A Napa that blew the Italians’ minds: Cornerstone

hurleys restaurant napa yountvilleAbove: after our tasting, team sparkling wine had lunch with winemaker Craig Camp at Hurley’s in Yountville across the street from the Cornerstone Cellars tasting room. Even at a toned-down Americana restaurant like Hurley’s, the food is so thoughtful, wholesome, and delicious. That’s the amuse bouche.

I’ll never forget the first time I poured a Napa wine for an Italian wine connoisseur.

The year was 1990 and my friend Riccardo Marcucci from Bagno Vignoni in Montalcino had come to visit me in Southern California.

I was just beginning to learn about fine wine. Italian poetry was my focus then. Riccardo was the wine director for his family’s restaurant, where -aia wines were his focus: Sassicaia, Solaia, Ornellaia etc. Of course, he had a great allocation of Brunello as well. He did his mandatory military service with Giacomo Neri of Casanova di Neri. They were good friends and Riccardo loved (and continues to love) Giacomo’s wines. You get the picture…

When he asked me to pour him a Californian wine, I reached for a bottle of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

He tasted the wine and laughed.

“Caspita!” he exclaimed. “Wow, they actually make good wine in California. What a surprise!”

“Of course,” he observed, “it’s not as good as Italian wine. But that’s because they haven’t been making wine there for as long as us.”

There were so many layers of irony in his hubris, especially in the light of the California-style wines that he liked so much, that I simply ascribed it to his Tuscan machoism.

You get the picture…

cornerstone cellars best wineAbove: the 2011 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc is one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted from Napa. It had vibrant acidity, clarity of fruit, genuine varietal expression and lovely freshness and drinkability. I loved this wine and can actually afford it.

The last stop on my recent tour of California wineries with team sparkling wine from Italy was at the Cornerstone Cellars tasting room in Yountville, Napa, where we tasted a fantastic flight of wines with winemaker and blogger Craig Camp.

It gave me immense pleasure to watch the Italian winemakers ooo and aaa over these wines.

Craig, who’s been a wine blogging colleague and friend of mine for many years now, has such a deft hand in interpreting Californian fruit. The “red thread” of his style is high acidity and restrained alcohol — the hallmarks of food-friendliness. And the wines are moderately priced for their value and quality.

The standouts for me were the 2011 Napa Cabernet Franc and the 2010 Willamette Pinot Noir, which really knocked me off my feet. I also really loved the 2011 Napa Sauvignon Blanc. It had just the right amount of cat piss on the nose and its aromatic profile complemented the elegant white and tropical fruit on the palate. Delicious, happy wines, all around.

But the thing that gave me the greatest satisfaction was watching the Italians wrap their minds around a “Napa” they hadn’t dreamed could exist.

bromance definitionAbove: me (far left) with team sparkling wine, from left, Giovanni Arcari, Andrea Rudelli, and Nico Danesi (photo by VinoGirl).

“Lean and irresistibly delicious,” wrote team leader Giovanni Arcari on his blog, “with well integrated wood in the fruit and alcohol that was never excessive. Wines with grand identity. If I were to see these wines on a list at a restaurant in Italy, I’d order them for sure.”

For Italian readers, check out Giovanni’s post here. English speakers shouldn’t miss Alder Yarrow’s recent profile of Craig on Vinography. And I also recommend reading Craig’s recent post, Dancing with Wine. In his thoughtful reflections on trends in fine wine today, he reminds us that deliciousness trumps profundity when it comes to sitting down for dinner with friends and sharing a great bottle.

It’s never easy to take Italians to California wine country. As the saying goes, you can take Italians out of Italy but you can’t take the Italy out of Italians. We tasted scores of wines on our trip and they were impressed by some and not as much by others.

I’d like to think that on this last day of our trip, abbiamo finito in bellezza… we ended on a high note.

Thanks again, Craig, and thanks to everyone for following along…

3 thoughts on “A Napa that blew the Italians’ minds: Cornerstone

  1. Many thanks for your kind comments and for bringing Team Sparkling to Cornerstone Cellars. I truly enjoyed an afternoon tasting with with such thoughtful and creative winemakers. There is “another Napa” than the image most people have and there is a growing group of winemakers making more balanced wines. We are proud to be a part of that group.

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