- Rating: 93 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $40 or $85, depending on tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: false
Napa, CA 94558
Walking around the different wine bars in 850 Bordeaux Way is like being Charlie in the Chocolate Factory; sampling all of the different types of wines and hearing their stories leading to wine overload (theoretically). Cornerstone is another winery that has a couple of tasting venues (their other is in the town of Napa), but not a large estate to visit and tour. If you are looking for decent Cabernets for under $100, Cornerstone will fit in your category, but I recommend going after their Rhone blends instead which deliver outsized value for their modest $30 price points. That and you’ll also be able to take an Instagram photo like everyone else holding their empty Melchior-sized bottle.
Cornerstone got it’s start in the early 90s thanks to two Memphis Doctors and a winemaker. While the winemaker would split off and start other brands such as Highlands, the two Docs continued to fund Cornerstone and hired another winemaker. After a stint by Celia Welch (of Scarecrow fame) in the 2000s, Cornerstone’s trajectory has gone up and not looked back. Today, Kari Auringer holds the reins to the winemaking operation. Having made wine for Keever and Lindstrom as well as serving as Celia Welch’s assistant winemaker at Cornerstone for 7 years, Kari has picked up the mantle and continued to carry the brand forward. It’s no wonder the prices for the wines exceed that of Caymus and other similar producers.
I highly recommend visiting 850 Bordeaux Way for a tasting. While the tasting fee is non-refundable with bottle purchases (unlike Mi Sueno), the wine ambassadors are very generous and will give your additional pours and tastings of bottles not on the menu if you show interest and excitement. I ooze a lot of both while tasting (as much as one can while furiously typing notes onto a laptop), so I was able to turn a 4-5 bottle tasting into 7 (with a couple revisits). The tasting room is slightly smaller than Mi Sueno and Trinitas, but at times felt like it had more people coming through the door for tastings.
The other thing I appreciate about Cornerstone is that they procure most of their fruit from other producers. Meaning that they make many different bottlings of wine from many different Napa AVAs and therefore have a good breadth of bottles to try and flavors to enjoy. Being able to try Merlot and Cabernet Franc from a hallowed place like Oakville Station, and then turn around and taste Cabernet Sauvignons from different places on the valley floor is not something to take for granted.
If I had to put a theme on the wines from Cornerstone, it’s the drinkability of the wines at a young age, the lighter tannin extraction, and how smooth/mellow the wines are, especially the single varietal reds. You could easily imagine drinking multiple bottles in a single evening around a campfire or relaxing with friends on a patio. Perhaps that is the attraction of this winery. It also helps that the medical community is small and whenever Cornerstone needs to hit a quota, the owners just bring a group of doctors through for a tasting of everything and ship wines out by the truckload. Like they say, doctors are good with people, but bad with money.
My notes on the $40 traditional tasting below. And all of the wines discussed can be found and purchased online at their website: https://www.cornerstonecellars.com/Wines/Best-Sellers
- 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County ($32)
- Grown at 1700 feet elevation on the other side of Mt. Veeder in Sonoma county. On the nose, you get ripe yellow and green fruit (e.g. apples/pears) and even a little stonefruit. A tiny bit of gooseberry adds complexity. On the palate, the ripeness reaches stonefruit levels and beyond with the high acidity characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc. The ripe apples and pears paired with the mouthwatering acidity make you think you are biting into fresh fruit. The ripeness almost approaches a level that makes the ending a little unpleasant. For the fruit-driven wine lovers.
- 2016 GSM El Dorado ($30)
- Grown at 2500 feet elevation in the Sierra Foothills. Yeah, this nose… Ripe red fruit, cheese rind, pepper, and some garrigue that is just starting to show. The finish is fairly short, but while the wine is on your palate, you get notes of just ripened red fruit, black pepper, and a smooth body that has medium(+) acid and medium tannins. An enjoyable form of Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre that does not require any aging. Finishes dry and mouthwatering, making you want more and suggesting it could pair well with meat dishes.
- 2016 Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills ($60)
- Wow, this wine really does have the nose of a Santa Rita Hills Pinot. It’s medium intensity with mostly sweet spice, tobacco and wood instead of red fruit. Same on the palate with the red fruit playing a supporting role at best. Still, smooth, integrated, and soft on the palate as Pinot Noir traditionally is. I think this style of Pinot will have its lovers and detractors, but for now, count me in the former category. This wine will improve with a little age.
- 2015 Merlot Oakville Station ($75)
- I remember the term “mellow merlot” from my early wine studies - medium everything. Exploring this wine brings me back to that time. A pretty, red fruited, medium intensity nose with some sweet spices. On the palate, that mellow, middle-of-the-road structure and intensity is perfectly fine with me. Strawberry, cranberry, some cherry, sweet spice, and bright acidity just glide along the tongue but has a surprisingly long finish. This bottle is classic easy-drinking while letting you know of its quality on the finish. This is a long weekend, hammock wine.
- 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Kairos Vineyard ($95)
- This Cabernet is the spiritual successor to the Merlot above in how it’s mellow, smooth, and delicious. On the nose and palate, you observe predominantly ripe red fruit, sweet spice, high (but very smooth) tannins, and high acid that dances on the cheeks. It’s surprising how ready to drink this wine is, given that it’s from the Oak Knoll AVA. This is the type of wine you could easily drink by yourself because it’s not too strong/overpowering.
- 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Benchlands ($80)
- Is this as smooth as the Kairos? Yes. Is the complexity at a whole different level? Oh heck yes. A blend of multiple varietals from multiple sites in Napa. Not quite the puzzle that Sixteen Appellations is from Italics, but I think it’s better integrated and drinking much better at this point. The acidity is high and vibrant and the flavors span the red spectrum and already display tertiary notes. If I had to pick a wine to drink today among the reds, this would be it. I see why it has received the critical acclaim that it has.
- 2015 Cabernet Franc, Oakville Station ($85)
- 75% Cab Franc, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - all from the Oakville Station. The red fruit perfume on the nose comes at you in high intensity. The acidity and tannin are vibrant and structured, making this enjoyable right now. The wine almost forces you to continue taking sips of it… The palate is a little disjointed (mostly the structure is), but you can tell how good this is going to be. It’s not quite at the same QPR level as the Paradigm Cabernet Franc, but it’s pretty close. I understand why Cornerstone sells out of this wine so quickly every year.
It was a long day and a great tasting to end it on. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the wine bar at the time. If you make a visit and don’t mind me posting one of your photos for this blog entry, please let me know! Cheers!!
Rating: 93 out of 100