Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Corison Winery

Corison Winery makes some of the most complex and incredibly well balanced Cabs that I've encountered over the past 40+ years. The owner and winemaker, Cathy Corison, has been making wine since the late 1970's, was the first woman winemaker and proprietor in Napa Valley, and has been producing wine under the Corison label since 1987.  In 1995 she purchased the vineyard where Corison Winery is now located, and in 2000 the winery was opened. 

Hardy Wallace, our host, at the tasting bar

The eight acre estate vineyard at Corison Winery is called Kronos Vineyard and was planted in the early 1970's with Cabernet Sauvignon on St. George rootstock, this rootstock making it resistant to Phylloxera.  While other wineries had to pull out their rootstock and replant when Phylloxera struck Napa Valley, Corison did not. Because of this, Corison has Cabernet Sauvignon growing on some of the oldest rootstock in Napa Valley.  These organically grown, old vines are very deeply rooted, require no watering and produce a smaller crop of more intensely flavored  grapes.  These grapes are used for the premier Corison Cabernet Sauvignon issued as Kronos Vineyard.  Other Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are sourced from the classic benchland between Rutherford and St. Helena and, when produced, are issued under the  Corison Napa Valley designation.  Total production for the winery is under 1500 cases.

Entry sign

Cathy Corison has an MS in enology from U.C. Davis, with over thirty years of experience making wines for other wineries, including Chappellet Vineyard, Staglin and Long Meadow Ranch.  She crafts Cabernets that are especially expressive of their terroir and avoids over oaking, over extraction and other tricks, to produce a Cabernet of exceptional balance, complexity and integrity.  All of her Cabs are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and the winery has a large collection of library wines.  Only the Cabernets have the name Cathy Corison on them, the others being called Corazon or Helios. 

Entry way

Our tasting began with the Corison 2009 Gewürztraminer ($30).  This is from grapes sourced from outside Napa Valley, Anderson Valley if I recall.  It is a dry, Alsatian style, 100% Gewurtztraminer that has a fantastic aroma of flowers, spices, white peach and lychees.  On the palate it is dry and spicy with white peach, tropical notes and minerality along with a long finish.  This is one of the finest American Gewürztraminers I've had, although it is not as complex as some of the great (and much more expensive) Alsatian Gewürztraminers that I've tasted over the years.  It is, however,  highly recommended and the only Gewürztraminer from a Napa Valley winery I can recommend other than the wonderful Stony Hill.

Barn with tasting room and barrels

Our next sample was the Helios 2006 Syrah ($38).  If you are tired of Syrahs or Shiraz being fruit bombs or excessively fruit forward, you might just love this Syrah.  Light on the nose, this is a dry, spicy style Syrah with a lovely red raspberry palate, medium body and a medium length finish.  I found it to be very enjoyable.

Original house

Cabernets followed, beginning with the Corison 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon at $75.  This saw 50% neutral oak and 50% new French oak.  After a restrained nose I got dusty blackberries with hints of cedar, floral notes and spice.  It is very dry but impeccably balanced, with great structure, good mouthfeel and fascinating complexity plus a long finish.  Although this 2009 is still young, I found it to be quite drinkable now.

Back of barn

Even better was the Corison 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon at $90.  I confess that I am very fond of 2005 Napa Valley Cabs and usually enjoy them more than the famous 2007 vintage because they often seem to have better structure and more complexity.  This one had a good nose of cherries followed by multi-layers of cherry, nutmeg, spice, and floral notes, with integrated tannins.  Again it is very dry, complex, well structured  with amazing balance.  There is so much going on with this wine!  I just loved this vintage and ended up looking it up on the Internet to see what others said about it.  Not surprisingly, Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast rated this as a 95 when he tasted it on 2/1/09.  I'm sure he would rate it even higher if he had some today, four years later.  This is an exceptional Cabernet!!!

Barrel room

My friend's favorite was the Corison 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon at $90.  This was especially deep garnet in color and had an even better nose than the 2005 but a somewhat softer presentation.  Again it was extremely well balanced and complex, but I did not get quite the layered depth of the 2005.  Tannins were very supple.  I got mostly cherry with some cedar.  Highly recommended!

Barrel room

My favorite, along with the 2005 mentioned above, was the Corison 2006 Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon at $119.  Dark purple in color with a good nose of blackberry and cherry.  Lush without being big or overdone.  Complex, layered and extremely well balanced.  Black cherry with some cedar and nutmeg.  This has great fruit along with very distinct character.  It seems somewhat more intense than the other Corison Cabs but the Corison touch is unmistakable; it is so balanced and multi-dimensional, so interesting.  It is as fascinating as it is delicious.  Simply wonderful!!!


As a final treat we were offered a taste of the Corison 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon at $115.  This had a smoothness that comes with age.  Great blackberry and blueberry fruit, with superb balance.  I liked it as well as the 2004 but preferred the regular 2005 and the Kronos 2006.  At most wineries this would stand out as a great wine, but at Corison it is one among a number of great wines.

Old vine Cabernet Sauvignon

Obviously I really love these Corison Cabs.  Each vintage is different but there is a style that is fairly consistent.  None are overly ripe or extracted nor are they at all sweet, hot or overly oaked. But there is nothing shy, thin or light about them either.  These are beautiful Cabs with great mouthfeel, wonderful fruit, supple tannins and power along with nuance and charm.  I just love the complexity and balance of these wines.  They go beyond mere balance and have a coordinated integration that is as sensually pleasurable as it is intellectually interesting.

Kronos Vineyard

Back in the early 1970's some wine drinkers use to sometimes categorize Napa Valley Cabs as "masculine" or "feminine."  Masculine were the more bold, burly, tannic, Cabs and feminine were the lighter style that strove more for elegance than power.  I remember being at a tasting where the 1965 Charles Krug was tasted and cited as a masculine style Cab and the 1970 BV George de Latour Reserve Cab was tasted and referred to as a more feminine style Cab.  What I love about the Corison Cabs is that they somehow combine the best of both worlds--intensity with finesse.  Corison Cabs are able to balance the Yin and Yang. 

Flower garden

If you love Cabs, you will certainly want to try some of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon.  Corison's prices for their library wines are very reasonable compared to other Napa Valley wineries so you might even want to order a bottle with some age on it.  Better yet, really indulge yourself and visit them in person. You will be glad you did.  Much thanks to our wine host, Hardy Wallace, who helped make our visit such a wonderful experience.

Flight of Corison Cabs

987 St. Helena Hwy
Saint HelenaCA 94574
(707) 963-0826
Date of visit: March 12, 2013


  1. Excellent review. I visited the winery in october 2011 and had a very similar experience with really good cabs. I also fell for the 2005 cab. Since then I have had the fortune to get hold of a few bottles of the 1996 and 2005 kronos. The 1996 is remarkable wine for being an early vintage of the winery and for being that old. Next time I have the possibility to visit USA and Napa I will be at the that winery, for sure.

    1. Thanks. I'd love to taste an older Kronos and will keep a lookout for any. Cheers, TJ

  2. As soon as I opened this I chuckled a bit because your "host" is my friend Hardy Wallace, winemaker/co-founder of Dirty & Rowdy. He's awesome and there are many wine nerds out there dying to meet him, so you got a whole bag of goodies on your visit.


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