Memo from The Barrel Room's Winemaker Dinner with Cathy Corison - January 2016

We are impressed by Corison Winery for many reasons. Perhaps most impressive is their dedication to the low alcohol, old world style that was popular in Napa when Corison began in 1987 but has since fallen out of fashion. Many of today's cabernets can be one dimensional and overly fruit-driven, made for marketability and higher American ratings. Cathy's cabernets have made no such sacrifices over the years and remain strikingly herbal and balanced, sometimes provocatively challenging. As a winemaker, Cathy shows the true range of not only cabernet but any varietal she chooses and has created a dedicated following of oenophiles in the process - including us! 

Guest of Honor Cathy Corison pictured in Napa with what are surely some delicious Cabernet grapes! 

Guest of Honor Cathy Corison pictured in Napa with what are surely some delicious Cabernet grapes! 

We are also impressed by the incredible story Corison reveals about a very unique time in Napa and world winemaking history. 

Before starting Corison Cathy had spent many years working for various vineyards throughout the region, notably Freemark Abbey - one of the first US wineries to win at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. When Cathy began her winery 11 years after that momentous year, she became the first ever female winemaker-proprietor winery in the United States.

 Even more extraordinary is the unique vineyards Corison developed. Cathy found a near-abandoned vineyard for very low cost early on in her search, a vineyard thought to be out of commission and in need of replanting due to phylloxera-susceptible vines.  After further independent research near the end of escrow on the land, she found out the cabernet vines were in fact phylloxera resistant - grown on what is called St. George rootstock. This makes the grapes from this vineyard, dubbed "Kronos," some of the oldest, phylloxera-unaffected in Napa.

With this context and poised with such greatness, Corison's incredible contribution to the world of wine is indisputable. 

Barrel Room staff enjoying a tasting at Corison Winery in Napa Fall 2015.

Barrel Room staff enjoying a tasting at Corison Winery in Napa Fall 2015.

In addition to cabernet, Cathy produces handful of other varietals under her Corazon and Helios labels, including gewurztraminer, syrah and cabernet franc, among others. She also makes a rose de cabernet under Corazon in limited quantities which is absolutely spectacular! The cabernets are produced under the Corison label, with special Kronos productions featuring single vineyard grapes prized for the age and quality of the vines. 

Our lineup!

Our lineup!

For our winemaker dinner we opted for five courses designed to highlight what Corison is best known for, and so cabernet was the star of three of our five courses. Not pictured is our Barrel Room Cuvee by Hures Freres selected for the first course. 

The cuisine menu for the night was crafted by Executive Chef Manuel Hewitt with careful consideration of the wines and consultation of Wine Director Sarah Trubnick. Executed on January 21st 2016. For our short interview with Cathy click here. 

We started the night right with a classic champagne pairing of marin miyagi oysters and The Barrel Room Cuvee by Hures Freres - a classic pairing - followed by the 2012 Corazon gewurztraminer paired with a tarte flambee of fromage blanc, figs, lardons, caramelized onions, arugula, currant gastrique and creme fraiche.

Tarte flambee of fromage blanc, figs, lardons, caramelized onions, arugula, currant gastrique and creme fraiche, paired with the 2012 Corazon Gewurztraminer. 

Tarte flambee of fromage blanc, figs, lardons, caramelized onions, arugula, currant gastrique and creme fraiche, paired with the 2012 Corazon Gewurztraminer. 

Though both the tarte and the wine were delicious individually, their pairing ended up being the least favorite of the night. Most who we talked to expressed difficulty with the arugula's bitterness overtaking the delicate structure of the wine.

At the same time many saw the concept, appreciating the figs bringing out fruity expressions in the wine and noting how well the aromatics worked together. Alas, pairing is an art that takes balance and risk...  On to the favorites! 

Seared wild mushrooms served with baby red beets, duxelles, toasted walnuts, beetroot vinaigrette, and parmesan crisp, paired with the 2010 Corison Cabernet.

Seared wild mushrooms served with baby red beets, duxelles, toasted walnuts, beetroot vinaigrette, and parmesan crisp, paired with the 2010 Corison Cabernet.

We paired the 2010 Corison Cabernet - currently featured on our USA focused menu - with seared wild mushrooms served with baby red beets, duxelles, toasted walnuts, beetroot vinaigrette, and parmesan crisp. The wine alone is austere and herbal, lacking any smacking dose of fruit. It was a colder season in 2010 and this worked to enhance the grape's natural pyrazines - the chemical that creates a vegetal flavor - sometimes forgotten yet essential to cabernet.

Stephen Deyton, a Barrel Room Partner, described this pairing best, commenting that "Actually the mushrooms with the 2010 was my favorite pairing... because I didn't like the 2010 alone. The herbal quality was too much but with the microgreens and the sorel it was perfectly balanced, allowing the wine to shine more vibrantly." Some of the best pairings are the ones that make you think twice about a previous judgment, elevating what you first experienced as less than ideal to something you can truly appreciate. 

Next we paired the 2013 Corison Cabernet with rack of lamb served with roasted garlic gremolata, roasted winter vegetables, and honey lamb jus.

Rack of lamb served with roasted garlic gremolata, roasted winter vegetables, and honey lamb jus, paired with the 2013 Corison Cabernet.

Rack of lamb served with roasted garlic gremolata, roasted winter vegetables, and honey lamb jus, paired with the 2013 Corison Cabernet.

The 2013 Corison is definitely more fruit-driven than the 2010, with softer tannins as well, but just as much complexity and acidity we've come to expect from Corison! The tender lamb meat cooked perfectly with just a touch of natural sugar from the vegetables made for a classic symbiotic pairing: the food bringing out the cabernet's herbal undertones and the wine bringing out the dish's delicate sweetness. The 2013 was definitely a favorite on it's own, with 2013 having been said to be one the best years for Napa cabernet. 

The last and house favorite of the night was the red wine braised short rib of prime american wagyu, brown butter mashed potatoes, veal glace and baby carrots, paired with the 2012 Kronos Cabernet.

Red wine braised short rib of prime american wagyu, brown butter mashed potatoes, veal glace and baby carrots, paired with the 2012 Kronos Cabernet.

Red wine braised short rib of prime american wagyu, brown butter mashed potatoes, veal glace and baby carrots, paired with the 2012 Kronos Cabernet.

The wine alone is incredibly balanced, with ripe yet elegant fruit and the rich minerality that comes from mature vines. This wine comes entirely from the Kronos vineyards of St. George rootstock, producing wine from incredibly low yields and some of the oldest cabernet vines in Napa. The tannins and acidity of this particular vintage were just firm enough to be paired with a richer dish and we took full advantage of that. This wine "made the food explode," as one of the dinner's participant's said, with the flavors creating a perfect harmony of savory and sweet. This was certainly the most indulgent pairing of the night.  

Thanks to all who participated and above all to Cathy for rocking the event! If you are interested in our future dinners please check out http://www.barrelroomsf.com/new-events  - we are hosting some truly excellent winemakers this year.