Two Gems in Napa

When I started getting into wine, I was living in Marin County (Sausalito, to be precise) and I would make it up to Wine Country as much as I could afford on my teacher’s salary. Invariably, I would spend my time in Napa for a couple of reasons. First, Napa is relatively easy for those directionally challenged (like me)—there are two main “drags”: Route 29 on the Western side of the valley, and the Silverado Trail to the East. Second, most of the “big” names—the iconic brands that I read about in the magazines—were all there.

Over time, I joined a few wine clubs in the Valley and for years, my trips to wine country would be confined to those wineries that I had joined coupled with a few others that I wanted to try.

As my interest in Pinot Noir grew, however, more of my time in Wine Country was centered on Sonoma County, where some of the best Pinot in the world is made. These forays to the much more relaxed atmosphere of Sonoma County helped me recognize that Napa was stuffier, with more of a “corporate” feel. As a result, I felt more comfortable in Sonoma and eventually, I stopped going to Napa altogether.

Then I started this little blog just over three years ago.

Once I did, I realized that there is a lot more to Napa than the perceived snobbiness that many have documented. Now, while the majority of my Wine Country time is still spent in Sonoma, I make sure I pass a good amount of time on the other side of the Mayacamas mountains in Napa.

I have a few favorites in Napa Valley, including Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville. Cornerstone was one of the first wineries that “recognized” me as a blogger, and they are located in a town with some of our favorite restaurants—Yountville is a Thomas Keller mecca with Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and of course The French Laundry (I have never actually been to the last of the three, but if anyone would like to invite me….), so we often stop at Cornerstone to try a few wines on our way to dinner.

CCNapa2011 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (White Label): Retail $65. Initially a bit green pepper on the nose, but after a minute or two, tons of spice with cassis and dark berry fruit. On the palate, the fruit is certainly present, but well-balanced and by no means overbearing. There is no question that this wine gets at least one “whoa” but it is still really young—it might eventually get two. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

HowellMtn2011 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain: Retail $80. On the nose, mocha dominates. OK, “dominate” is too strong since there is also black pepper and blueberry. When compared to the Cornerstone Napa Cab, this wine seems more sophisticated particularly due to the impressive finish. As impressive as this is on the palate, I could stick my nose in this for days—the multi-layered aromas were captivating. This is a jump up a bit on the “whoa” meter, with two solid “whoas”, Outstanding. 93-95 Points.

TheCornerstone2011 Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone: Retail $150. Surprisingly a bit greener when compared to the Howell Mountain. A bit of black pepper but really reserved. The nose remains shy even after two hours in the decanter. The palate slowly reveals a bit of what is underneath, but not too much. Imagine if you were dating back in the 1950’s when women were less revealing and men were much more closed off (OK, maybe only women have changed since the ’50’s). Like those relationships from several decades ago, this wine requires some time and patience to reveal its full potential, but what potential! Outstanding now. 91-93 Points, but 93-95 potential.

A second Napa winery that I always try to visit is Elyse Winery, which is about a mile south of Yountville, just off Route 29. Although they make world-class Cabernet and Zinfandels, the tasting room experience is far from the norm in Napa. The room itself is small and intimate and the staff warm and inviting. Oh yeah, and they have some killer juice (if you doubted that I ever lived in California, the use of the word “killer” should have cleared that up for you).

ElyseMorisoli2009 Elyse Morisoli Zinfandel: Retail $37. I popped this while watching the Empire Strikes Back with the boys, which afforded me some time to sample this wine while they were enthralled with the film that has surprisingly held up over its three decades. The wine? Fantastic. Rich blueberry and cassis with some tobacco. The fruit is there on the palate as well, but this is not a one trick pony—along with the fruit, balance and depth, this is wonderful now, but could clearly go a decade or more. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

ElyseBlackSears2010 Elyse Zinfandel Black-Sears Vineyard: Retail $37. This was my choice as the latest Snowmageddon was threatening the East Coast—the forecast called for over a foot of snow and although the kids were celebrating the pre-emptive closing of school, I did not feel like popping any bubbles. Upon pouring, I thought I made the right choice—this was a bit dark and brooding, much like the snowy night outside. Putting my nose into the glass, there were black currants, mocha, and a bit of anise. On the palate, there was a brightness that was certainly lacking outside the window, where the snow was slowly accumulating. The wine was lovely and hinted that it could last for quite some time in the cellar. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

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, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Two Gems in Napa

  1. asueba says:

    Going to a dinner tomorrow which I set the wine theme….Napa Cab 10 years or older. So I am deciding between 1997 Cornerstone or 1985 Inglenook. It might be Cornerstone because I have 2 bottles, and one 1 bottle of Inglenook. I hate to make this type of decision.


  2. talkavino says:

    If you will get the invitation to the French Laundry, can I be your +1? I promise to behave….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Snobbish here… I’ll take Sonoma County, the Russian River and Healdsburg grapes any day. Napa is still too hoity toity for me, despite regular visits. And you left Sausalito because… ? 🙂


  4. dwdirwin says:

    I always liked Sonoma vibe better as well. I love Ad Hoc- they have a little to-go place on the property called Addendum where you can get their fried chicken.


  5. If you ever go to The French Laundry…I suggest not telling anyone until after the fact. I could easily imagine some psycho killing you and trying to take your reservation.


  6. Beth says:

    Have you been to Seavey yet? Highly recommend. While I live in Napa, I love Sonoma, too, but I also love wineries like these in Napa that many may not know about. The well-known, big brand wineries eclipse or overshadow the smaller producers resulting in a skewed view of Napa. I’ve found most people here to be very friendly and I’ve enjoyed discovering lesser-known producers. I am happy I made the big leap a year ago.


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