In Defense of Elegance: 08 Corison Cabernet

Posted by Chris Cottrell

Elegance over Extravagance
2008 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon
Patience Rewarded

"In an era when the most humble Napa Cab lands somewhere in the low 14s, Corison finds a way to deliver power with a porcelain touch...she shows that it's still possible to make a complex, restrained Cabernet that honors California's best traditions." -San Francisco Chronicle

For years Napa's winemakers have pushed ripeness ever further and slicked their wines up with large doses of new wood, creating plush, high-octane wines that jumped out at tasters.

Lately, it seems that the pendulum is swinging back a bit. More and more, wines are being evaluated within a context that takes into consideration elegance, subtlety and ageworthiness.

With this has come the virtual rediscovery of Cathy Corison's wines, which have been hiding from us all, right there on the St. Helena Highway, Napa's Rodeo Drive, for the last twenty-five years.

Cathy Corison

Amidst all the glitz and glamour of the Cali cult Cabs, Corison has quietly been doing her own thing. Her aesthetic is, and has been, 180-degrees from that of her neighbors, those palatial estates with manicured flower beds and shiny fountains.

All the while, she may have been producing the most underrated Cabernet in California.

Her newly released 2008 is a revelation, another singular wine that lacks any real comparisons in the vintage or the valley.

You'll note I wrote "were" overlooked because Corison has finally begun to get her due. She was awarded 2011 winemaker of the year honors from the SF Chronicle and Robert Parker's California heir, Antonio Galloni, has showered praise on the estate.

Galloni writes: "These aren’t the biggest or most obvious wines being made in the valley, but readers who are willing to spend some time getting to know these refined Cabernets will be amply rewarded." (Galloni's full quote is below.)

What's great about all of this is that Corison hasn't changed a thing over the years.Instead of chasing critics' palates, the critics' palates have come (back) to her.

With the alcohol level on the 2008 under 14%, Cathy Corison tiptoes between Cabernet Sauvignon's elegance and power with veteran confidence and poise. Notes of violets, anise, cassis, boysenberries, olives, herbs and tobacco are complex and inviting and seamlessly woven together. A very fine structure and a bright lift of acidity are the hallmarks of this Cabernet.

Cathy Corison has been in the valley since the 70s, with a winemaking resume that includes some of the top, old-school California estates (Chappellet, Staglin Family Vineyard, York Creek Vineyards and Long Meadow Ranch) eventually leading her to found her own winery, its first vintage being the still-beautiful 1987.

While many who produced the over-the-top Cabs in the 90s are now watching their wines die early and tragic deaths, I have consumed Cathy's wines from the late 80s and early 90s recently, all still vibrant and complex wines, many with a decade or more of life ahead.

We're thrilled that these wines are finally reaching a broader audience, that Cathy is getting the praise and recognition she deserves. Napa Cabernet has a rich history and more than a few bottles from its Golden Age have left deep impressions on our decidedly old-world palates, wines like 70 Mayacamas, 91 Togni, 78 Phelps Eisele or Corison's own 91.

She's continuing the story, today, in Napa - and it's a story worth listening to.

While cracking a bottle this week certainly isn't breaking any wine laws, we suggest laying at least few of these down for as long as you can bear it, to see the level of refinement that classically made California Cabernet can achieve with age.

Please email us at or call the store at (212) 980-9463 to place your order.

Chris Cottrell
Specialist, Fine & Rare Wine Dept.
Crush Wine & Spirits

2008 Corison Cabernet

"The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon comes across as very classic in its mid-weight body and flavor profile. Dark plums, herbs, cassis and tobacco are some of the aromas and flavors that emerge from this beautifully delineated, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. This isn’t a blockbuster, but rather a wine that impresses for its understated finesse. The 2008 can be enjoyed today, but looks to have a wonderful evolution ahead of it as the tertiary aromas develop in bottle. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2023.

I was quite taken with the two Cabernets I tasted from Cathy Corison. These aren’t the biggest or most obvious wines being made in the valley, but readers who are willing to spend some time getting to know these refined Cabernets will be amply rewarded." Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate