo).

I decided that we would taste the wines several different ways: right out of the bottle, using a Vinturi aerator, after an hour or so decant, and the next day (after spending the night in the refrigerator). My father-in-law only participated in the first two tastings (right out of the bottle and the Vinturi) as he had started drinking before I got home, and my mother-in-law decided that any more wine would cause them to miss their flight the next day (I thought about inserting a comment here, but I won’t).

20140110-092947.jpgThe first wine was the 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $65. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% ABV.

1st pour: A bit shy but really inviting dark berry fruit and mocha. Rich and full on the palate all the way through with the Merlot evident half way in. Not much in the way of tannin on the end but nice finish. My score: 89-91 Points. My Father-in-Law’s (FIL) score: 92 Points.

Vinturi:  After passing through the aerator, there was a more vibrant nose. Same flavors, just more “there”. On the palate, the mid-palate seems to suffer a bit as it was noticeably thinner. Interestingly, more tannin comes through at the end. Overall, the aerator to me seemed to disjoint the wine a bit, still Very Good, but a notch lower. 88-90 Points. FIL: “You want another score? I already gave you one–92.”

Decanted: Much richer nose–vanilla, mocha and blackberry dancing well together. On the palate, less fruit forward than the earlier tastes, but perhaps more balanced and harmonious. With the extra time, this becomes more old world (and more my style, honestly). Give me some skirt steak and I am in heaven. 90-92 Points.

The next day: It seems to have an even richer nose, more complex and full but also with some heat. On the palate, this takes me as better than the forays the day before. The tannins are also much more evident, suggesting that this wine has a bright future ahead. 91-93 Points.

Overall Impression: There is no doubt that this is drinking very well right now, but I think a couple of years in the cellar will certainly pay off. Very Good now or hold onto it for a few years and it gets to Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

20140110-092958.jpgThe second wine, the 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $80 and is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot with an ABV of 14.7%.

1st pour: A really shy nose giving little other than dark raspberry and a bit of heat. On the palate: Wow. A lot of stuffing here with plenty of time ahead of it. Austere, lengthy finish with noticeable tannins. This is but a pup, but has some real big dog potential. 92-94 Points. FIL: Dad liked this wine, but did not find it as “smooth” as the Napa Valley 90-91 Points.

Vinturi: Nose is much more alive with pronounced blackberry, vanilla and even anise. On the palate shy initially and mellow thru the mid palate but with a bit more aeration this starts to scream and shout. Wow. Still same score but for different reasons. Maybe a bit higher. 92-94 Points. FIL: Did not really notice a difference and did not give a score (or did not hear me ask).

Decanted: Wow. I am not a hot beverage drinker, but this smells just like the coffee I make for my wife every morning (she likes a bit of french vanilla cream stuff added in). On the palate, this has mellowed out as well–the tannins are there, but not as boisterous and the acidity becomes more prominent. This certainly needs some time to figure a few things out, but it has the potential to be phenomenal. 90-92 Points.

The next day: Like the Napa Valley, a much more refined nose on the second day, if a bit muted. On the palate, this is remarkable–it still has some work to do, but all the elements are there. Great fruit upfront, and intrigue through the mid-palate. The finish is a bit strong, as the tannins are biting, but this wine, with time, will push phenomenal. 91-93 Points.

Overall Impression: This wine is enjoyable now, but if you are willing to wait a while (5-10 years, I would guess), it will be well worth it. I think this has 94-96 point potential, certainly.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Taking a Ride in the Dark (with my father-in-law)

  1. Laura says:

    Two weeks IS a long time – just ask my parents! We went through a lot of wine too – good to have some new reviews!


  2. asueba says:

    Way to young to drink. Need quite a bit of cellaring. But I admire your patience with opened bottles.


  3. haha! lucky for me my in laws like to keep it short and sweet AND also like to drink a lot of wine.
    Your FIL cracks me up!
    I’ll have to give Cornerstone a go since he (and you) love it so.


  4. Love the family pic! And insofar as inlaws go, it’s not just them it can be immediate family. I was down south to visit mine and because I’m getting older as they are getting older I wanted my wine sooner and sooner. At one point I was considering pouring the wine directly on my Cheerio’s!


  5. Antisocial Patty says:

    I think it won’t be long before Sebastian has his own blog. 🙂


  6. SAHMmelier says:

    I like your approach. It pains me to open samples that I’m sure need more time, but there are worse problems to have, aren’t there? I keep reading about the Cornerstone but have yet to try it. I’ll have to change that.


    • Ha! You are right–there are much worse problems to have. It was fun tasting it under a few different conditions to see how the wine might evolve. You should definitely give Cornerstone a look, and if you are ever in Napa, they have a nice tasting room in Yountville.


  7. Thanks for the interesting post and the kind comments about our wines. Both of the releases were sent to the market after 2 years of barrel age and more than a year of bottle age. We don’t release our Cabernets unless they have a full year in bottle. As much as I would like to age the wines 5 or 6 years before release I am sad to say that is just not a financial reality. However, our style is defined by more moderate alcohol levels with much higher acidity than most Napa Valley wines. Through very gentle, minimal winemaking techniques we produce rounder tannins that can be enjoyed in their youth. Certainly I would recommend aging them, but the reality is that most of the bottles will be consumed will before their 5th birthday. As such I do not think it is a conundrum to review them now as, in fact, this is how most people will drink them.

    Again many thanks for this excellent post.




    • Thanks for the comment Craig! I should have stated in the post that these were both 2010 wines and I was surprised that they were both current releases. It is far more common to see wineries release wines much sooner than Cornerstone due to the economic constraints (as you mentioned). I am a bit of a traditionalist in that I like to age my wines more than most, so it was a different experience for me to open the two of them, which is why I tried to taste them with various exposures to air. Both of the wines are drinking very well right now–but as you state, I think they will both get better with a little time, and the Howell Mountain could go on for quite a while!


  8. Your father-in-law is a hoot! I gave my parents an aerator and they never use it. I’m going to take it back when they’re not looking. They’ll never miss it. 🙂


  9. heila2013 says:

    Writing about wine, describing and elaborating on its taste, aroma, smell, nose, flavor … is art! You are an artist. 🙂


  10. chef mimi says:

    Who are you? I mean, you have a PhD in something I can’t remember, but it has nothing to do with wine. You don’t do cycling tours in France anymore. So why do people send you wine? I’m seriously asking, because I would accept wine. How do you get this gig?


    • No, my Ph.D. is in education policy. I did do a couple weeks of tours this summer, but you are right, I really am not doing them any more. So why do people send me wine? Well, I guess they must like my wine blog to some extent.


  11. beduwen says:

    Just wondering if you have tried any wines from the Paso Robles area? We may be out that way next month…


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