Crushing the Kronos Reveals Beauty of Consistency

Corison wine bottles
All 16 vintages of Corison Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon, with a few extra bottles thrown inf or good measure.

Right around the time my friends and I were sobering up from our 16-year verticle tasting of wines from Cathy Corison’s Kronos Vineyard, Dave McIntyre of The Washington Post, wrote in his weekly column, he, too, had recently tasted through 16 vintages of a particular wine. He said the wines in the tasting were “postcards from time,” and as one of his fellow diners told him: “I enjoy each wine less this way, but I learn more.”

Those are easy assertions to agree with and capitalizing on the learning and the understanding of time, is exactly why a year after my tasting group wrangled 21 vintages of Corison Napa Valley Cabernet, we challenged ourselves to do it again, this time focusing on the Cabernet Sauvignon she made from her Kronos vineyard. (Ok, we may have did it for some bragging rights, too!)  

Corison Kronos tasting
A semi-demolished flight of Corison Kronos wines.

The Kronos Cabernet comes from 45-year-old vines that are grown on Cathy’s St. Helena property. She and her husband farm the land, and since 1996 they have produced the single vineyard bottling of Corison Kronos Cabernet. The wines are more powerful than the Napa Valley Cabernet she blends from other nearby by vineyards. But true to her style, Kronos maintains her delicate signature style of winemaking, keeping the wines elegant and at a low alcohol level (about 13%). If you visit the winery for a tour and library tasting (which I strongly recommend), you’ll exit the back barn-like doors and step immediately into the Kronos vineyard, located on the Napa Valley floor, stretching about 8 acres back to the Mayacamas Mountains. Unlike many of Napa’s vines, this vineyard survived the 1990s phylloxera epidemic because the vines are on St. George rootstock, which is resistant to the tiny bugs. (For more on the vineyard, take a look at this profile Kelli White wrote in 2011.)

Corison's Kronos Vineyard
The Kronos Vineyard is literally in Cathy Corison’s backyard. This is the back of the winery.

Corison's Kronos Vineyard
Standing in the Kronos Vineyard looking out to the Mayacamas Mountains on a misty day in December, 2016.

We modeled this year’s tasting after last year’s. There were a handful of flights with all 16 vintages of the Kronos Vineyard from 1996 to 2012. Each wine was poured blind, but each flight was loosely in chronological order from oldest to youngest. A few ringers were included in the mix including two pours from the same vintage – one from the top half and other from the bottom half of a magnum, and a few of the Napa Valley Cabernets were compared against the Kronos. We had two separate bottles of 2004, so those were poured in separate glasses, as well, making for an interesting lesson in bottle variation.

Just like last year, there were no clear favorites, but together, the 16 vintages told a bigger story – a consistent beauty was strung from bottle to bottle. It’s impossible to escape the violets, dust and undertones of herbal mints that at times mixed with some chocolate (Junior Mints, anyone?).

I hit palate fatigue before the final flight. Despite my best efforts to spit and snack on the cheeses and charcuterie we prepared, by the last flight, there was nothing but the violets, dust and herbal mints coating my throat (which is certainly not a bad thing!). But there was something magical going on in the early parts of the aughts. We were told that Cathy’s favorite Kronos vintage was 2001, but 2002 and 2003 were slightly lifted from the pack for me. Whether that’s because those bottles had the right amount of age on it for my personal liking, or it was something within the vintages themselves, it’s hard to say.

It’s worth noting, however, that thanks to a very cool and rainy year – and what Cathy has called a challenging year in the vineyard – the 2011 bottle was the very definition of letting a wine speak for its vintage. It tasted significantly older – maybe by a decade – than its actual year. A bit darker and more savory than the others, but still elegant and restrained. Emanating from some of the darker more savory notes were dusty violets, which reminded one of my friends of Choward’s Violet Mints.


Having the opportunity to taste through almost all of the Corison wines – both the Napa Valley and Kronos bottles – is truly an honor. While it’s obvious that aging these wines only brings out more complexity, more structure and more textured flavors, the trouble will always be not popping the cork too early, as they are certainly just as enjoyable now as they will be in years to come.

My Attempt To Demystify Cru Beaujolais


It’s November,  the time of the year when the commercial wine industry turns to Beaujolais Nouveau – the just-released candied-cherry-smacking wine from a region in France that has long been seen as the ugly duckling to Burgundy.

But in recent decades, winemakers in the 10 Cru-designated villages have been fighting to show off what their Gamay and terroir can do.  High-profile big-city somms and the “cool kids” of the wine scene, have been flocking to the Crus for a while now:  Morgon and Fleurie are the first villages I was exposed to among my wine-drinking friends. It’s history in the natural wine movement (read Alice Feiring’s Naked Wine) and its growing stature are signs this isn’t just a trend. And then last month, Decanter reported this:

The 10 crus of Beaujolais have instructed a series of working groups to identity and list individual climats by June next year, as they seek to emulate Burgundy by linking vineyards more closely to terroir.

So in my quest to understand the wine world, and to keep up with my more knowledgeable friends, I set out to learn more about the 10 Crus and put together an extremely informal, very unscientific tasting. I asked my friends at Weygandt Wines to suggest three Crus I could taste side-by-side. My hope was that I would get an understanding for these wines and maybe even be able to pull out some trademarks that I could remember for future purchases (i.e. Fleuries are more floral, Brouilly are lighter). There’s already some buzz around the 2014 vintage, which are just starting to come in, so Tim and Warren recommended these:

  • Clos de la Roilette (Coudert) Fleurie  (2014)
  • Daniel Bouland Cote de Brouilly (2014)
  • Pierre-Marie Chermette Coeur de Vendanges (2014
    – while not one of the Crus, this wine comes from 100-year-old vines and
    was highly recommended as a good alternative.)

Also, some friends were kind to join me in this learning experiment, so a few more were popped and poured:

  • Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes de Chavannes Côte de
    Brouilly (2014)
  • Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvée Corcelette (2012)
  • Domaine Calot Vielles Vignes Morgon (2014)
  • Yvon Métras Fleurie (2013)

And I should add that just prior to my informal tasting, Weygandt’s had also set up a tasting of mostly 2013s, so I stopped by for some pre-experiment sips:

  • Pierre-Marie Chermette Brouilly, Fleurie and
    Moulin à Vent (2013)
  • Daniel Bouland Chiroubles and Morgon (2013)
  • Chateau Grange Cochard Morgon (2012 and 2013)
  • Domaine de Prion La Madone Fleurie  andMoulin à Vent (2011)

Phew – all that spanned a single afternoon.

My Saturday conclusions:

I must admit that I don’t know more than I did before we started. Sure, I enjoyed some over others. For example, the nose on the Chateaeu Grange Cochard Morgon 2013 had gorgeous herbal aromas that the 2012 lacked (yet the palate on the 2012 was more rounded). And certain wines tasted like they were trying to emulate Burgundy. But producer styles seemed to win out over terroir. When comparing crus within a single producer, that’s when I was able to slightly pick out differences. Of the three initial wines – it was the non-Cru designated Pierre-Marie Chermette Coeur de Vendanges that I enjoyed most. I went home later that night slightly unsatisfied with no overarching themes for individual Crus.

Fortunately, my frustration dissipated when I read “What’s the Big Deal About Cru Beaujolais,”  on wine-searcher, which includes these “caveats” to understanding this wine:

Two issues: first is that the crus are not entirely sure of their identity or about their relationship with Burgundy. Second, they are made by several different techniques, including carbonic maceration (the traditional way), thermovinification (a quick fix, where the
grapes and must are heated to near boiling prior to fermentation) or
traditional Burgundian winemaking methods – this can cause confusion as each gives a very different wine style.


And I had another takeaway:

I wasn’t as in love with these wines as I wanted to be. Nothing blew me away. They were all bottles that generally do fit my palate and were enjoyable. But it’s a wine I would pull for an occasion: a pairing with a roast chicken dinner or a table of friends who just want something light. I must say, Cru Beaujolais really does lend itself to Autumn. It’s a beautiful transition wine from the hot summer days to impending doom – oops, I mean cooler weather.

But then something interesting happened. We had a lot of leftover wine and I brought home the three original bottles that I brought –and snagged the rest of the Métras Fleurie. About two days later – after some time in my refrigerator and then warmed back up to about 10 degrees below room temperature, some of the dirtier/earthier flavors started to emerge. The wines tasted fuller, and more rounded. Day three only enhanced that.

So my final assessment:

Cru Beaujolais, which is meant to age (quite the opposite of Beaujolais Nouveau, which most of the wine-drinking public associates with the region), really does benefit from either time in the bottle or a healthy decant or lingering in a refrigerator for a few days after opening. Any future real comparative tastings would probably benefit from one of those methods. As for which Cru I prefer or can properly describe, I still don’t know. And I’m ok with that. Making my way through 10 different terroirs and more than a handful of recommended producers will take a bit of time and is certainly not a bad way to continue on my wine journey.


2012 Burgundy Tasting Notes From an Amateur (Read at Your Own Risk)

Just like any good wine lover, when I hear the word Burgundy, my ears perk up, my eyes widen and my tongue may even start to salivate. Its reputation, its history, the delicate winemaking and strict rules it must adhere to – it has all the romance and passion that’s wrapped into the story of wine.

So when I received an invitation to try a line-up of 2012 Burgundies from MacArthur Beverages, it didn’t take long for me to agree – especially since I’ve had limited exposure to it. Not just this vintage, but Burgundy in general. (And yes, I warned them I was an extreme amateur before accepting the invitation!)

The tasting – which took place in the back corner of the store with the bottles resting on a shelf held up by wine barrels – was on a Monday night and very casual. Phil poured from six wines, ranging in price from $22 to $220. But it wasn’t the tasting of different price points which excited me. It was the opportunity to comparatively taste all the traditional classifications of the AOC against each other: From regional, to village, to Premier Cru, and up to a bottle of Grand Cru. (And yes, I realize the wines will most likely go up in price depending on its classification – but that’s not the point of my excitement here.)

The lineup of wines poured at MacArthur Beverages on April 20, 2015 | Photo by itswinebyme.

Here’s my takeaway: All six wines were beautiful in their own right. There was nothing offensive about them and I’d be happy sharing any of these bottles with anyone. (But then again, I’m sure they were chosen because they were fine examples of the vintage and terroir.) I’m not well versed in vintage variations, so I can’t say how these compares to other years. It was interesting (to me) that I didn’t get that typical “Burgundy funk” on the nose until I reached the last two wines (we tasted in order of classification, but for fun – I then tasted in reverse order as a way to revisit some of the pours). This won’t be a traditional review – I’ll leave that to the other more experienced palates who were there.

These are the wines we tasted (the photo above is this order from left to right):

* 2012 Joseph Faiveley, Bourgogne ($22): A beautiful, bright floral, fruit-forward nose. As a California girl, it reminded me a bit of Sonoma Coast’s Littorai (and while I realize that Littorai emulates Burgundy – not the other way around, it’s where my wine journey started, so inhaling this wine took me to that experience). At $22, it’s a wine that’s easy to share with anyone – whether they understand wine or not.

* 2012 Joseph Drouhin, Cote de Nuits – Villages ($25): My very limited note taking during the tasting has the words “meaty” and “pepper” written down, next to this wine. Unlike the first wine, there was a bit more structure. Of all the wines, this was the least memorable to me. I didn’t taste this a second time like I did the others. Is that saying something about this wine? Maybe.

* 2012 Domaine Joblot, Clos du Cellier aux Moines, Givry Premier Cru ($45): This appeared to be a crowd pleaser, or maybe just everyone was curious enough to keep going back to it. For my inexperienced Burgundy palate, this was the first wine that seemed more like traditional Burgundies I’ve tasted before. The wine appealed to my love for earthy qualities, and it was significantly deeper than the first two.

* 2012 Louis Jadot, Domaine Gagey, Beaune Les Greves Premier Cru ($50): Compared to the Joblot, I didn’t taste much of a difference. When Phil asked my impressions, the first thing I blurted out was “chewy tannins,” which overtook much of the fruit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And it’s one of those wines, I’d love to put in  a decanter and sip over the course of the evening to watch it evolve. (Remember, if you’re itching for more traditional reviews from the same tasting, go here and here.)

* 2012 Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini, Gevrey-Chambertin Les Champonnets Premier Cru ($100): Finesse. At this point in the tasting, I had pretty much resigned myself to only jotting down one word per wine to help me remember it. As I put my nose in my swirled glass, that Burgundy funk reared itself for the first time. But when I took a sip, despite lots of bursting complexity, I took a deep breathe and realized the difference with this wine was it had a very elegant melding of its flavors. About 10 minutes later, I overheard Phil also describe the wine with the word finesse while talking to someone else – so don’t just take my word* on it. (*Note: I’m 95 percent sure he was referencing this same wine. Either way, I’ll stand by my impression.)

* 2012 Domaine Faiveley, Corton Clos de Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru ($220): Phil was quick to point out that this is the only Premier Cru that includes its Domaine’s name on the wine. Is it a sign of confidence? Is this wine that special or different? Is it a marketing ploy? I failed to ask those questions. As the only Grand Cru in this lineup, it’s rich complexity was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the wine tasted backwards on my palate. On first sip, it seemed slightly flat, but then the backend literally bursted in my mouth and the finish went on and on and on. I knew I was tasting something special, I only wish I had the experience to know how this wine would evolve with age.

Ode to Yum

There are certain wines you drink that once you finally agree to stop inhaling their wonderful aromas inside the glass and actually succumb to tasting, they will envelop your inner soul. Sure, the palate springs to life with a dance of almost-balanced acid and tannins while big bold fruit and subtle earth wrap themselves around your tongue. But this wine is still a baby. A 2012. I don’t have a cellar, or a wine fridge or a cold basement for that matter, so for the time being, drinking my wines young is probably my smartest move. And while I’m more than pleased I opened this bottle of Bedrock Pagani Ranch Heritage on this frigid Friday night, I’m quite jealous of those who will get to drink this several years from now. It’s a good thing I still have another bottle.