A number of adjectives thread through the reviews of these single vineyard, 100 percent cabernet sauvignon wines from Nickel & Nickel: dusty, granite-like, shale-like, deep, dense, austere. Such terms indicate a “house style” of cabernet for N&N, where the winemaker is Darice Spinelli and director of winemaking is Dirk Hampson. This firm, vibrant, brooding manner dominates whether the cabernet sauvignon grapes derive from high atop Howell Mountain, from the foothills west of Oakville or from the relatively flat warm area around Yountville; the premise seems to be that the wines should be attractive and broadly balanced in youth but not necessarily accessible or approachable and that they should require four to six years before mellowing out. The sensible (for these days) alcohol levels range from about 14 to 14.6 percent.

Much as I admire these single-vineyard cabernets from Nickel & Nickel — and the winery produced 13 cabernets for 2007 — I think that price is a consideration. Ninety dollars is a lot of money for a bottle of wine, and $140 is a whole lot of money. On the other hand, not everyone always looks for bargains; quality, vitality and quiet confidence (in wine or human beings) speak to us, and those who can unfurl the necessary fiduciary prowess to purchase wine that costs $140 a bottle — and there are plenty of wines that cost much more — can enjoy being a member of that elite group. For me, of course, these wines were samples for review.

Image from flavorwire.com.
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Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007, Oakville District, Napa Valley.
N&N makes less of its Martin Stelling Cabernet than of the other single-vineyard wines: 547 cases in 2006, 521 cases in 2007; perhaps this rarity accounts for the price. The 100-acre vineyard at the base of the hills west of Oakville is the main source of grapes for Far Niente’s cabernet sauvignon, though N&N farms only two acres. The soil is deep and loamy over beds of clay and gravel. Oak aging is similar for the two Martin Stelling wines, 17 months in French oak, 61 percent new barrels for 2006, 55 percent new for 2007.

For 06, the wine is all plums and black currants, whiffs of black pepper, wheatmeal and graham crackers, dried porcini (dusty, earthy, mossy), pungent cassis and graphite, an overall effect of immense purity and intensity of origin, of confidence, of purpose and character; followed by walloping tannins; bright acidity; ink and iron; yet strangely the black and blue fruit flavors are lipsmacking and juicy; an hour later, it’s sleek, polished, burnished, austere, a little distant. Though not typically in these comparisons of N&N cabernets of 2006 and 07, in which I tend to like the 07s better — this is all relatively speaking in regards to such excellent wines — but I prefer this Martin Stelling 06 to its cousin from the next year which is monumentally, mountainously deep, steep, multi-dimensional, intense and concentrated, though there was a point, about 30 minutes in, when it emitted a winsome whiff of lavender and fennel, dried thyme, black olive and sage, signs that bode well for the future. The 2007 I rate Excellent; try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. The 06 I call Exceptional, for drinking 2012 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Each $140.
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Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007, Oakville District, Napa Valley.
The 30-acre John C. Sullenger is the “home” vineyard for Nickel & Nickel and is situated right behind the winery in Napa Valley’s Oakville District. These are large-framed, stalwart wines, intense and concentrated, and they require two to four or five years in the cellar.

The N&N John C. Sullenger 2006 aged 16 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. It’s a sumptuous wine, broad and generous, ripe, fleshy and meaty, with loads of lavender and violets and a hint of licorice, smoke, ash and graphite, dried thyme, cedar, black olive and lead pencil; yes, you could spend some time getting acquainted with this bouquet, relishing its sensuous and savory character. Despite this lovely panoply, however, this is a serious wine that’s deeply grounded in the wheatmeal and walnut shell nature of rigorous tannins and polished, well-tuned oak. Intense, concentrated, dusty. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’20. Production was 3,108 cases. Excellent. About $90.

The Sullenger 07 (43 percent new French oak) feels like classic Oakville cabernet and is altogether remarkably similar to the 06 rendition though displaying even more size and more power, even unto a state of massive structure; everything about the wine is dusty and earthy: fruit, tannins, minerals and oak. Despite the fact that Sullenger 07 is velvety in texture and drenched with spicy black and blue fruit flavors, it’s in the deal for the long-haul and will benefit from cellaring for three to five years; drink then until 2018 to ’22. Production was 3,857 cases. Excellent. About $90.

Image (much modified) from californiawinereport.
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Nickel & Nickel Vogt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley.
The 15-acre Vogt Vineyard occupies a southeast facing tract that stretches from high on Howell Mountain, where the soil is rocky and shallow, farther down to where the soil is deeper and loamier. The two vintages are consistent in character, though look at the difference in the alcohol levels: 14.1 percent for the 2007; 14.6 percent for the 2006, which was a bit warmer than ’07 in September and October. (Yes, federal law permits producers to fudge a bit on the stated alcohol content.) Notice, too, the difference in the oak treatment, a sign that the winemakers pay attention to important variations in climate, weather and ripening conditions and how those factors affect the individual wine; for 2007, the scheme was 17 months in French oak, 58 percent new; for the 2006, 17 months also but 46 percent new oak.

The N&N Vogt Cabernet 2006 is still quite youthful in its dark ruby-purple color and in its intense, dusty, graphite-laden bouquet that only slowly unfurls notes of ripe black currants and blueberries with hints of dried red and black currants; a few more moments in the glass bring in touches of cedar and dried thyme, black olives and smoked oolong tea. Notes, hints, touches: all of these details comprise a fabric of nuance in a wine that however sleek honed it may be still leans heavily on the elements of size and dimension, with attendant characteristics of chewy (but not gritty) tannins, earthy granite-like minerality and spicy oak, devolving to a long, dignified, austere finish. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 to ’20. Production was 1,861 cases. Excellent. About $90.

Made in a consistent style with the ’06, the N&N Vogt Cabernet 2007 offers more fruit in aromas and flavors — dusty, smoky black currants, blueberries and plums, a little fleshy and macerated — with that dusty, foresty quality equally lavished on dusty shale and granite, dusty lavender and dusty plums; I mean that for all its smooth, supple sleekness this is a wine of immense reserves of firmness, depth and power. In all of this “dust” and granite-and-shale-like minerality do we feel the influence of high elevation and thin soil where the vines have to struggle to find sustenance and in that struggle turn their skins into bastions of dense, velvety tannins? I like to think so. Vogt ’07 leans more toward power than elegance, but I have no doubt that three or four years aging will marry those qualities seamlessly in balance. Mark this for the long-haul, 2018 to ’22. Production was 2,327 cases. Excellent with Exceptional potential. About $90.
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Nickel & Nickel State (Lane) Ranch 2006 and 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley.
The 06 is called State Lane Ranch, the 07 State Ranch; is this the State Lane Vineyard in Yountville that the Kapcsandy family bought in 2000? The 06 is the first release that Nickel & Nickel made from grapes selected from 11 acres of older vines here. Each wine matured in French oak barrels for 17 months, 47 percent new oak for the 06, 43 percent new oak for the 07.

The N&N State Lane Ranch 06 takes some minutes (or hours) to develop fairly juicy black currant, blackberry and mulberry scents and flavors (with mulberry’s quality of spicy piquancy), but the wine’s chief characteristic is a rigorous combination of vigor and deliberation; as vibrant, as resonant as it is, the wine feels reticent, slow-moving, thoughtful, as it were, and pretty damned austere from mid-palate back through the finish. A little time in the glass adds some juiciness to the black and blue fruit flavors, a tad more ripeness, but all enveloped by veils of dense, chewy tannins, a bit like dusty velvet woven with iron filings. State Ranch 2007 is actually bigger than 2006 — broader, deeper, more thoroughly imbued with dimension; the wine is very intense and concentrated, an amalgam of walnut shell, wheatmeal, briers and brambles, forest floor with a dried porcini, mossy element. For all its monumental qualities, the wine conveys the sense of excitement, the feeling of pent energy, of confidence and anticipation that all great red wines embody. Try the State Lane Ranch 06 from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 to ’18. Production was 430 cases. Excellent. About $90. Let the State Ranch 2007 rest until 2013 to ’15 and enjoy through 2019 to ’22. Bigger production: 1,746 cases. Excellent with Exceptional potential. About $90.
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Nickel & Nickel Kelham Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oakville District, Napa Valley.
The Kelham Vineyard lies west of Oakville at the base of the hills. As is often the case with gently-sloping, foothill-fringing vineyards, the soil here is alluvial loamy clay. Despite its youthful deep purple-blue color and its dense, dusty nature, the wine is surprisingly smooth and mellow. The bouquet seethes with black currants and black cherries, cedar and tobacco, briers and brambles and back-notes of cloves and lavender, slowly accumulating depths of graphite and shale. All right, I wrote “smooth and mellow,” and I admit that the adjectives apply to the first 10 minutes or so of experiencing this wine; it doesn’t take long for the full force of finely-milled tannins and spicy oak and the impression of honed granite to fill the mouth; and yet the wine is beautifully balanced, vibrantly poised as if on a pedestal of vivid acidity, and lovely to drink. The oak regimen is 17 months in French barrels, 43 percent new, 57 percent once-used. And give it some time in the glass to conjure hints of black olive, oolong tea, macerated black currants and blueberries and potpourri. Now through 2017 or ’18. Production was 1,162 cases. Excellent. About $90.
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