Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cornerstone Cellars' Stepping Stone Red Rocks!..And it Does!

Throughout this summer I've explored some of the wines from Cornerstone Cellars and their Stepping Stone label. This blog marks the last of the wines I received in the sample shipment from a few months ago. The 2009 Stepping Stone Red Rocks! was something I'd been looking forward to tasting, yet also holding off until the occasion was worthwhile. Since the vast majority of wine drinkers (me included) aren't looking to drink their wines in a sterile environment, tasting and evaluating wine in such an environment can be a bit counterproductive. That's why I'll often open a sample with food, to gain a better sense of how the wine interacts with other tastes, textures, and flavors. Recently, the occasion to open the 2009 Stepping Stone Red Rocks! was appropriate.

Backing up a bit, here's a list of the Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cellars wines I've tasted to date:
2010 Stepping Stone White Rocks!
2010 Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé
2010 Stepping Stone Riesling
2010 Stepping Stone Sauvignon Blanc

The 2009 Stepping Stone Red Rocks! is a blend of zinfandel and pinot noir, perhaps one of the odder blends you'll ever see. When doing background for this blog feature, I sat back and shook my head when I learned of the blend here. My fear was that the two varietals would clash, creating a disjointed, unpleasant wine.

(img src http://www.cornerstonecellars.com)

Luckily, the 2009 Red Rocks! was anything but disjointed. It's also not for the faint of heart or those seeking "subtle, light wine". Clocking in at a whopping 14.9% abv, this is a textbook "big, juicy, intensely ripe" red blend. I smelled a lot of ripe blackberry and black cherry preserve on the nose, along with vanilla toast, indicating some time spent in oak. The tell-tale heat from the high alcohol crept in but wasn't too distracting, to me that was a pleasant surprise.

Tasting the Stepping Stone Red Rocks! evoked memories of my mom and/or grandmother cooking a Finnish summer berry dish in the kitchen. Basically, you boil ripe strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and sugar, as well as a touch of corn starch, to create a sweet berry compote. The aromas of fruit in the kitchen were often very intense and sweet, two characteristics to describe the flavor of the Red Rocks! If you're looking for a pairing, think smoked spare ribs, marinated tri-tip, or Sloppy Joe sandwiches. They'd all play well against the sweet black and blue berry fruit, toasty vanilla oak, and bits of spice that pop up on the edges of your tongue.

Does this wine sound good to you? For me, serving it with barbecue-sauce drenched ribs was awesome, and I made sure to back up those intensely sweet, ripe flavors with a side of cole-slaw. The 2009 Stepping Stone Red Rocks! is a powerhouse of a wine, and somewhere along the way I think the pinot noir just gives up, letting the zinfandel work it's magic. That turns out to be a good thing, allowing more focus on ripe fruit and spice.

For around $15 a bottle at the Cornerstone Cellars website, this is a great deal on an outstanding summer barbecue wine. It's well made and fits into a style that a lot of us enjoy with heavy, hearty foods. You can order the Red Rocks! via the website or find it at some fine stores in and around Napa Valley.

This blog feature wraps up my tastings of the Stepping Stone by Cornerstone lineup, thanks go to Craig Camp for sending me these bottles to taste. I had a good time tasting and sharing them with you, and it's proof positive that a winery who produces very high end wines can also have a viable, high quality second label that comes in at a very, very friendly price point.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel


  1. There's another winery up here, Cathedral Ridge, that does that same blend. When I first tried it, I seriously thought, "WTF?!" But after trying it, it's now one of my all-time favorites.

  2. I really like seeing wineries going out on a limb with certain varietal-blends, this is a case of tasty wine for a specific set of foods. Gotta love it, just wish the alcohol was lower.