Napa cool climate Syrah? Not exactly, but a damn good wine: Corison Helios 2005 Napa Valley Syrah $38

My wife and I had a couple of free hours to go wine tasting the other day, while my mother and stepfather were babysitting our little one.  Normally when I’m back home in Sonoma I stay there for wine tasting excursions but this time we headed to Napa to Corison Winery.

Corison is really a little gem of a place. I had been there about ten years ago and again about five years ago and was struck by how laid-back and down-to-earth it was compared with the rest of Napa’s winery estates.  On my previous visits, the tasting room was in the winery with just a little table and there was a small parking lot and barely anyone there.  Things have changed a little, the tasting fee that day was a whopping $40 for a library tasting and the tasting area was larger and more refined.  It’s still right there in the middle of a working down-to-earth winery though and the parking lot is still small.

 Corison’s somewhat understated tasting room

Corison’s winemaker, Cathy Corison, has always made a more restrained style of Napa Cabernet.  Cathy picks earlier than almost anyone else in Napa and makes wines that harken back to a traditional and perhaps more varietally correct style of Cabernet.  As you can imagine, this restrained style did not go over too well with consumers during the hedonistic mid-2000s but it is making a comeback and Cathy’s benefiting from wine consumers beginning to see the light.

The Syrah was a nice surprise for me because I didn’t know Corison even made one. On first nose in the tasting room I didn’t get a whole lot of complexity.  Likewise on the palate — it was a balanced wine but seemed a tad simple.  Still, I bought a bottle and I’m glad I did.

The Helios Syrah is far and away the best Napa Syrah I’ve tried. (I’ve yet to try a Lagier Meredith Syrah so you’ll have to take that statement with a grain of salt.)  On the nose, I get black tea and fresh aromas of blackberry and flowers.  There’s a great mid-palate too with good acidity and the fresh, just barely ripe, blackberry carries through.  This doesn’t seem like a Napa wine but at the same time it does.  There’s good fruit, there’s bright fruit, it’s not a super savory wine but it has the balance of a Syrah from cooler climes.

I wish I had been able to try it when it was young because I’m guessing this wine wasn’t easy to handle at a young age and I would have loved to see how it has developed.   The Helios label is a label that Cathy uses for certain vintages when good fruit comes available and at around $30 a bottle this wine is a great way to get acquainted with Corison’s wines but not break the bank (her lowest level cab retails for around $80).


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