There most definitely was a time, not so long ago, when you couldn’t begin an article about one of Napa’s greatest winemakers with the phrase “Cathy Corison needs no introduction.” But now, I wonder. The combination of interest in women winemakers, an increasing emphasis on balance in California wine, and the decline of the ParkTator hegemony have resulted in Cathy Corison finally getting the attention she so rightly deserves, both in terms of media mentions and increasingly high scores for her wines.
Regular readers will know I’ve been a fan of Corison and her wines for a long time, and since I’ve written extensively about her (most recently after a 25-year retrospective of her wines) I’m not going to tell her full story today. Instead, I’m going to share my thoughts on some of her recently released wines, specifically the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages.
Three Excellent Vintages
The 2016 growing season started early in Napa, with a very warm April and after some typical heat in June, the season almost seemed to get cooler as time went on, with no serious heat spikes. And then, as is sometimes typical, things got warmer as harvest approached but without extremes. It’s something of a fleshy vintage for Napa in general, though with Corison picking earlier than most of her peers, it simply means a lovely vintage for her wines.
The winter preceding the 2017 growing season was quite wet, especially relative to the drought conditions that set in between 2012 and 2015. After a relatively uneventful Spring, the weather began to warm considerably as August transitioned to September, and then some serious heat settled in and made for a highly compressed harvest for Corison to avoid losing the acidity that she seeks to retain in her fruit.
Corison describes the 2018 vintage as perhaps the “darkest, inkiest” vintage she can remember, as moderate weather stretched from a perfectly undisturbed flowering in spring to a leisurely harvest, with cool nights all along retaining acidity and allowing a smooth and slow maturation of the fruit. Of course, when other people say “inky” you might start to imagine 15.5% alcohol, opaque wines that slip across the palate like olive oil. Corison’s 2018 wines clock in at 13.7% alcohol with fantastic acidity.
Patience is a Virtue
I tell most people that they should really drink Corison’s wines after a minimum of five years, but optimally after about 10 years. The old-school style of these wines deeply rewards time in the bottle. That’s not to say these wines aren’t delicious out of the gate. As you can see from the tasting notes below, they absolutely are. But the real magic with Corison Cabernet comes from the secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors that can only come with time in the cellar. I wouldn’t necessarily make the same recommendation for a lot of Napa Cabernets, many of which (especially the higher-alcohol wines) I find drink at their best within the 2-5 year timeframe when you can revel in their richness of fruit.
With Corison’s wines, though, it’s the refinement of fruit over time with dried flowers, pencil shavings, aromatic herbs, cedar, and cigar box flavors and aromas that truly demonstrates the potential of the vineyards that Cathy farms, and the style with which she crafts her wines.
So if you’re going to buy these wines, I recommend buying them in multiples of three. Drink one if you have to in the next 2 years, drink one between 5 and 7 years later, and save the last one for 10 years or more. You can thank me later.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of tasting Corison’s wine, you’re missing out on one of the most consistently excellent wines made in Napa.
Here’s a photo I took of Cathy amidst her oeuvre, so to speak.
2016 Corison Winery “Kronos Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, dried herbs, and dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously refined notes of black cherry and cassis mix with dried flowers and road dust. The texture here is lovely, with delicate, fine-grained tannins that billow like gauze in the mouth, as the juicy berry flavors get a tinge of citrus peel brightness as they finish but also a savory, salinity that adds an umami kick to this wine. Fantastic acidity. Delicious now but in 5-10 years, watch out. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $210. click to buy.
2016 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherries, blackcurrants, dried flowers, and dried fennel seeds. In the mouth, juicy blackcurrant and black cherry flavors have a tangy sour cherry note as hints of dried flowers and herbs creep into the mouthwatering finish. Fantastic acidity and the faintest of fleecy tannins. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.
2017 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and plum skin with hints of dried green herbs. In the mouth, juicy plum skin, sour cherry, and dried flowers are bursting with bright acidity and shot through with dried green herbs. Lovely faint powdery tannins give some structure to the wine, but this is largely just mouthwatering juiciness. Very light on its feet and easy to drink. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115. click to buy.
2017 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and blackberry fruit is shot through with lightly muscular tannins and fantastic acidity that leaves a sour cherry, mouthwatering quality to the wine. Young yet, and likely to improve for the next 10 years. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $99. click to buy.
2018 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs, black cherry, blackcurrants, and lavender. In the mouth, intense blackcurrant and dried herb notes are juicy with fantastic acidity and savory with hints of dried flowers. A hint of salinity creeps into the finish along with a dusty earth note. Powdery tannins flex their muscles on the edges of the palate. While this is tasty right now, I’d leave it alone for 5 years to start getting the true magic here. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $99. (this wine is due to be released on 9/1/21 – click to buy.
2018 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, black plum, and black cherry. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of black plum, cherry, and citrus oil pucker the mouth with fantastic, mouthwatering acidity. Faint tannins and hints of dried herbs and flowers add texture and complexity to this wine. This is young and quite primary at the moment but will blossom even more with time. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $110. This wine is due to be released on 10/1/21 – click to buy.
2018 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark purple in color, this wine smells of black plum and black cherry. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and blackcurrant with the tangy brightness of plum skin that makes the mouth water. Hints of dried flowers and licorice linger in the finish. This one definitely needs some time in the bottle, but I predict it will be fantastic in a few years. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. This wine is due to be released on 11/1/21 – click to buy.
Some images courtesy of Corison Wines.