In the face of the post-Sideways Pinot consciousness creeping over palates, like an umlaut on naïf, winemaker Cathy Corison proudly describes herself as a "Cabernet chauvinist." It's refreshing to hear a woman stand by her Cab, but even more so to drink it, which I had the pleasure of doing on a recent press trip to St. Helena. There, sandwiched between wine mavens and menu makers, I noshed on an artisanal antipasto plate and contemplated the good fortune of being invited to a "vertical tasting." (This is a tasting in which a single varietal from a single winery is differentiated by vintage, and sequentially to boot. A "horizontal tasting," by contrast, compares wines of the same vintage, varietal and appellation culled from different wineries.)
Of course, I assumed that I would begin the tasting vertically and end it horizontally, seeing as there were no fewer than eight Corison Cabs placed in front of me dating from 1996 to 2003 (with an additional "Kronos Vineyard" Cab thrown in for good measure, not to mention an endearing Gewürztraminer that rang in the morning like a chime around a kitten's neck). Corison's Cabs manage to be both lean and lush simultaneously; they're gamine but with powerful hips and, as can be expected, reflect the droll Corison's own tastes: she contends that fatter, jammier wines are "all right--for about half a glass." Indeed, her svelte, more self-controlled wines demand a full glass.
Particular standouts included the 1996 ($85), which proved to be a finely aged survey of dark, dried cherry and dovetailed nicely into the 1997, which recalled the sweet musk of a girl's freshly hennaed hair ($85-$90). The millennium-closing 1999 Cab ($65) brimmed with musty notes of leather and tar, as well as a fine-brine salt-kiss, amounting to a pleasing complex flavor profile.
The 2001 ($70) had a slightly woody note and a fine whisper of graphite (which made me immediately want to take a satisfying chomp of a No. 2 pencil--ah, the pleasures of standardized testing!), followed by a blackberry. Brilliant stuff. Likewise, the slightly more tannic 2002 ($60) pulled at the palate with the elegance of an archer, and the 2003 ($65) was a lush tromp through the brambles of dark berry and wisps of peppermint.
Corison Winery, 987 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena. Tasting by appointment for a $10 fee, which is credited toward purchases. Open daily from 10am to 5pm. Personalized tour with food and wine pairing, Fridays at 10am by appointment. 707.963.0826.