Tue 28 Jul 2009
Sometimes the difference between a good wine — I mean well-made and decent — and a great wine lies in the way the wines feel in your mouth. A great wine delivers the resonance, the vibrancy of character, an indefinable but still detectable quality that sets it apart from “regular” wines, however enjoyable they may be. And I wonder sometimes why we continue to see debut cabernets made from Napa Valley grapes; are there not enough of those in contention? The danger is in getting cookie-cutter cabernets that are difficult to tell apart. We review one of each today.
First the “Hooray.”
The Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, is a classic mountain-grown cabernet in every sense. The Brandlin family established a ranch on Mount Veeder, overlooking the Napa Valley, in the 1870s. They planted vineyards in the 1920s, those rugged and gnarly 80-year-old vines still standing. Cuvaison Winery bought 170-acre property in 1998 and recently began to produce wines from those vineyards, under the supervision of winemaker Steve Rogstad.
My first note on this blend — 94 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent malbec and 1 percent each of cabernet franc and petit verdot — is “just beautiful.” A model of the balance between power and elegance, the wine is capacious in depth and breadth and in the generosity of its spiced and macerated black fruit scents and flavors. Ruggedly structured, with deep bastions of dense, grainy tannins, the wine displays lovely heft and poise, making for a mouthful of cabernet that you don’t want to end. Brandlin ’05 smolders with lavender and licorice and potpourri and displays hints of sandalwood, wet leather, dried porcini and walnut shell. Black olive and mocha and more spice come up in the finish, along with increasingly vigorous minerality and dry, slightly foresty austerity. Wonderful character and a great (though admittedly expensive) match with chicken mole. The wine ages 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. Drink through 2016 to ’20, well-stored. Excellent. About $85.
Perhaps “Boo” is too harsh a term, but to my palate the NapaAngel Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, tasted as if it had been designed and executed by committee. The wine, and its more expensive companion, NapaAngel Aurelio’s Selection 2006, are projects fostered by Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes, whose Montes Alpha “M,” Montes Folly and Purple Angel labels are well-known in the United States. The NapaAngel wines, made at Artesa Winery in Carneros, are the debut efforts of Aurelio Montes in Napa.
Blended with 10 percent syrah, NapaAngel Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 teems with lead pencil, slate, spice and toasty oak, with notes of cassis, bitter chocolate and bacon fat. All of which is fine, of course, but it also feels pretty much by-the-numbers. Flavors of ripe and spicy red and black currants are layered with brisk minerality and slightly shaggy, velvety tannins for good structure, but the toasty oak comes up in smothering swathes and buries everything else so that after a few minutes what you smell and what you taste are toasty oak. The regimen wasn’t overpowering — 18 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels — but to my sensibility so much oak influence dampens the experience and enjoyment of the wine. If you like toasty oak, this is your cabernet. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $55.