Crushing the Corison – Part 2

I had very high hopes to not only crush our Corison tasting, but come back to itswinebyme.com with brilliant notes about many of the vintages – or at least some unifying themes that could tie certain years together.

We were set up for success: Each tasting place mat included designated lines for detailed note taking. And I was more than prepared to write down legible thoughts. But there were five place mats – with four wines per mat.

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Reading back nearly a week later, the notes are only understandable enough to give a glimpse at what I was thinking, and maybe jog a sensory memory of two. But not enough to tell a riveting story.

Fortunately, after 20 tastes of 19 different Cathy Corison-made wines, there were some key takeaways. Even more fortunate, I was surrounded by 10 knowledgeable and experienced friends.

In Part 1  of this 21-vintage salute to Corison Napa Valley Cabernet, I noted there wasn’t a clear winner among the wines we sipped during our formal tasting. Yet when I sent an e-mail to the group asking for any “lessons learned,” many were in agreement with what impressed us the most.

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(Note: we used 18 vintages and one bottle of the final vintage Cathy spent at Chappellet for the tasting. There were three more recent vintages that were later popped during dinner. And yes that equals 22, but the Chappellet was thrown in as a ringer.)

The first takeaway was acknowledgment of our limitations, such as in this response:

“My insights are that I cannot taste 20 iterations of the same wine and expect to come out with a clear favorite. I measure the value of wine in interest, and similarly interesting wines all have similar value. Also, my palate is a blunt instrument and easily overwhelmed by sameness. The small differences become ever harder to discern.”

Pheww! This warmed my novice heart and I realized the value of this tasting was not about distinguishing differences in each individual year. Instead, it was a master class in understanding a particular winemaking style, and a tribute to how well-made wines evolve over time.

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Our biggest OMG moment came in the form of a 1999 magnum. This may not be specific to a Corison wine – in fact, it’s probably not – but it was truly the most jaw-dropping part of the night.

The top half of the magnum was poured into one decanter, while the bottom half of the bottle went into a second. The two decanters were poured in the first and fourth glasses during our third flight (we were blinded  with each flight – so while we could guess the general time frame because the flights were in order of oldest to youngest, we didn’t know what years we were tasting in each glass).

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Upon tasting, the wines presented themselves completely differently. The first glass was lighter with layered flavors and tannins. “Minty spice,” is what I jotted down. The fourth glass, however was much rounder and full-bodied. It tasted of dark inky fruit and had a green finish. Of our three hosts, the one who wasn’t involved in the blinding or serving of the wines shocked her husband when she was able to detect a similar component and asked if the two wines were the same vintage. But the rest of us were dumbfounded when the two glasses were revealed as being poured from the same bottle.

My place mat notes depict a double arrow pointing at both glasses with the words “HOLY SHIT” written across the arrow. One taster e-mailed all the questions that started running through my head:

The magnum was crazy. Who knew the top and bottom half could taste like two completely different wines? Does this happen in 750s too? If it does, I wonder if that has something to do with how people talk about a wine opening up over an evening (which I don’t tend to notice much of myself) – maybe sometimes the variation is already there in the bottle?”

So now we have an entirely new topic to investigate for another day!

Other takeaways, more specific to Corison wines, included:

  • In the third flight there was a “consistent metallic, tar, bloody, iodine note … It made me wonder whether there was something in the viticulture or winemaking during those years that brought that out.”
  • Except for the 1987 Chappellet, which had a “grittier texture to the tannins,” there was a “stylistic consistency. There was definitely a connecting thread through all the wines regardless of vintage variation. It was very easy to get a sense of what a Corison wine’s character is.”
  • There were no detectable traces of a bad vintage. Each wine in and of itself could have stood beautifully on its own.

A few tasters who were well-versed in Napa Cabernet offered a broader perspective:

“Corison clearly belongs on the short list of Napa producers whose wines not only age well, but actually get more interesting. Both secondary and tertiary development. I’m excited to try the more recent vintages in 10 to 20 years. This list is very small.”

In response to that comment, another wrote:

 “As someone that really doesn’t ever recall having Corison before, oddly enough, that’s the impression I came away with, too: I’d put Corison in the same category as Dunn. Made to age, older-world style of winemaking.”

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For me, what continues to make this night so special is understanding the simple and gradual evolution of wine as it ages. It’s not that the younger wines can’t be enjoyed now. But all of a sudden, that 2006 bottle I fell in love with months ago no longer held a torch to some of the older vintages.

As one friend e-mailed:

“The tasting really solidified for me what it means for a young wine to be closed/locked down/not showing much. The really young ones (‘09, ’11, ’13) were still delicious and still obviously Corison, but after tasting the older wines, I could really tell that they weren’t revealing their full potential.”

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