Many kinds of grapes are grown in the Napa Valley, and many sorts of wines are produced there, but cabernet sauvignon is what the region is best known for. Today I offer 12 examples of cabernet-based wines from the Napa Valley, the vintages ranging from 2006 to 2009, the prices spanning $25 to $120. As usual in the Friday Wine Sips series, I relinquish my fondness for the data of history, geography and winemaking matters for the sake of brevity and immediacy. All of these wines were samples for review. The order is by ascending price, because order is necessary, though the choices of order may be innumerable.
The Rule Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Primarily cabernet with “a blend of proprietary varieties.” Dark ruby color; vibrant, resonant, very spicy; black currants and cherries, cedar, thyme, black olive; dense and chewy, lots of stuffing, granite and graphite-like minerality and earthiness, layers of packed-in tannins; long, austere finish. Try 2013 through 2017. Very Good+. About $25.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 13.8% alc. Sleek, suave; abundantly fragrant with licorice, lavender, cassis, plums, graphite; dense, chewy, grainy, a nicely balanced crowd-pleaser; more toast, graphite and iron, bitter chocolate and cocoa; the whole package precisely defined and delineated; quite spicy and velvety. A very well-made and delicious cabernet with a slightly serious edge but not as compelling as the 2007 version. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $49.
Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. 14.1% alc. Dark ruby color shading to cranberry-magenta; very intense, very concentrated, rigorous, high-toned and austere; paradoxically a Pauillac-like sense of elegance, sleekness and suppleness; rafts of polished oak and dense but gently sanded tannins; nothing opulent or velvety, this is all classic structure and foundation and deep earthy minerality, waiting to unfold. Try from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
Benessere Phenomenon 2006, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 58%, sangiovese 37%, merlot 5%, syrah 2%. 613 cases. Dark ruby color with a garnet rim; warm, fleshy, spicy, macerated, slightly roasted black currants, plums and blueberries; cedar, cloves, walnut shell, fruitcake; big structure, dense, chewy, lively, packed with dusty graphite, woody spices; finish is long, substantial, dry and austere. Good character but lacks a certain elan and elevation. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $50.
Hestan Vineyards Stephanie Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet. Dark ruby-purple color; mint, iodine, graphite, spiced and macerated black currants, black cherries and plums; a huge wine, vibrant, intense and concentrated, very dry, fairly austere, good depth and dimension but needs 2 or 3 years to settle comfortably into its structure; you feel the oak and alcohol. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $50.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 2% merlot. Lovely balance, harmony, restraint and elegance, but not lacking in power and structure or tannic force; those tannins come up from mid-palate back through the expressive yet slightly briery, slightly austere finish; classic black currants, black raspberries and plums permeated by cedar, tobacco and black olive, notes of oaken spice; beautifully drawn-out from beginning to end. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
Hestan Stephanie Proprietary Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. “Bordeaux blend” of the five red grapes. More approachable, more manageable than the Hestan Stephanie Cabernet 07; warmer, more generous and expansive; iodine and mint, thyme and black olive, toasted fennel seeds, spiced and macerated black and blue fruit; very intense and concentrated in the mouth, tight, reined-in, furled, you feel the dynamic potential, the brooding energy; finish is long and austere. Try from 2013 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
St. Supery Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. 100% cabernet. Big and juicy yet highly structured; mint, eucalyptus, briers and brambles, toast and graphite; black currants, black cherries and plums imbued with cedar, black olives and fruitcake, mocha and bitter chocolate; a graphite-tinged minerality that practically glitters, while the wine smolders like embers of potpourri and lavender; permeated by finely-milled, supple tannins. A cushiony blockbuster. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $85.
Piña D’Adamo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. 100% cabernet. 191 cases. Despite the alcohol level, this displays great purity, intensity and concentration; black currant and plums, prunes and fruitcake, orange rind and black tea; very deep, very complex, powerful sense of dimension and gravity; stern tannins, almost brutal granite-like minerality and profound earthiness, yet surprisingly appealing; big, austere finish. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $75.
Piña Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. 100% cabernet. 236 cases. A huge, broad, deep wine yet rich, warm, spicy and generous; smoke, graphite, dark black and blue fruit aromas and flavors, slightly roasted and macerated, vast range of spice; dense, intense and concentrated, fills and coats the mouth with viscosity like liquid coal dust and dusty velvet sustained by vivid acidity; this needs time, say 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $85.
Piña Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet. 359 cases. Dust, leather, walnut-shell and wheatmeal, laden with austere, rigorous tannins, furled and tightly focused yet somehow big-hearted and expansive; deeply concentrated. spicy and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; powerful and profound dusty mountainside earthiness and graphite-like minerality; but still such a pleasure to drink such unquestionable authority and integrity. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $85.
Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. % alc. Beautifully layered and complex yet intense and concentrated; lavender, licorice, iodine; smoky and meaty, walnut-meal, black currants, mulberries and plums; fine-grained tannins and burnished oak, vibrant acidity; deep-down notes of bitter chocolate, cocoa powder and ancho chile; structure like velvet filled with iron filings; long spice-packed finish with some austerity; superbly balanced. A real mouthful of classic Napa Valley cabernet. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $120.