16.1% Pinot and a “Fermentations First”

So I’m browsing through Dean & Deluca today after a meeting in Napa. I’m picking up aged Gruyere, some St. Agur Blue, some duck liver pate. I wander over to the wine side of the store, a really remarkable collection of CA wine. And there’s my favorite section: Pinot.

I looked at 25 pinot noirs. Just one came in under 14% alcohol (13.9%). The majority were in the 14.8% area. A few in the 15%+ region and one that was 16.1% alcohol.

What do you call a Pinot Noir that is 16.1% alcohol? Certainly not Pinot Noir.

This serves as introduction to the first, and maybe only, wine review I’ll ever offer on Fermentations

The 1998 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a stunningly good wine from a vintage that was universally disregarded by most wine critics and most wine geeks. It was called "Light", "Soft" "Underdeveloped." The Corison 1998 goes to show that even if the critics are right (and I’m not sure they are when it comes to 1998) all wines do not fall into their categorization.

The 1998 Corison Cab is a perfectly balanced wine. The balanced still shows in spades with velvety tannins mixing with textural acidity that gives the wine the kind of structure a good Porterhouse steak or lamb shank really demands. The nose is where the wines complexity really is on display. Deep violet, anise, wild blackberry and sweet herbs (sage?). The flavors mimic the nose. It is a medium dense wine that is elegant and long. Its age isn’t even a factor yet. The edge carries only the tiniest hint of brown. And, there is not a single note of hotness in this wine. The alcohol is 13.6%. Yes, 13.6%.

This kind of Cabernet is rare in Napa Valley today. It’s the type that is made by a winemaker cum stylist with the kind of self assurance you see in artist who break the mold and step beyond contemporary standards.

The cost? $38. Thirty-eight dollars for an outstanding Napa Valley Cabernet with a bit of age on it. I think this wine will continue to IMPROVE, not merely age, but IMPROVE for another 7-10 years.

Posted In: Rating Wine


6 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - August 18, 2005

    hey, tom, cathy corison is a great winemaker. this year ive tried and reviewed her Kronos 2000, the equivilent of a reserve wine, and the “regular” cabernet 2001. everything she does is distinguished by the true “gout de terroir,” that taste of the earth that makes you feel as if somehow she has captured the vineyard, the soil, maybe the whole napa valley in a bottle. and yet the emphasis is on fruit rather than structure. she deserves the notice.
    and who made the pinot noir that reached 16.1 percent alcohol? what a ludicrous development!

  2. Anonymous - August 18, 2005

    The 16% alc Pinot was from Demuth Vineyards in…are you ready…Anderson Valley. It’s a good vineyard. I know Handley has used it for a long time in their lovely Pinots.
    16% alc pinot is simply a viticultural mistake put in a bottle.
    I also tasted an anderson valley Gewurztraminer from Corison today…really beautiful.

  3. Alder - August 18, 2005

    Corison wines are great, but I like them more in their youth than in their old age. At a tasting last winter Cathy poured a vertical going back to the early 90’s and while a couple of them were good, they weren’t nearly as nice as her 01’s
    To my recollection, the 2003 Adrian Fog “Savoy” vineyard Pinot Noir weighs in at 16.7% It’s not “really” a Pinot but it’s pretty tasty. Sort of like a Zinfandel with raspberry and passionfruit flavors instead of blackberry and pepper.

  4. Jason - August 18, 2005

    16.1%…geez…They are heading down the zin road. It seems like there has been a backlash and I hope everybody gets this under control. I have had some in the high 14s and even low 15s that have remained balance, but that is rare.

  5. Cork Tease - August 19, 2005

    A Good Pinot Noir

    We all seem to be goin gaga over pinot noir …for good reason. Check out this recommendation from FERMENTATIONS

  6. Jack - August 19, 2005

    Are these Zins or Pinots? And don’t forget the .9 fudge factor!

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