Sun 18 May 2014
One truth that we hold self-evident is that wines made from the same grapes can be very different. The extreme example of this principle occurs in Burgundy, where producers who each own a few rows of vines in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards make wine that may be wholly divergent from the wine of their neighbors. On a broad geographical scale, we would not expect pinot noir made in, say, Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle-Musigny to resemble pinot noir emanating from the Santa Lucia Highlands or Anderson Valley. History, heritage, geology and philosophy all mitigate against such resemblance. Let’s turn, then, to cabernet sauvignon, where obviously the same principle applies. A cabernet-based wine from Pauillac or St.-Estephe in Bordeaux has no reason to be much like a cabernet-based wine from Howell Mountain or Paso Robles, even though the blend of grapes might be similar — or with those cabs produced in Howell Mountain and Paso Robles themselves — and yet we expect a core of cousinage born of the character of the dominant grape, some sign that the origin prevails.
Today, in line with those thoughts, I want to look at two cabernet sauvignon wines produced in Napa Valley, the Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and the Faust 2011. Last year, Forbes called Paul Hobbs “the Steve Jobs of winemaking,” and indeed Hobbs has a reputation for being meticulous, inventive and hardworking. He is winemaker for his eponymous winery as well as overseeing projects in Argentina and consulting in other countries. Hobbs favors emphatic wines that do not shy away from succulence while maintaining a firm hold on structure. Faust is a label from California veteran Agustin Huneeus and his son Agustin Francisco Huneeus, producers of the well-known Quintessa cabernet sauvignon. The Huneeus wines tend toward classic dignity and austerity whole maintaining, to continue the parallel, a firm hold on fruit. Let’s do a little comparison and contrast of these expressions of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and the vision of individual producers. Winemaker for Faust is Quintessa’s Charles Thomas.
These wines were samples for review. Image of cabernet sauvignon grapes in the Seven Oaks Vineyard at J. Lohr Winery from tripadvisor.com.
The Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is a blend of 95 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes with three percent petit verdot and one percent each malbec and cabernet franc. The wine aged 20 months in French oak barrels, 65 percent new. This cabernet is immediately appealing, even gorgeous in the way that red wines made in Bordeaux tend not to be, but it is not elegant in the way that red wines made in Bordeaux often are. Vineyards that contributed grapes for Hobbs ’11 include Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, just outside the city of St. Helena, and Stagecoach Vineyard, stretching from Pritchard Hill to Atlas Peak at elevations varying from 1,200 to 1,750 feet.
The color is deep ruby-purple that’s almost opaque in the center. Aromas of blackberries and black currants are permeated with notes of lilac and lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate, all drenched in dried baking spices and dried fruit over a grounding of tar and graphite; as bouquets go, this one is spectacular. In the mouth, the wine is rich and plummy, close to jammy — there’s a hint of lingonberry — but it’s held in check by a powerful granitic mineral element joined to iodine and iron, supple dusty tannins and spanking acidity. For a frankly opulent and sensuous cabernet sauvignon, this one is impeccably balanced, and it drinks fine now, especially, perhaps, with a hot and crusty ribeye steak or leg or lamb right off the grill, or over the next 10 or 12 years. 14.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100.
All right, notice this. As with the Paul Hobbs Cab ’11, the Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, contains three percent petit verdot and one percent each malbec and cabernet franc, though there the resemblance ends, because the balance of the Faust is 78 percent cabernet sauvignon and 17 percent merlot, the latter variety entirely absent from the Hobbs. Faust ’11 aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The preponderance of grapes for this wine derived from Coombsville, east of the city of Napa, declared an American Viticultural Area in 2011; the rest of the grapes came from vineyards as widespread (within Napa Valley) as Yountville, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak, St, Helena and Rutherford, which is to say, valley and mountains.
The color is deep ruby-purple with a magenta rim. If graphite and granite could be made into incense, this would be it, though with those aromas are woven notes of red and black cherries, black currants, cocoa powder and cloves. On the palate, Faust ’11 is dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, gritty mineral-laden tannins darkened by touches of slightly austere walnut shell and wheatmeal; structure is the raison d’etre, though depths of spicy black fruit flavors are not ignored. This strikes me as a cabernet not quite ready to drink, though even for all its emphasis on foundation and framing one feels its shapely aptitude and subtle elegance; try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Excellent. About $50.