Arnold and Alma Tudal planted vines on 10 acres of former walnut orchard north of St. Helena in the Napa Valley in 1974 and released their first wines in 1979. Big Tree Road is still pretty rustic compared to the circus that Hwy. 29 has become, a circumstance reflected in Tudal’s refusal to follow new-fangledness and fleeting fame or even, over the course of 30 years, to alter their winery’s logo or the labels on their products. This refreshing stance implies a becoming modesty of purpose but not of accomplishment; the pair of Tudal cabernet sauvignon wines from 2007 that I tried recently are among the greatest cabernets I have tasted this year. The wines are 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. Winemaker was Ron Vuylsteke, though he departed and has been replaced, as of the 2009 vintage, by Kirk Venge. These wines were samples for review.
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The Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, offers everything that devotees of old-fashioned Napa cabernet look for: classic notes of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil; a solid structure based on abundant and vibrant acidity, dust-laden tannins (both polished oak tannins and a hint of slightly more astringent grape tannins) with the bass tone of granite-like minerality; and dark, rich, spicy black currant and black cherry flavors slightly tinged with black olive, briers and brambles. What makes the wine so exciting — LL said, “This is the best red wine I’ve tasted all year” — is that it’s packed with character and a sense of slumbering, brooding dignity as well as being beautifully balanced, clean, fresh and appealing. It feels like a supreme example of an impeccably-made country wine, so perhaps “exciting” is not correct, for this is, above all, a wine that resists trends of nervy raciness or sleek sophistication or blatant ripeness or heavy-handed extraction for the simple yet profound virtues of being natural and effortless and complete. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 490 cases. Best from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’21. Exceptional. About $40.
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The Tudal Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, displays an entrancing dark ruby color with a magenta/blue rim. Blue, too, metaphorically, is its quality of blue fruit drenched with black; its piercing, bluey slate-like minerality; its cool yet smoldering blue flame of smoky potpourri, cassis and lavender. The concession to modern practice is the alcohol content of 14.7 percent; 30 years ago for this wine, 12.5 percent alcohol was considered just fine. (Cherchez le global warming?) Other than that factor, this is a solid, robust, uncompromising Napa Valley cabernet that shows more density and more concentration than its stablemate mentioned above. The finish adds to that austerity with loads of underbrush and forest elements and dusty, dry-leaf and leather tannins. One has to applaud this relentless and totally satisfying unstylishness. Production was 390 cases. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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