What qualifies as a “Big Deal” wine? You could say price, and while that enters in it’s not the determining factor. You could say a “big” wine in terms of power and structure and alcohol content, and those elements could also be important. What really clinches the deal, though, on a Big Deal wine is the producer’s intention that a wine represent the best of the vineyards and the treatment in the winery, a wine that manifests every quality that to the winemaker stands for integrity, purity and intensity, a wine that, in other words, encapsulates the best that a vineyard and a vat of grapes can possibly deliver. Today’s post is the first in a series of perhaps three entries that examine Big Deal red wines from various countries and regions. This post offers 10 wines — mostly cabernet sauvignon-based but also two merlots; two of the wines are from Chile, are, in fact, among the best cabernets that country produces, and eight from California, all Napa Valley except one from Sonoma Valley. They’re not cheap, and they tend to be limited in production, but as flagship wines they chart the dimensions and depths of their regions’ top achievements.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile, comes from the Vina Quebrada de Macul estate, where winemaker is Jean-Pascal Lacaze. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot, and 3 percent cabernet franc that aged a year in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby-garnet; black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of bell pepper and rosemary, cedar and tobacco, all with a blueberry and sage edge and a strain of penetrating graphite minerality. Dusty, flinty tannins seem precipitous, yet the wine feels quite engaging on the palate, bringing in touches of mint and eucalyptus and a whiff of iodine to the spicy black fruit and blue flavors — currants and cherries, blueberries and plums — all animated by bright acidity. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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With 8 percent cabernet franc with the rest cabernet sauvignon, the Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Puente Alto, Chile, aged 15 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby but shading to a transparent cherry rim; this is fairly closed presently, offering leafy-herbal notes of cedar, rosemary, thyme and black tea over fruitcake and tapenade; black currant and cherry flavors are concentrated and furled, and the wine is dry, mightily tannic and austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’32. Winemaker was Enrique Tirado. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $125.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2014, Napa Valley, is a massive, inky-purple blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 5 malbec, 2 petit verdot, 1 cabernet franc that aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. Intense and concentrated notes of black currant, blueberry and black raspberry are swathed in hints of bell pepper and green olive, cedar, tobacco and rosemary, with undertones of mocha and lavender. Bastions of dusty, rock-ribbed tannin and oak dictate some cellar time for this tightly coiled wine, say for trying from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’32. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $56.
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The character of the Gundlach Bundschu Vintage Reserve 2013, Sonoma Valley, seems to partake of the rocky, volcanic soil where the grapes were grown. A blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot, the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The whole package feels immense on the palate. The color is black-purple shading to a cherry rim; deep, intense notes of cassis, black cherry and raspberry offer hints of pomegranate, fruitcake and mocha, plums, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Crushing dusty tannins and piercing granitic minerality define a structure that admits touches of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary, laved by creamy oak and energized by bright acidity, all leading to a sleek, chiseled finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Excellent. About $125.
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The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent malbec and 3 percent petit verdot; information on oak aging was not available. The color is the intense black-purple hue of motor oil; first, you detect notes of graphite, iodine and iron, then hints of concentrated black currants and cherries that unfold elements of smoke and grilled meat, briers and brambles; it’s a very dry wine, dense and chewy in the mouth but without being ponderous or truculent, rather, in fact, despite the size, it’s remarkably deft and light on its feet; around a winsome core of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and crushed violets, a haze of velvety tannins and charcoal-tinged wood wraps itself, tapering to a lithic finish inflected by granitic minerality.
14.6 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 to 2028 or ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, contains 10 percent petit verdot, to the balance of merlot grapes; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 76 percent new barrels. The vineyards on Howell Mountain lie at elevations from 1,700 to 1,820 feet. This is a wine of amazing purity and intensity, from its dark ruby-magenta hue to its piercing elements of graphite and flint minerality, to its penetrating scents and flavors of blueberry, pomegranate and black currant; in its vibrancy, resonance and appeal, this wine can only be described as “exciting,” though the dry, dusty tannins coat the palate; some time in the glass adds complex notes of fruitcake and espresso, truffles and loam and a touch of bittersweet chocolate; the finish fleshes out the wine with a complement of warm spices and cool minerals that reach fathoms deep. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. Exceptional. About $85.
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Mi SueƱo Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley — the name means “my dream” — is 100 percent cabernet sourced from the Coombsville and Oak Knoll AVAs, aged two years in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, and given another year in the bottle before release. The color is opaque inky-ebony shading to a glowing purple rim; notes of creamy cassis and ripe, fleshy black currants and raspberries open to touches of blueberry and boysenberry, leather and loam, lavender and licorice, with just a hint of well-integrated vanilla; boy, this one is ripe and plush and succulent, almost too gorgeous, really, but saved by bright acidity and a burgeoning sense of dusty, fairly rigorous elements that provide serious background and foundation; I’ll admit that what I admire most about this wine is the sense of vibrant tension between its frankly velvety allure and (from mid-palate back) its increasingly dry, rooty, underbrushy structure; that’s what makes me want to drink a wine. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Rolando Herrera make 875 cases. Excellent. About $75, sold by allocation.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2014, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 20 months — that seems to be the magic number — in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is opaque black-purple; slightly fleshy and meaty aromas of black currants and plums are earthy and rooty, touched with notes of bittersweet chocolate, pomegranate and fruitcake and a piercing graphite element; a few moments in the glass add hints of bell pepper and black olives. Deep-set, dusty tannins and granitic minerality coat the palate, and though the wine slides on the animation by keen acidity, the whole package feels inchoate presently; try from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’34. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+, with perhaps Excellent potential. About $100.
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If there’s one thing we know about Ravid Ramey, it’s that he’s a prestidigitator of oak, so while the Ramey Wine Cellars Template 2014, Napa Valley, received 18 months in all-new French oak barrels, and I’m thinking, “Boy, that’s a lot of new oak,” the wine emerged from that regimen with a texture both sinewy and supple and with depths of walnut shell and briery elements that add density and heft on the palate; there’s no whit of what are to me the distracting taints of new oak: toastiness, coconut, vanilla. The grapes derived from three Napa Valley AVAs: 70 percent Mount Veeder (merlot); 24 percent Oakville (cabernet franc); 6 percent Rutherford (cabernet sauvignon). The color is a dark but warm ruby hue that shades to a lighter purple rim; this is, no mistake, a serious, intense and concentrated majority-merlot wine, trimmed with hints of black currants, raspberries and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar and rosemary, lavender and sage, all leading to a dry, fairly austere tannic finish. For this one, you need a thick, medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Devotees of merlot (and Napa Valley) will be fascinated to watch the wine’s development. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 90 cases. Excellent. About $85.
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A true flagship wine of tremendous presence and significance, the Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; right upfront are elements of penetrating graphite minerality and burnished oak, but after a few minutes in the glass, those aspects become more integrated, making room for an astonishing array of sandalwood and bergamot, lavender and candied violets, with concentrated black currant and blueberry fruit taking on a slightly resinous character of cedar and tobacco, ancho chili and sage. It feels ecclesiastical on the palate, with its cool, dusty, polished old wood nature and its warm incense-like spices, but make no mistake, this wine’s deeply-rooted rock-ribbed tannins could support mountains. More time in the glass brings out notes of poached raspberries, underbrush and dried porcini; the weight on the palate is lithe, supple and momentous, all these qualities adding up to a finish of Olympian austerity and dimension. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2034 to ’38. Winemaker was Cecilia Welch. Production was 250 cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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