I am about to make a rather blasphemous statement. Prepare yourself….
Here it is:
I do not really ever go to Napa anymore.
Yeah. I know.
I pretend to be this highfalutin wine “writer” and I eschew perhaps the preeminent wine growing region in my native country.
I guess I am just so over Napa. (Yes, I meant to sound like an insufferable teenager there.) Even before I started writing this blog, I felt like I had worn out my welcome in Napa. Don’t get the wrong impression–I never did anything to warrant such an expulsion, but it just seems as though any wine with the appellation “Napa Valley” emblazoned on the label was fetching prices well into three digits (particularly if the words “Cabernet Sauvignon” were also displayed prominently).
Thus, a while ago, after I had moved back to the East Coast, I drifted away from the familiar parallel defined by Route 29 and the Silverado Trail (before all you Napa-centric folks get all bent out of shape and declare that there is much more to Napa than the two main thoroughfares, I know there is, but face it, most of what people know to be Napa is along those two stretches of asphalt).
Gradually, though, that might be changing. There are now a few wineries East of the Mayacamas that I find particularly appealing and, as luck would have it, they are only a mile or two apart. The first of those is Elyse Winery on Route 29 just south of Yountville. I have been there only a couple of times, but there is so much to like–the tasting room is quaint and inviting (far from the norm in Napa), the tasting room staff is warm and knowledgable, and the wines are stellar.
2011 Elyse Howell Mountain Zinfandel Napa Valley: Retail $37. A bit darker than I expected, perhaps even on the verge of brooding. The nose is complex and intriguing–blackberry, pepper, and bit of anise. On the palate, this gets a whoa: fruit initially, then black pepper, earth, and depth. Fantastic finish. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2009 Elyse Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford Napa Valley: Retail $70. Dark and a bit brooding as well, blackberry, cassis, and grilled pork seem to leap out of the glass, which led me to think that this would be a bit of a fruit monster–but quite the contrary. The fruit is there, but nicely held in check by a bracing acidity and allspice. Even though this is approaching six years old, it is still a baby with quite a bit of grip on the back end. This is Outstanding now (90-92 Points), but with a few more years of patience, this could be considerably more.
2010 Jacob Franklin Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Hoffman Lane: Retail $75. White pepper, Cassis, and some earth. The nose might get a whoa. On the palate the fruit comes forward immediately that includes some clove and vanilla. Honestly? This goes in several directions simultaneously but with some more time in the bottle? Gangbusters. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2011 Jacob Franklin Petite Sirah Napa Hayne Vineyard: Retail $75. Blackberry pie a go-go with a hint of anise and a bit of heat (but listed at 14.2%). On the palate, really rich fruit–to the point of masquerading as a dessert wine (although completely dry). A bit of tannin on the backend suggest a bit more aging potential, but honestly this is fantastic right now. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
The second is Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville, plopped right down in the middle of the Thomas Keller empire (don’t get me wrong, I love TK and I am pondering whether I should sell a kidney [we have two of those, right?] in order to eat just once at The French Laundry). Cornerstone has recently opened up a new tasting room and it is a wonderful–light and airy with a bevy of wines at every price point. It really is amazing what they do when you consider they only produce around 5,000 cases.
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Station Merlot: Retail $75. Whoa right out of the bottle–mocha, raspberry, vanilla, Kirsch. Big nose, really big. I started to shy away, but was drawn in. First gulp? Big fruit up front but it was paired with vibrant acidity and that mocha screamed in. Second go? Some secondary aspects (tobacco? Coffee grounds?). Make no mistake, right now this is a big wine. Maybe huge. But. But. But. There is a lot going on here and with time? This is going to be off the charts. Still now? Whoa. Outstanding plus. 93-95 Points.
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Retail $75. ( 91% Cabernet Sauvignon with 9% Merlot) On day one, this was rather one note: fruit. OK, there was also some mocha, but it was mostly fruit. And lots of it. On day two I revisited. Big difference. On the nose, the dark berry fruit is still there, but it is joined more prominently by the mocha and an appealing meatiness. Perhaps an even bigger difference on the palate with subtle but rich fruit, depth on the mid-palate, and a lengthy finish. I do not think that this is a wine for long-term aging, but it will certainly benefit from at least 3-5 years of cellar time. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
I got to revisit the two Cornerstone wines this past weekend at the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes and I am happy to report that I was just as impressed with the wines there as I had been at my kitchen table. One more thing–I went out to dinner with Craig Camp of Cornerstone and he brought along a bottle of his 2012 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay (Retail $50). I did not take any formal notes, but to put it succinctly: this might be the best Chardonnay I have had all year and quite possibly the best Chardonnay I have ever tasted from Oregon.
It is that good.