My first impulse in filing this report was to preface my notes by saying that the wines from Cornerstone Cellars just keep getting better and better. Then, I looked at our report from last January and noticed that I said the same thing then. At least my impressions are consistent. The truth of the matter is that pretty much all of Cornerstone’s wines are eminently drinkable and downright delicious, from the top shelf Napa and Willamette bottlings right on through the more moderately priced Stepping Stone by Cornerstone offerings. We had the opportunity to taste three new releases of the latter recently, and we were quite impressed with them.
The Stepping Stone Rocks! bottlings are the least expensive wines in Cornerstone’s lineup, but deliver the kind of high quality that we’ve come to expect from them. Cornerstone GM Craig Camp and Winemaker Jeff Keene are under no constraints to follow a set recipe for these blends. For instance, where the 2010 White Rocks! was composed of Chardonnay and Muscat, the current version replaces the Muscat with Gewürztraminer. Likewise, the ’09 Red Rocks! blended Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, while the 2010 is made up of Zin, Syrah and Merlot.
2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast White Rocks!, 13.5% alc., SRP $18: Clean medium color, with a tinge of lemon; the Gewürztraminer component is quite apparent on both the nose and palate, adding overtones of orange blossom and honeysuckle to the apple-pear core of Chardonnay fruit. Clean and fresh on the nose, rich and slightly oily in the mouth; medium-full bodied, with ample acids and good length. A blend of Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. We sipped and enjoyed this one sans food, but I like the winery’s suggestion that it “pairs well with fresh salads, spicy Asian dishes and is perfect as an aperitif with appetizers.” Find this wine
2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast Red Rocks!, 14.5% alc., SRP $18: Deeply colored, almost, but not quite, opaque. A kiss of sweet oak caresses the ripe raspberry-blackberry-black cherry mélange on the nose, all of which carries over onto the palate, gaining a decidedly earthy underbelly, which I like. Full bodied, well-structured and showing real depth; this is no knock off blend to pass off to the tourists, but rather, a wine of some substance, made all the more attractive by the relatively modest price tag. Like just about everything we taste from these folks, better than the previous vintage, and the previous vintage was a pretty good wine in its own right. It seamlessly blends the best qualities of each variety into a greater whole, with Zinfandel from Lake County, Syrah from Sonoma and a Napa Carneros Merlot. Find this wine
Finally, if there’s a better $35 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon than this one out there, I want to taste it.
2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 13.9% alc., SRP $35: Clean, dark color; a kiss of sweet oak over pretty black currant-cassis flavors and aromas, but this is no over-ripe fruit bomb. Deep, and a little earthy, sleek and sultry, full bodied and well-structured, ripe, but not excessively so; there’s a lovely balance to this. Subtle notes of leather and underbrush add interest and appeal. A delicious wine already, and a few years in the cellar should only improve the drinking experience. 93% Cabernet Sauvignon: Beatty Ranch Vineyard, Howell Mountain; Bella Oaks Lane Vineyard, Rutherford; Garvey Family Vineyards “Home Ranch”, Rutherford; Kairos Vineyard, Oak Knoll District, 7% Merlot: Stewart Ranch Vineyard, Carneros; Oakville Station, Oakville; 18 months in 50% new French Bordeaux oak barrels. Find this wine
Reporting from Day-twah,