Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cornerstone Cellars and Stepping Stone

Cornerstone Cellars is on the main street (Washington) in downtown Yountville, a very convenient location for a pre or post dinner wine tasting to accompany a great dinner at any of Yountville's wonderful restaurants.  If you are staying in Yountville you don't even need a designated driver.  Cornerstone Cellars offered their first commercial release in 1991.  It was founded by two Memphis physicians, Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas  after David during a visit to Napa Valley was offered some high quality Cabernet Sauvignon grapes by Randy Dunn who had a surplus that year.  So the winery began with the purchase of five tons of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  Their first release was so well received, they decided to continue releasing wines and now have some long term contracts for sourcing grapes.

Tasting bar
Their winemaker is Jeff Keene with Craig Camp as the managing partner.  The tasting room in Yountville opened in 2009 and is across the street from the Post Office. It is open to the public and has a $15 tasting fee.  In addition to Cornerstone wines, they also offer a line of more affordable wines under the Stepping Stone label.  They do not refer to this as a second label and after tasting some of these, I understand why.  Although Stepping Stone offers less expensive wines, they are clearly premium wines.  Much thanks to our friendly and courteous host, Ben.


First up was the Stepping Stone 2010 Napa Valley Riesling at only $20.  Only 435 cases were produced. It is one of the better Napa Valley Rieslings I've tasted and the only really good one I've encountered for under $30.  Pale straw in color, it had a very nice nose with mostly melon and floral notes of lemon blossom and honeysuckle.  On the palate I got dry melon, grapefruit and lemon with refreshing crispness and good, but balanced, acid. The finish was medium length but very clean and somewhat soft for a Riesling that has such crisp acid on the mid palate. It is probably the driest California Riesling I have tasted (residual sugar is less than .02%) and is more in the Alsatian tradition with its dry, flinty minerality.  As much as I would like to imagine drinking this alone on a hot summer day, I think it would pair splendidly with seafood, foul or Asian dishes.  Many people seem to underestimate how well a really good, dry Riesling will pair with food. If you like dry Rieslings, you should give this a try.  If you think you don't like Rieslings because many seem too sweet, this is definitely the one to try. It is very nice, especially at this price and I highly recommend it.


Our second taste was the Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $25.  968 cases were produced. Very pale straw in color with greenish hues, and a light lemon nose, this wine bursts into action upon entry with lemon and crisp, balanced acid, some slight, pleasant herbaceousness and good minerality.  The finish is rather short but very clean.  Quite nice and easy to recommend.

For the third taste, I opted to sample some Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($35).  I rarely drink Oregon Chards and this was an opportunity to do so.  It saw 16 months on French oak, with 24% of that new oak, and had 50% Malolactic Conversion but was not at all fat or buttery.  After a light aroma of lemon and oak, I got lots of dry, tart, crisp, green apple and lemon with some oak.  Finish was medium length.  This is a different style Chard that some people might really like, but I did not find it that interesting.  (Perhaps I'm too fond of white Burgundies and Chablis.)  Something worth trying if you are looking for a different style Chard.

Other side of lounge

The Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir at $50 was next.  62 % on new French oak for 15 months. Bright ruby color. This had a great nose, far better than most Pinots, of red cherry, plum and sweet cedar.  I got more red plum and red cherry on the palate but with the addition of some raspberry and baking spices. Smooth tannins.  Medium bodied for a Pinot. Long, smooth finish.  Some might prefer less oak, but I thought it was very nice.

The Stepping Stone 2009 Napa Valley Syrah at $25 followed.  Grapes come from Lake County and it has 10% Grenache.  Check the gorgeous color on this, a lovely rose purple.  Very pretty.  Good nose of black cherry and spice.  I love Syrah spices.  More black cherry on the palate and not at all jammy with good tannins and spice.  Tired of fruit bomb Sirahs and Shiraz?  Try this one.  It is actually fairly dry for a Syrah.  Different than most Syrahs. We both really liked it. 

Next we tried the Stepping Stone 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. ($35)  This has 8% Merlot.  Bright ruby in color, I got some red fruit, tobacco leaf and graphite on the nose with black currant, blackberry, vanilla, oak, bell pepper, tobacco notes on the palate.  It was full bodied but well balanced, and the Merlot softened it out in a very pleasant manner.  Some Cab Francs lean toward being rather green and overly herbaceous.  Others can be too jammy.  Many are simply too simple.  This one is very well done and highly recommended.

Art work and lounge area

This was followed by the Cornerstone Cellars 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $65.  This is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. Dark violet in color. After a decent nose I got black cherry, black currant, cigar box, toasted oak, good structure and well integrated tannins.  Finish was medium length.  Drinkable now but will improve with age.  Very nice for the price. 

We tried the Cornerstone Cellars 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon next ($80.) This is from 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot and saw 22 months on French oak. Most of the Cab is from Howell Mountain Ink Grade Vineyard but some Oak Knoll District Cab was added.  The Merlot is from Carneros.  400 cases were produced and they have been producing this mountain Cab since 1991. I confess to being rather partial to mountain cabs and this is certainly one.  Deep dark ruby in color with very nice aromas of black cherry, black currant and tobacco leaf starts this Cab out.  On the palate it is black cherry, black currant, blackberry with a lot of depth, and undercurrents of complex flavors such as oak, nutmeg, mushrooms, black pepper, etc.  Finish is medium length. This is a full bodied, well structured, robust Cab that needs air and will get even better with age but, for me, is interesting, complex and delicious right now.  I'd really like to sit down and slowly savor this wine at home.  Better yet, I'd love to taste this ten years from now. Very highly recommended and my favorite of the tasting along with the next wine.

By the case

For the finale we had the Cornerstone Cellars 2009 The Cornerstone ($125).   It is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Franc and 2.5% Merlot and is similar to a reserve wine, although they do not call it that.  They also do not call it a Cabernet Sauvignon because they want flexibility to change the wine from year to year.  Black cherry with hints of sweet cedar on the nose.  Ripe dark cherry with interlaced tannins.  Soft, smooth, sophisticated and impeccably balanced.  Rich in texture.  Long finish. This is very different from the gutsy Howell Mountain Cab which I also like a lot.  Again I would need to spend some time with this wine to do it justice.  It is an excellent Cab.

Meeting room

Cornerstone Cellars offers some very good and interesting wines under their own label and under the Steppingstone label.  It is one of the very few wineries in Napa Valley where you can also taste an Oregon Pinot.  Of their white wines, I found the Riesling to be especially appealing.  It is very dry and quite affordable.  All of their reds were quite good, but I especially enjoyed the Cabernet Franc, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the more refined Cabernet "The Cornerstone".  Even if you are not staying in a Yountville motel or eating at one of their many great restaurants, this is a winery you will want to visit when you are in Napa Valley.  They offer an extensive line up of superior wines at prices that are very reasonable for the quality. We highly recommend that you give them a try!

6505 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
Date of visit: May 15, 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.