Cabernet sauvignon


Here’s another entry in this ongoing series about cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley. Few would deny that this area in California, the Valley itself in general and its sub-appellations, produces some of the finest cabernet-based wines in the world. Few also would deny that sometimes — even frequently — the wines are too alcoholic, too ripe and over-oaked. This roster of nine examples 2013 and 2014 seems to avoid the excesses and exaggerations to which Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon can be subject, treading the lines among structure, fruit, acidity, tannin and mineral character with deftness and dimension. It’s true that most of these wines are large in size and intent and will require two or three years in the cellar (or closet or in the box under your bed) before they become drinkable, but of course that situation depends on what your notion of drinkable is; most of these would be fine tonight with a steak. While revealing differences in detail because of vintage variations, microclimate, vineyard and winery techniques, these nine wines also feel pretty classic in the Napa Valley manner of ripe black fruit scents and flavors; lithe, dusty tannins; and pronounced graphite minerality, all bound by a scintillating chiseled structure. These are expensive wines, intended to age up to 20 years or more and so not the sort of product one buys on a whim. Still, such wines serve as a benchmark for a grape and a region. These wines were samples for review.
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Winemaker Jennifer Williams slips 3 percent petit verdot and 1.5 percent merlot into the Arrow & Branch Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, which aged 20 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is opaque ruby-magenta, epitomizing the concept of dense radiance; you smell the cassis and cedar from a foot away from the glass, to which the wine adds notes of plums and raspberries, briers, brambles and moss, lavender and licorice, iodine and iron, and an incisive strain of graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of ancho chili and espresso. Dusty, granitic tannins coat the palate, and, friends, that’s about all there is to this wine and its manifestation of a huge structure, an intense texture riven by bold acidity, and a big, bold finish, 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 245 cases. Built for the cellar; try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $100.
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The Arrow & Branch Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, ups the ante a bit in terms of the oak regimen, this resting also 20 months but in 85 percent new barrels. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that offers a dense ruby hue shading to a transparent rim; aromas of allspice and sandalwood, roasted fennel and graphite open to notes of black currant and raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate, against a background of smoke and wood-ash. The balance here is between spicy, juicy black fruit flavors and big, dusty, granitic tannins, and as the minutes pass, the wines becomes more austere, yet also imbued with a strain of blueberry tart and bitter chocolate. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 288 cases. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $175 (a bottle).
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The color of the Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, is a riveting opaque ruby with a bright magenta rim. The wine is a blend of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petit verdot, 6 percent malbec and 2 percent each cabernet franc and merlot, utilizing what used to be called the “five classic red grapes of Bordeaux,” though malbec is as rare now in Bordeaux as sauvignon blanc in Burgundy. This is all ripe, spicy plums and cherries coated with iodine and iron and loads of cedar, tobacco and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of roasted fennel and lavender, roots and branches. It’s a very dry wine but pretty darned plush on the palate, though the opulent texture is balanced by stirring acidity and tannins that grow more rigorous as the wine airs; the finish adds more foresty elements of underbrush and heather, with leather and loam. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $78.
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The Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, is a deep, dark brooding Titan of a wine, a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent petit verdot and 6 percent malbec that aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is inky-ebony with a rim that allows a peek at ruby-garnet; dusty, granitic tannins coat the palate with a profound mineral character, yet for all its size, I believe that this wine — chiseled, etched and honed — portends sleek elegance in its future. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Excellent. About $80.
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The Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is 100 percent varietal and aged 28 months in French oak, 67 percent new barrels. The dense black-purple hue and the intensity, the concentration of black fruit scents and flavors, and the sweeping dimension of graphite-ribbed dusty tannins mark this as a wine that needs years to develop company manners and an indoor voice. Still, it offers interesting notes of cedar and rosemary, tobacco and cigarette paper, loam and pencil shavings, all structural elements to be sure, but encouraging. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’21 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent potential. About $70.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2013, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, nine percent merlot, four cabernet franc and 2 malbec, aged 20 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The wine is a stalwart expression of size and dimension in a red wine, featuring an opaque black-purple hue and intense aromas of cedar, tobacco and roasted coffee beans, heather and wild mountain herbs and swaths and swales of dusty graphite-infused minerality. It fills the mouth with a tide of deep, grainy, velvety tannins, and frankly, I wouldn’t touch this until 2019 or ’20; it should build an aging curve through 2030 to ’35. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Here’s a cabernet-based wine that doesn’t try to ingratiate itself, either in its formidable structural elements or even in its 2014_CabernetSauvignon-labelpotential pleasures. The Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, 4 petit verdot and 2 each malbec and cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in 45 percent new French and American oak barrels and 55 percent two-year-old French and American oak. From its opaque ruby-purple hue to its intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spicy, macerated black currants, cherries and plums to its profoundly tannic-graphite character, this is one for the cellar, at least for a couple of years. Nuance develops with time in the glass, bringing up notes of lavender and mocha, potpourri, cedar and dried rosemary (with that herb’s innate touch of resinous austerity), as well as intriguing hints of wild berries and fruit cake. Mainly, though, this wine is all about the architecture of possibility; try from 2019 or ’20 through 2029 to ’32. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $75.
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Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith don’t fool around. Their Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, made from smlabel_lr_cab_1341-year-old dry-farmed vines 1,800 to 2,000 feet atop Spring Mountain, is built to last. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; you feel the steep mountain pedigree in the wine’s elements of graphite, iodine and iron, walnut shell and dry, austere herbs and heather; black cherries and currants are plumped with cloves, black pepper and mint, while the wine layers briery, underbrush and slightly raspy, leafy notes through the dry, granitic finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent. About $50, a bargain considering the present roster.
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Grapes for the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, derive partly from the winery’s estate vineyards stags leapand partly from other vineyards in the valley. The wine is 98 percent cabernet sauvignon, with a scant 1 percent each merlot and malbec; aging was 19 months, 33 percent new French oak, 10 percent new American. It’s a dense, vibrant and resonant cabernet that needs a few years to allow its more approachable personality to emerge. For now, the color is opaque ruby with a glowing purple rim; its character centers around elements of briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco, leather and loam, that gradually allow hints of ripe but intense and concentrated black currants and cherries to appear, along with notes of iodine, iron and mint. Dusty, slightly gritty tannins are prelude to a sleek, lithe finish that feels chiseled from quartz and granite. 14.5 percent alcohol. I predict a great future for this wine, say from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $60.
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The grapes for the Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards “The Blue Note” 2012, Malibu Coast, were grown in Newton Canyon, at an elevation of 1,450 blue notefeet, above the fog line. The wine, a blend of 44 percent merlot, 36 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 percent cabernet franc, aged 21 months in French oak, 56 percent new barrels. The color is a striking dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; boy, this is a smoky, ripe, fleshy wine that features notes of blueberries and black currants permeated by cloves, allspice — with a touch of that characteristic slightly astringent woody nature — and ancho chili, while a few minutes in the glass bring in exotic hints of potpourri and sandalwood, black licorice and bitter chocolate. It’s plush and succulent on the palate, but balanced by bright acidity, moderately dusty tannins and graphite-infused minerality. Under the black and blue fruit flavors, the tannic-foresty-mineral elements increase as the moments pass, providing a briery-woodsy finish and firm structure for aging, say through 2020 to ’22; perfect for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 199 cases. 14.8 percent alcohol. Malibu Coast was granted AVA status in July 2014, largely under the auspices of this winery’s owner Elliott Dolin. The AVA is 46 miles long, hugging the Pacific Coast northwest of Los Angeles, and eight miles deep. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

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Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

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Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

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Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

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Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

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Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

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Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

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Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

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Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

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Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

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MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

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Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

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Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

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Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

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Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

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Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

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Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

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Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

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Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

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Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

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The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

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Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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troon
Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

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Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

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Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

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Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

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Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

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Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

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WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
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Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

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Lordy, I haven’t posted a “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet” entry since June 30. That’s totally remiss for two reasons: First, I receive a ton of samples in that genre, and, second, California’s Napa Valley is one of the best places in the world for producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines. Not that Napa Valley has a lock on delivering great cabernet-based wines in California; such an assessment would be unfair to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley and Knights Valley, to Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County, and other pockets of congenial micro-climate here and there in the Golden State. Today’s post looks at nine examples of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet-based wines, mostly from 2013, with a few from 2012 and one from 2014. It’s a miscellaneous group falling under the general Napa Valley designation; two of these display more specific appellations, Oakville and Rutherford. Prices range from $45 to $90, an upper range that reflects not only supposed standards of quality but perceived reputation and the cost of doing business, as in the prices of grapes, cultivated acreage and new French oak barrels. The wines also reflect similarities and differences in philosophy and winemaking techniques. Oak regimens and blending percentages vary widely as does the scale of alcohol content. As with any consumer product, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Acumen Wines Mountainside Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, feels indeed as if it had been hewn from granite outcroppings, and in fact the grapes derive from organically farmed vineyards in Atlas Peak. The wine is a blend of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent malbec and 12 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a glowing purple rim; notes of black currants, black cherries and blueberries are imbued with elements of graphite, iodine and iron that after a few minutes in the glass emit hints of rosemary, cedar and celery seed and an intense aroma of wood smoke. Steep gritty tannins and profound granitic minerality make for an experience that feels as if you’re drinking architecture, and these qualities inform the austere finish. Still, you sense the balance here, the shifting tectonic plates of structure gradually transforming itself to something equitable. A refreshing 13.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2029-’33. Production was 1,200 cases. Winemaker was the well-known Steve Matthiasson. Excellent potential. About $45.
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The Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 carries a Napa Valley designation but the grapes derive from specific AVAs amici_cs_napawithin the valley: 67 percent from Rutherford, 20 from Atlas Peak, 9 from Coombsville, 3 percent from Calistoga and a smidgeon of 1 percent from Spring Mountain. In other words, the wine is a canny blend of grapes from cool and warm districts, from flat areas and mountain slopes, all helping to establish a general “Napa Valley’ character to the wine. The blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 merlot, 3 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot; the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Tony Biagi. The color is very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; while the emphasis is on dimension and circumference defined by dusty, velvety tannins, burnished oak and vibrant acidity, the wine allows classic notes of black olive, cedar and tobacco, ripe black currants and raspberries to assert themselves. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of plums and cloves, black pepper and mocha, as well as a graphite edge, so the wine feels both warm with spice and cool with minerals, all etched by chiseled minerality that extends through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now — with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill — through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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One of the flagship wines for Franciscan Estate is the Magnificat red wine blend based on cabernet sauvignon with franciscan-estate-2012-magnificat-meritage-label-frontcontributions from the other “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties. For 2012 and 2013, the wines received the same oak treatment, 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The blends differ slightly, with the 2012 being 73 percent cabernet sauvignon with 19 percent merlot, three percent each petit verdot and malbec and two percent cabernet franc; the 2013 is also 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 24 percent merlot, two percent malbec and one percent cabernet franc, eliminating the dollop of petit verdot. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Not surprisingly, or perhaps disappointingly, these “meritage” wines are quite similar, the ’12 being slightly softer and more approachable than the ’13 but both focused on structure and foundation to a degree that feels not only solid but stodgy. The Magnificat 2012 displays real depth and breadth in its dark granitic minerality and sturdy tannins but not much in the way of the detail that makes a wine compelling and alluring, even at a relatively young age. The Magnificat 2013 feels like an ancient cathedral of a wine, very dense and intense, with dry austere tannins and profound granitic minerality; something slightly warm and spicy lends a touch of appeal but this is essentially a stout, rock-ribbed edifice established on palate-scouring tannins and acidity. After tasting this pair of cabernets, I wanted to say, “Hey, lighten up, even powerful and structured wines can be made with more deftness than these were.” Each features 14.5 percent alcohol. Each I rate Very Good+ with the admonition not to touch for five years. Each costs about $55.
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In the Galerie “Pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa valley, Laura Diaz Muñozcrafted a 100 percent varietal wine whose potential lies two or three years ahead. Aged 20 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered, this cabernet displays a deep opaque ebony hue and profound intensity and concentration. Its initial phase of iodine, iron and graphite segues into spiced and macerated currants, raspberries and plums opening to notes — after an hour — of walnut shell, cloves and allspice, roasted fennel and caraway seed. The wine is dense and chewy but lithe and supple, dark with rooty-loamy elements, woodsy and mushroomy, and a little knotty with aspects of briers, brambles and forest floor; the black and red berry flavors course over the palate animated by bright acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. 2018 through 2028 to ’30. Production was 1,616 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, reveals a gratifying consistency cs-2013-front_750-alcwith its cousins from previous vintages, while expressing a sense of individuality accorded by a great year. The blend is 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent merlot, 5 petit verdot, 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is dense ruby-purple, while the whole package reflects that intensity and concentration; the initial impressions are all structural: earth, loam and walnut shell; dusty, graphite-laden tannins; a dense and chewy texture; a deep austere finish. Yet the wine is also vibrant, dynamic, resonant and strangely appealing, with its hints of tightly-packed and spicy black fruit flavors. Try from 2018 through 2028 to ’30. 14.6 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $69.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, is 100 percent2013-csrf_front_with-alc cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is motor oil opaque shading to a medium ruby-hued rim; as with its stablemate mentioned just above, this wine is immense in structure, deep, intense and concentrated, which character does not prevent it from delivering classic notes of cedar, rosemary and tobacco, black olive and a hint of bell pepper, all buoying a finely-chiseled melange of black currants, raspberries and plums. In fact, for all its size and dimension, this cabernet offers a ripe, spicy, meaty and fleshy aspect not quite belied by its formidable dusty, loamy tannins and its tremendous dignity and authority. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $90.
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The Jayson label is the second line from Pahlmeyer Vineyards and comes in as slightly less jay-cabexpensive than the top tier, though these are not inexpensive by any means. The Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, sees 5 percent cabernet franc with the balance cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 17 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color epitomizes the entire experience of this wine, from its intense inky center fading to the transparent ruby-tinged rim, that is, from tremendous depth and dimension to an element of elegance and even delicacy. Most apparent, though, is the wine’s immense honed and chiseled granitic structure, abetted by polished oak and plush, dusty, rigorous tannins; it feels carved from mountainsides. Aromas of iodine and iron open to deliriously attractive notes of black currants, cherries and plums, highlighted by hints of blueberry and pomegranate, tapenade and ancho chili and wild notions of cedar and rosemary, wood smoke, lilac and lavender. Yes, this is damned heady stuff, richly layered and nuanced. The whole project is, not surprisingly, quite serious on the palate, yet its structure of wood and acidity, tannin and graphite-infused minerality does not advance on the punishing scale; the totality is balanced and integrated, though deep and multi-dimensional. 15.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Winemaker was Kale Anderson. This wine feels to me like the essence and apex of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $75.
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The Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, utilizes the five classic Bordeaux red grapes: 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each malbec, merlot and petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color could not be a more dark, dense and radiant ruby-purple that shades to a glowing magenta rim; in its incisive granitic minerality and dusty graphite-tinged tannins, the wine feels absolutely true to the Oakville model; it offers ripe and slightly fleshy notes of currants, raspberries and plums infused with cedar and rosemary — with a hint of the latter’s feral, woodsy astringency — black olives and lavender melded in a seamless array of superb balance and integration. It’s quite dry, and the chiseled mineral aspects bolster the long finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’25. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. Excellent. About $60.
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More time in oak but less new oak than the previous wine was the regimen for the Robert Mondavi BDX 2013, Oakville, aging 29 months in French wood, 32 percent new barrels. BDX stands for Bordeaux; this wine is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent cabernet franc. I was impressed by the wine’s lovely balance and integration, for all its size and substance. A dark ruby hue shades to a bright magenta rim; aromas of ripe black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of iodine, iron and mint, making for a ferrous, sanguinary and slightly herbaceous red wine highlighted by touches of lavender and violets, cedar and tobacco. Yep, it’s a big one, quite dry and cushioned by supple dusty tannins, while animated by a beaming line of bright acidity; the finish is packed with graphite tinged minerality and an array of spicy black fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. You could drink this wine tonight with a steak or braised short ribs or wait a couple of years; it should develop beautifully through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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So, today I offer 10 red wines worthy of your attention and use with the hearty fare we prepare during cooler weather, if this country ever gets cooler weather. We’re running 10 to 15 degrees above normal in this neck o’ the woods. Anyway, these wines represent California; Italy’s Piedmont region; Australia’s McLaren Vale; and three sections of Spain, all featuring the tempranillo grape. The grapes and blends of grapes involved are equally diverse. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the technical, geographical and historical I tend to dote upon for the sake of quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2015, Mendocino County 80%, Sonoma County 20%.13.9% alc. Transparent angelinemedium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; rose petals and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, a hint of loam that expands to form a foundation for the whole enterprise; satiny and supple but nicely sanded and burnished by mild graphite-tinged tannins; a few minutes in the glass being in notes of wood smoke, red cherry and raspberry; grows quite dense and chewy, almost succulent but riven by straight-arrow acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; builds in power and structure. Now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this pinot noir in restaurant and bar wine-by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2014, California. 13.2% alc. 36% cabernet sauvignon, 22% petit verdot, 22% tannat, 9% syrah, 7% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% petite sirah. The point of Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is that it is not a proper claret at all, not with the inclusion of tannat, syrah and petite sirah. Ho-ho. Medium ruby with a transparent magenta rim; untamed and exotic, with notes of dried berries, baking spices and flowers; opens to black fruit scents and flavors with a tinge of red fruit; firm, moderately dense, supported by plenty of dusty graphite-laden tannins and bright acidity; needs a steak or leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $16.
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Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2014, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 77% zinfandel, 14% syrah, 8% petite sirah, 1% grenache. Medium ruby hue; a feral and flinty flurry of black currants, mulberries and plums; a hint of blueberry, with cedar and mint; warm and spicy with notes of cloves and sandalwood; a high, wild baked berry tone; very dry, quite dense and chewy, firm sinewy structure packed with dusty tannins and lively acidity. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
As you can see, the label is appropriate for Halloween parties.
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Viña Eguía Tempranillo 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Medium ruby hue shading to a delicate mulberry rim; violets and rose petals, blueberries and red currants, leather and smoke; an exotic dusting of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a hint of the latter’s woody, slightly astringent quality; though moderate in tannins, this gains weight and heft as the minutes pass, picking up a fleshy, meaty character to the macerated and baked dark fruit flavors; animated by brisk acidity. Terrific character for the price. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $14, marking Excellent Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2014, Toro, Spain. 13.5% alc. With 5% garnacha. Medium ruby-mulberry color; loam, dust, graphite, mint, iodine; hints of red and black currants and blueberries, permeated by dried spices and flowers; very dense, dry, smoky, chewy; smacky tannins coat the palate. What it lacks in charm it makes by for in inchoate power and dynamism. Try 2018 to ’20 with pork shoulder roast slathered in salsa verde or grilled pork chops with a cumin-chili powder rub. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium ruby-violet hue; an attractive bouquet of potpourri, dried baking spices and dried currants; hints of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil; clean and spare with plenty of acid cut for liveliness and lip-smacking tannins; pulls up elements of black cherries, mulberries and plums, all slightly spiced and macerated, and touches of cherry pit and skin; the finish is packed with earthy tannins and graphite minerality. Now through 2019 to ’22 with salumi, red meat pizzas and pasta dishes — especially pappardelle with rabbit — or aged hard cheeses. Excellent. About $18.
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Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2014, California. 14.5% alc. With 2% petite sirah. Dark ruby shading lighter to an invisible rim; notes of spicy and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums, a strain of wild berry and white pepper and hints of wood smoke, ground cardamom and cumin; rich on the palate but tempered by loamy and velvety tannins and clean acidity; an element of dusty graphite minerality dominates the finish. A well-made zinfandel for everyday drinking. Very Good+. About $14.
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Real Compañía de Vinos Tempranillo 2012, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Vibrant inky purple; a very deep, dark, warm, spicy loamy tempranillo with staggering, mineral and graphite-laced tannins that don’t prevent a hint of floral-inflected black currant and plum fruit and touches of heather, cedar and black olive from emerging from the ebon depths; there is, in fact, surprising elegance and finesse at play in the balance between structure, acid, fruit and oak elements. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About — I’m not kidding — $12, a Remarkable Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Robert Oatley GSM 2014, McLaren Vale, Australia. 13.5% alc. 48% grenache, 47% syrah, 5% oatleymourvèdre. Dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; ripe and spicy notes of roasted plums and currants, with traces of red licorice and leather, briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring in alluring touches of allspice and sandalwood, dried sage and rosemary; dry, dusty and slightly austere tannins serve as foundation for lithe, supple black and red fruit flavors boosted by fleet acidity and graphite minerality. For all its structure, the wine is juicy, seductive and tasty. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Greensboro, N.C.
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Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery Red4 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.9% alc. 41% petite sirah, 40% syrah, 10% mourvèdre, 9% grenache. Dark ruby-magenta color; redolent of macerated and slightly baked mixed berries, cloves and iodine, espresso, wood smoke and roasted fennel — heady stuff indeed; a lightly resistant dusty, velvety texture bolstered by persistent tannins packed with graphite and loam; a long expressive finish. A lot going on here for the price. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $17.
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Before Sonoma Mountain was approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1985, Patrick Campbell was producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines from a vineyard 2,000 feet up the mountainside. lg_12_cp_beauty_webAfter 30 vintages, Campbell sold the winery and vineyards in 2011 to a group led by Bettina Sichel; Campbell still works as a consultant with a team that includes winemaker Randall Watkins and legendary California grower Phil Coturri and winemaker David Ramey. As is the case with many wineries, Laurel Glen offers several levels of products to make its wines more accessible, the instance here being its Counterpoint label. The Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Mountain, is a blend of 90 percent cabernet and 10 percent merlot, sourced primarily from the winery’s organic estate vineyard as well as fruit from two other vineyards in the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak (and a bit of American oak), 40 percent new barrels. The color is very dark ruby-magenta, basically opaque at the center; ravishing aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and blueberries shift to graphite and ink, iodine and iron that admit notes of lavender and licorice, loam and leather. Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. You feel the dense chewy structure on the palate, the bold, dust-inflected, finely-grained tannins; the bright and lively acidity; the suppleness of burnished oak; also, thank goodness, the deliciousness of black fruit flavors swathed in cloves, allspice and bittersweet chocolate, all driving toward a sturdy, mineral-packed finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. This is a beautifully crafted and balanced cabernet seemingly influenced by its slightly austere mountain roots, for drinking tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or through 2024. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review. The bottle image is two vintages behind the wine reviewed here.

Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley is named for 19th Century settler Cyrus Alexander, who lends his given name, in turn, to the flagship red wine from Alexander Valley Vineyards. The winery CYRUS_2012_bottlegoes back to 1962, when Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander. They planted grapes the following year and produced their first cabernet sauvignon in 1968, as a private project. By 1975, however, the family had built a small winery, and matters took off from there. Alexander Valley Vineyards is operated now by the third generation; winemaker is Kevin Hall. The Cyrus 2012, Alexander valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 7 cabernet franc, 3 petit verdot and 2 malbec. It aged a total of 24 months in French oak barrels, 12 months before blending and 12 months after. The color is dark ruby-purple from core to rim; loads of graphite, iodine and iron encompass a pinpoint focus on black currant, black cherry and blueberry scents and flavors that unfold notes of plum pudding and red velvet cake, lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. If all of these factors sound like a confusion of aims and a tendency toward sweetness, that’s not at all what I mean. Yes, the wine gushes with ripeness, but it also is governed by dense, dusty tannins, swingeing acidity and a rigorous granitic mineral element. Some moments in the glass bring in hints of dried rosemary and sage (with the slightly resinous character of those herbs) as well as a tantalizing tinge of wild berries and meadow flowers. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25 with steaks, pork chops, venison and braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

Seed Wines was planted in Mendoza’s Altamira district by Tony Hartl and Alex Chang after a seedmountaineering accident gave them time to get to know the geography, the landscape and the people of one of Argentina’s most remote areas. Under the direction of winemaker Giuseppe Franceschini, the winery produces, from a vineyard more than 3,000 feet above sea-level, fewer than 200 cases of wine annually. For each bottle sold, a local child receives a new schoolbook.

The wines reveal a great deal of care in the making and packaging, which is very stylish. While I had a shade or two of reservation about the Red Wine 2014 because of the slight effect of the oak regimen, I had no such qualms about the Malbec 2014, which strikes me as a world-class wine and among the best malbecs made in Argentina.

These wines were samples for review. The winery’s website is seedwine.com.

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The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, is 100 percent varietal and aged 16 months in new French oak barrels. The color is a brooding deep ruby hue; aromas of black raspberries, cherries and plums are lively and engaging, permeated by notes of graphite, lavender and violets and traces of leather, black pepper and sage. On the palate, this malbec feels dark and spicy, vibrant and savory, thoroughly imbued with raspberry and blueberry flavors (and a touch of blueberry tart) supported by bright acidity and dusty, velvety tannins, like prom dresses from your grandmother’s attic; there’s an element of foresty bite and granitic minerality as the wine gathers power and purpose in the glass, all aspects leading to an elevating finish packed with woodsy spices, minerals and wild berry fruit. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 59 cases. A malbec of tremendous personality and character for drinking through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Also aged 16 months in new French oak barrels, the Seed Red Wine 2014, Mendoza, is a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent malbec and 10 percent cabernet franc. The opaque ruby-purple hue, even unto dense black at the center, presages the wine’s intensity and concentration. It’s simultaneously robust and exotic, packed with sweet spices, lavender, bittersweet chocolate, cloves and cardamom, violets and blueberry tart, all in support of scents and flavors of ripe black currants, plums and cherries. The wine is quite dry, carrying a definite granitic mineral edge, and after a few minutes in the glass, the oak comes up in New World fashion but not overly obtrusive in manner; you know it’s there, and you either accept it or not. (I would prefer not.) 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 49 cases. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $75.
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I write so much about cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley — collectively they form a sort of irrevocable juggernaut — that I thought it might be appropriate to touch on a cabernet from a different area in California. The Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Paso Robles, derives from two sub-AVAs in that Central Coast region, Santa Margarita Ranch and Estrella District. The wine matures for 14 months in neutral French and American oak barrels; winemaker Brian Terrizzi generally eschews the use of new oak. The color is dark ruby-purple with a vivid magenta rim; it’s a real “plums and roses” cabernet, bursting with ripe, fleshy red and blue fruit scents and flavors with after-thoughts of rose petals, lavender and graphite. Ripe and fleshy yes, even spiced and macerated, but not blowsy or bosomy, because the wine maintains a steady ferrous line of vibrant acidity and dusty tannins for structure. A few moments in the glass bring out notes of sage and boxwood, cranberry and blueberry, briers and brambles, and the fruit and mineral drenched finish features a core of espresso and mocha. The alcohol content is a sensible 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with burgers, steaks, braised short-ribs and other hearty food of that ilk. Very Good+. About $18, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

So, here we are, in the 11th segment of “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet,” a series devoted to exploring the many aspects of the cabernet sauvignon wines created in the various regions of the Napa Valley. It’s a question worth asking, since, as readers will see in today’s selection of 12 examples, the cabernet wines from this legendary area and its sub-AVAs, can vary from an austere Old School character to the new style of very ripe — or over-ripe — fruit and plush textures. Most of the models in today’s post hew to the old-fashioned style of emphasis on structure, but a couple of them are over-the-top for my palate. These are mostly from 2012, with a couple of ’13s and one from 2011. Except for one wine encountered at a wholesale trade tasting, these wines were samples for review.
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I tasted the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, last November at a wholesale distributor’s trade event. This great and historic label had a difficult period in the first decade of the 21st Century, but made a real effort under the direction of world-famous (and extremely busy) consultant Michel Rolland. If the 2012 is a pertinent example, the winery (owned by Diageo) is hitting on all cylinders again. The color is an obsidian-like, brooding dark ruby-purple; it’s a cool, chiseled, graphite and granite-based amalgam of power and elegance energized by swingeing acidity — call it the Lafite-Rothschild of Napa Valley — and as taut and tense a cabernet as I have encountered. Tannic? Oh, yes, but tannins that seem as generous and supple as they are sinewy and chewy. The blend is 93 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent petit verdot and 3 percent malbec. Oak regimen was 22 months, 90 percent new French barrels. The alcohol is a soaring 15.5 percent, by far the highest in this roster of a dozen cabernets. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’36. Excellent. About $135.
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The Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is named for Michael Dragutsky, a doctor in Memphis who is one of the winery’s founders. It’s a blend of 91 percent cabernet grapes and nine percent merlot; I have no information about the oak regimen. The color is ruby that is dark unto opacity; a broad pungency of intense black currants and plums infused with tapenade, fig paste and roasted fennel, graphite and lavender, iodine and iron characterizes the complex and beautifully integrated bouquet. Likewise, the wine is broad and deep and dense on the palate, though it flows like a lithe and supple source of power and elegance; fathomless, dusty, cushiony tannins support concentrated black fruit flavors poised over tremendous reserves of forest and loam. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was under 250 cases. Drink from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Exceptional. About $75.
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The grapes for the Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville District, derive primarily from the Martin Skelling Vineyard, planted in 1978 and located just behind the winery in Oakville. The wine is a blend of 97 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent petit verdot; it aged 17 months in French oak, 77 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Nicole Marchesi. The color is very dark ruby-purple with a magenta cast; this feels like classic Oakville, with its bastions of iodine and iron, graphite, cedar and lead pencil and notes of plums, black cherries and currants touched with dried thyme and rosemary — with the latter’s hint of branchy astringency — and roasted fennel. The structure is like taut muslin, fresh and snappy, full of energy. On the other hand, the wine delivers a chiseled, hard-edged character in its dusty chewy tannins that take on a velvety quality. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of ancho chili and bitter chocolate, and the finish grows increasingly austere. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $155.
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The Flora Springs Trilogy 2013, Napa Valley, is a blend of 87 percent cabernet grapes, seven 2013_trilogy_labelpercent petit verdot and 6 percent malbec; it aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, 40 percent one-year-old. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. The color is an opaque ruby-purple, black at the center; aromas of pure and intense cassis, blackberry and raspberry are permeated by notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and licorice, mint and eucalyptus, with iodine and loam in the background, all contributing to a pleasing balance of the exotic and the earthy. It’s a dry, large-framed cabernet whose dusty velvety tannins fuse with an indisputable oak foundation driven by vibrant acidity, all of these elements keenly balanced but needing some time to unfurl to higher usefulness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $80.
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Winemaker Laura Diaz Muñoz aged the Galerie “pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, 18 months in 58 percent new French oak barrels. The unforgettable color is deep ruby-purple with a thermonuclear violet-magenta rim; it’s a large-framed, dense, chewy and minerally cabernet but neither ponderous nor obvious, carrying its elements of graphite, iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums with pinpoint focus and fervent poise. This cabernet is mouth-filling without being plush or ostentatious, made vivid with bright acidity and a chiming tannic-mineral structure. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lavender and licorice driving into a long deep finish that’s dry and furnished with granitic minerality, making for an effect that’s chaste, spare and strangely elegant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink from 2018 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $50.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, derives from 11CSYT_FRONT_NO-ALCvines planted in 1959. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet grapes, 14 percent petit verdot and 4 percent merlot; it aged 23 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is an intense and warm dark ruby hue with a tinge of magenta at the rim; it’s all about structure now, filled with wheatmeal and walnut shell elements, loamy and briery, and it opens cautiously, a heavy old volume whose pages turn very slowly or, from another aspect, a block of oak buffed and burnished by sandalwood sandpaper. Velvety tannins are pumped up with notes of graphite and granite dust, while a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of plum pudding and fruitcake, lavender and bitter chocolate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 772 cases. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $185.00, yes, per bottle.
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The “Allomi” tier is the entry-level cabernet sauvignon for The Hess Collection; a less expensive example falls under the cheaper “Hess Select” rubric. So, the Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, displays a dark ruby hue, shading to a tinge of mulberry; it offers rich black currant-cherry-raspberry scents and flavors permeated by graphite, iodine and iron, lavender and black licorice. Plush, dusty tannins have roots in underbrush and foresty elements, while ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are spicy and savory. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $30.
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On the “shop” page of the winery’s website, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mount Veeder, is described thus: “Nothing is quite so luscious as blueberries framed by hints of vanilla, cassis, creamy milk chocolate caramel and oak spice.” Gack, thank god, that’s not the character that emerged from my tasting; had that been the case, I would have given this one a definite thumb’s-down. Granted, this wine — 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent malbec and aged 20 months in 80 percent new French oak barrels — feels ripe and rich, but the ripeness and richness of black and red currants and raspberries are balanced by tannic elements of mineral dust, graham and wheatmeal and a touch of walnut shell, and the wine is far more intense and concentrated than the unhelpful notation quoted above implies. It’s quite dry, substantial, dense and inky, with graphite minerality and dark, oaken polish. The wine finishes with a high note of wild cherry. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2022 to ’26. Director of winemaking for Hess Collection is Dave Guffy. Excellent. About $60.
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Lüscher-Ballard Wine is a project of Christina Lüscher-Ballard and Carroll Ballard, married labelformer filmmakers who own a tiny property, 2,200 feet high on Spring Mountain. John Kongsgaard makes the wine. The Lüscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, fermented with native yeast and aged 22 months in French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a black center and a faint mulberry rim; it’s a majestic wine, freighted with massive elements of iron and iodine, graphite, cedar and tobacco, with hints of old leather, dried rosemary and ancho chili, and high-notes of lavender and bitter chocolate. On the palate the wine combines density and weight with airiness and elegance, though tannins need a few years to recede from a feral state. Fruit? Of course, in the range of spiced and macerated black currants and plums with a cast of red fruit overall. Altogether, lovely balance and integration of every element. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was about 200 cases. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $80.
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Brothers Charles and Stuart Smith deserve a Nobel Prize for consistency and integrity. Making sm_label_lr_cab_12their Smith-Madrone wines using the same methods every year and allowing the vintage to speak through the grapes, they produce chardonnay, riesling and cabernet sauvignon wines on Spring Mountain that embody ideals of realism, individuality and location. Produced from 40-year-old, dry-farmed vines and aged 18 months in French oak barrels, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 10 percent merlot and eight percent cabernet franc. The color is dark ruby from stem to stern; notes of dried sage and rosemary, briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco leaf are etched on intense elements of ripe and dried black currants, raspberries and blueberries, all balanced on a well-oiled vehicle of graphite and granitic minerality. On the palate, the wine is — no surprise — lithe and sinewy, bolstered by dusty, slightly velvety tannins and vibrant acidity. The finish is long and lean and laden with chiseled flint-like minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,815 cases. Drink through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $48, the bargain of this group.
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Established in 1943 and producing its first vintage in 1952, Stony Hill Vineyard, on Spring Mountain, is still operated by the McCrea family. It says something about loyalty and tradition that Mike Chelini has been making the wines since 1972. A specialist in non-malolactic, all-neutral-oak, long-aging chardonnay, the winery — probably the least known of Napa Valley’s Old School producers — only began making cabernet sauvignon wines in 2009, and it’s not surprising that the Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, mirrors the philosophy that governs its chardonnays; this is not a cabernet for consumers looking for the glamorous or the gorgeous. The wine aged 18 months in oak barrels and 18 months in bottle before release. The color is dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black currants, raspberries and blueberries are intense and concentrated, permeated by notes of lead pencil, rosemary and cedar, briers, brambles and loam. Tannins feel deep, rooty and dusty, and an aura of wood-smoke pervades the whole vibrant, resonant, chiseled package. An eminently sensible 13.5% alcohol. Production was 430 cases. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $60.
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Young Inglewood winery touts this initial release as an “instant crowd pleaser,” but the Venn Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, did not please me all that much; everything about it, except for the moderate alcohol level, blares “contemporary Napa Valley” in the glass. The color is very dark ruby-purple shading to a glowing magenta rim; the nose draw up scents of ripe cassis, vanilla, cloves, blueberry jam, lavender, graphite and mocha, while on the palate the wine is rich and succulent, ferrous and sanguinary and framed by heaps of charcoal and graphite.
14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 209 cases. If this is a crowd-pleaser, I’ll drink alone, thank you. Very Good. About $50.
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