Napa Valley


After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the cabernet sauvignon grape, in the hands of winemakers at Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other Napa Vallery estates, raised California to world renown. Cabernet sauvignon continues to dominate the state’s prestige winemaking efforts, as properties established in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and some more recently, command top prices at retail, in restaurants and, in terms of wineries like Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle, at auction. New labels appear every year; it’s a crowded and competitive field. Today, I offer nine examples of cabernet and cabernet-blend wines from producers that range from venerable (Mount Veeder, founded in 1973) to brand-new (Mt. Brave, on its third release) to an impressive debut wine with an impressive pedigree. Common threads include the fact that alcohol levels are comparatively low (compared to 20 and 30 years ago) at 13.7 to 14.7 percent; that none of these wines feels heavy with oak; that the emphasis is mainly on structure rather than ripeness. We touch several climes in Napa Valley, Sonoma County and, far to the south, Paso Robles. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I primarily avoid technical, historical, geographical and personnel matters for the sake of immediacy, hoping to spur your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby with a magenta-violet rim; black currants, raspberries and cherries, juicy, spicy, lots of graphite and lavender; that gratifying blend of ripe fruit and a rigorously tannic and mineral-tinged structure; oak providing a firm framework and foundation; lithe, almost sinewy, quite dry, even a little austere but lively, attractive, with an engaging personality. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verite. You know how some wines just hit you first thing, and you know they’re great; such a one is this. Opaque purple, almost more a force that a color; brilliant purity and intensity, scintillating and penetrating graphite and granitic minerality, very intense and concentrated black and blue fruit; lean and supple, lively and energetic yet with a brooding, inward cast; broad, deep tannins but a deftly poised marriage of power and elegance. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $60.
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Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 13% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. 973 cases. Impenetrable dark ruby color; graphite, violets and lavender, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; very intense and concentrated black currant and raspberry fruit; densely packed with dusty tannins, dried spice and granitic minerality; yet manages to be open and generous, almost seductive, a sweet-talking brute, rigorous but buoyant. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
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Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Dark ruby-purple, motor-oil black at the center; ripe, fleshy and meaty on the one hand, rock-ribbed, granitic, intense and concentrated on the other; lavender, potpourri, sandalwood, black currants, raspberries and plums; dense dusty tannins, fluent acidity, lithe and supple texture; tremendous presence, vibrancy and resonance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2028 to ’30. Were I the sort of person who bought wine by the case to drink it over the years of its development and maturity, this would be one. Exceptional. About $80.
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Daoa Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Paso Robles. 13.9% alc. 78% cabernet sauvignon, 8.5% merlot, 7.5% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot. Dark ruby-purple color; clean, intense, concentrated; very earthy, with piercing graphite minerality; mint, eucalyptus, dried sage and rosemary; black cherries and currants and plums, ripe, macerated and roasted; hint of plum pudding; dusty tannins, quite dry, a little austere but well-balanced; great structure and personality, pretty damned irresistible. Try 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 3.5% merlot, 3% cabernet franc. (The former Chateau Potelle property.) Intense purple-black color, opaque at the center, a magenta rim; ripe and fleshy with black currants, raspberries and plums, notes of rosemary and cedar, lavender and licorice, hint of new leather; very dense and chewy, laden with graphite and polished, grainy tannins, deeply flavorful over a foundation of penetrating granitic minerals and bright vibrant acidity; brings in notes of moss, loam and underbrush; great presence and resonance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14% alc. With 5% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% each malbec and syrah. Dark ruby-purple color, slightly lighter rim; cloves and sandalwood, bay leaf and sage, black olive and rosemary; intense and concentrated notes of black currants and plums; deeply, stalwartly tannic, dense and dusty; graphite and shale, but well-knit and balanced; a nicely done if predictable performance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
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Olema Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 14.5% alcohol. Second label of Amici Cellars. With 7% merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter at the rim; graphite, cloves, black currants and plums, an undertow of briers, underbrush, dusty tannins and keen acidity; ripe and flavorful, goes down smoothly. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $22.50.
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Ravenswood Pickberry Red Wine 2011, Sonoma Mountain. 13.8% alc. 750 cases. 66% merlot, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 9% malbec. Medium ruby color with a light magenta cast; a seamless and gratifying blend, ripe, spicy, floral and deeply fruity, all edged by graphite and dusty tannins and dense oak that emerges after an hour in the glass; elements of loam, briers and brambles bring in the earthy note. I didn’t find this as exciting as some of the other selections in this post, but it’s immensely enjoyable as well as revealing a serious character. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Villa Ragazzi has Napa Valley pedigree written all over it. Named for the Italian word for “ragamuffin” or “street urchin,” the winery boasts as owner and operator Michaela Rodeno, well-known in Napa as the person on the ground who helped launch Domaine Chandon and as the former 21-year CEO of St. Supery. Villa Ragazzi is a pet project for Rodeno and her husband Gregory, a lawyer who practices business, environmental and real estate law and manages the Villa Ragazzi vineyard. The enterprise is also a pet project in the sense that the Rodenos produce minute quantities of the mainly sangiovese-based wines they make. It’s a boot-straps concern fueled by mild (or major) obsession and a great deal of knowledge and experience. I love the labels, a giddy blend of the elegant and the carnivalesque.

I’ll come right out and say that my favorite of this trio was the Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese 2010, Napa Valley, which offers a medium ruby color and enticing aromas of black cherries and mulberries, cloves and dried rosemary (for a deft slightly piny resiny character), bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; hints of orange rind, sour cherry and black tea circulate in the depths, both in nose and on the palate. The wine is quite dry, nimbly textured and bright with acid, and its moderately dense tannins and subtle minerality do not detract a whit from juicy yet spare red and blue fruit flavors. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was all of 58 cases, so I feel rather guilty that we drank a whole sample-for-review bottle one night with Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma, with lots of eggplant, basil and tomatoes. Not much sangiovese is grown in Napa Valley, but this, from the Rodena Vineyard, is probably the best. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $36.

Unfortunately, I had reservations about the other wines of this small group, or let’s say that I was not as enamored of them as I was of the sangiovese. The Villa Ragazzi Faraona 2010, a blend of 75 percent sangiovese and 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, was pleasing enough, offering a medium ruby color, robust and spicy red currant, red cherry and plum scents and flavors and a full-bodied tannin-graphite structure — it could age a few years — but it seemed more typical of such blends rather an individual expression. 14.5 percent alcohol. 70 cases. Very Good+. About $48. As for the Villa Ragazzi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, a 100 percent varietal wine, I felt that whatever essential character it might have was smothered by wood. Remember, readers and winemakers, if a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. 14.6 percent alcohol. 37 cases. Not recommended except for those who value the influence of wood over everything. About $60.

The Artesa Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, hails from a winery founded in the late 1980s by the Raventos family, owners of the giant Codorniu sparkling wine producer in Spain. Originally, the winery turned out a range of sparkling wines, but by the late 1990s, the intention shifted to still wine, particularly chardonnay and pinot noir, yes, natural components in sparkling wine and Champagne, as well as cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The winery’s name was changed to Artesa — “handmade,” as in artisan; it has not abandoned bubbles entirely, offering a Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve sparkling wine. Director of winemaking at Artesa is Mark Beringer, whose pedigree includes being the great great grandson of Jacob Beringer, a founder of the venerable winery that bears his name, and a long, successful stint as winemaker at Duckhorn. The Artesa Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, aged nine months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new, and that seems just right to me. The color is brilliant ruby-magenta, neither too dark nor too light. Enticing aromas of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras, spiced and macerated black cherries and plums, and notes of leather, loam and graphite waft from the glass. The texture is both sinewy and satiny, with brisk acidity cutting a swath on the palate, highlighting ripe and slightly exotic-tasting black cherry, mulberry and plum flavors; oak offers a rounded, buffed shape to the wine, while staying discreetly in the background. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review. Image from vindulgeblog.com.

“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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If you’re hosting hordes of revelers tonight and wish for a tasty and inexpensive sparkling wine to lubricate the path toward “Auld Lang Syne,” you can’t go wrong with the Gran Sarao Cava Brut, a descending blend of 40 percent xarel-lo grapes, 30 percent macabeo, 20 percent parellada and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is medium gold, and the bubbles are finely threaded and active. Notes of green apple, lemon, lime peel and grapefruit are buoyed by delightful effervescence and crisp acidity, with an undertone of spiced and roasted lemon. It spends 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the lees, so it delivers a pleasing full-body for the price. Thoroughly charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. Look for prices from $10 to $16, and buy a case.

A Steve Miles Selection, Denver, Colo.
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From an estate founded in 1824 comes the Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes that offers a pale gold color and a steady, swirling array of tiny gleaming bubbles. I love this Cremant d’Alsace for its foxy muscat-like aromas of orange blossom, spiced pear, damp leaves and slightly over-ripe lychee; its — by contrast — steely backbone of scintillating limestone minerality and crisp, brisk acidity; its delectable spicy citrus flavors; and the lovely balance and integration of these elements. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wein-Bauer, Inc., Franklin Park, Ill. A sample for review.
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All right, let’s say that your New Year’s Eve gathering is more exclusive and intimate, perhaps a small dinner party. Try, in that case, one of my favorite sparkling wines — we’ve had it twice this year — the Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. From its shimmering pale gold color and constant confident upward flow of tiny bubbles, to its delicacy and elegance and, on the other hand, its authoritative expression of a grape — it’s 100 percent chardonnay — and a place, this sparkling wine exudes character and breeding. Meadowy aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle are entwined with notes of toasted hazelnuts, slightly roasted grapefruit, limestone and chalk; this is fresh, clean and ardently lively, but it gains body and power in the glass, adding a hint of caramel and toast, and it finishes with steely hauteur and touches of almond and grapefruit rind. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 883 cases. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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On the other hand, what if tonight’s celebration is just for two? Some caviar, a perfect little supper, a toast at midnight. Splurge on the Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, a world-class sparkling wine that’s a blend of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, originating in Napa County (52 percent) and Sonoma County (48 percent). The color is pale platinum blond, and the bubbles surge in a headstrong froth. This sparkling wine is fresh, clean, racy and nervy; you feel its dynamic energy in every sniff and sip. Notes of roasted lemon, quince and crystallized ginger overlay elements of biscuits, almond skin, lime peel and limestone; a lovely creamy texture is balanced by vibrant acidity and lambent minerality, while a few moments in the glass bring in touches of smoke, lilac and chalk. A splendid marriage of elegance and power and one of California’s great sparkling wines. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $100.

A sample for review.
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The point of wines from Nickel & Nickel is that they are all one-variety — the cabernet sauvignons are all cabernet, the merlots all merlot and so on — and that each bottling is from a single, designated vineyard. Most of the wines are produced in quantities of 1,200 to 1,800 cases, with a few dipping as low as a few hundred. The philosophy, of course, is that the individual vineyards, even when compared to vineyards in the same region or sub-region, will bring distinctive features to the wine, taking varietal character into account. I would say that generally the theory, the process work well and deliver wines that distinguish themselves on an individual scale while retaining the similarities inherent in single-variety wines. What’s interesting is that these selections from 2010 and 2009 — and typically for all cabernets from N&N whatever the year — were treated almost identically in the winery, particularly in the point of new oak, almost always kept to under 50 percent. (By the way, N&N produced 12 single-vineyard cabernets from the 2010 vintage.) Director of winemaking for Nickel & Nickel and sister wineries Far Niente, Dolce and Enroute is Dirk Hampson. Because this post is an entry in the “Weekend Wine Notes” series, technical, geographical, geological and historical data are kept to a minimum for the sake of quick, evocative notices. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Nickel & Nickel Hayne Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; mint, anise, violets, lavender, bitter chocolate; spiced and roasted black currants, blackberries and blueberries; very dry, tannic, austere, a real iron and granitic character; intense and concentrated through and through, tremendous weight and gravity. Try 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; graham flour, wheatmeal; cedar, tobacco and cloves; intense and concentrated black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and a note of pomegranate, all evolving to dark chocolate-covered black cherries; deep core of graphite and granite-like minerality, glinting and scintillating; dry, grainy tannins, long powerful and profound finish. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’28. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Impenetrable ruby-purple color; cedar, thyme, tobacco, caraway; spiced and macerated black fruit with a note of roasted fennel; the classic iron fist in a velvet glove syndrome; very dry, dusty, earth and loam; tannins both rigorous and plush; buttresses of oak, a foundation of graphite-like minerals and surging acidity; just a freaking huge wine in every respect. Maybe from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Very Good+ to Excellent potential. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vinetard Caberney Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby-purple color; cedar, mint, tobacco, dried thyme, black olive, with intense and vibrant notes of black currants, black raspberries and plums and a graphite-lavender-licorice,bitter chocolate overlay: feels like classic Oakville District cabernet; a wide range of dried spices almost exotic; but ultimately a large-framed, deep austere wine freighted with dry leathery foresty tannins and stout oak. Needs from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (298 cases) Very inky purple-violet color; a monumental and broadly dimensional wine but actually a tad more approachable — as one approaches an Eastern potentate, on bended knee — than its counterpart of 2009; again that classic Oakville dusty, cedary, tobacco aspect, wafting amid really intense and concentrated (yet sweetly ripe) black currant, blackberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of plum compote; wood smoke, licorice and lavender play off against this black fruit array, as well as fronting for a vast reserve of dense, chewy tannins, resonant acidity and a stalwart granitic mineral component; the oak emerges through the earth and mineral-packed finish. Another keeper, say 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $155 (a bottle).
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Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.8% alc. Deep ruby-mulberry color, opaque at the center; briers, brambles, beetroot, bitter chocolate; intense and concentrated black currants, raspberries and cherries permeated by graphite, fruitcake, rhubarb and cloves; dense, grainy, almost gritty tannins; tremendous vibrant acidity; notes of cedar, roasted fennel, packed with spice and earthy minerality; finishes with walnut shell and wheatmeal. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Hayne Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoky, fleshy, meaty, huge graphite element and leather-brier component; every element in the wine feels crushed, pulverized and indelibly sifted; bristles with ripe black fruit flavors but tannins are huge, impenetrable, and you feel the oak permeating every aspect; very earthy and loamy, with underbrush, mushrooms, moss and truffles; potpourri, bitter chocolate; finish is deep, complex and fairly austere. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Very dark ruby-purple; whoa, a huge, pungent, penetrating graphite element; spiced and macerated, black fruit compote, cinnamon and cloves, lavender, black licorice, violets; dense, intense and concentrated, squinching acidity and tannins (which are slightly woody and dusty); a wine with a sense of momentum and power, but some astringency on the finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’20. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Opaque inky-purple; a bit less dimensional, a little more straightforwardly typical and slightly monolithic compared to these other cabernet efforts from 2009; dry and austere, this is primarily about oak, tannin and granitic minerality; even eight hours later, having stuck the cork back in the bottle, the wine was beset by monumental tannins. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try, if you dare, from 2016 or ’17 through whatever. Very Good+. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. Very dark inky-purple with a deep mulberry rim; tremendous acid, tannin and mineral structure, rigorous, granitic; smoke, ash, leather, fruitcake; very dense and chewy; bare hints of macerated and roasted black fruit and lavender and a wave of bitter chocolate. Needs lots of quiet time, say 2016 or ’17 through the next eon. Very Good+ to Excellent potential. About $155.
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LL made pappardelle with chanterelles; I opened the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Ka-wham! Synergy. Meeting of true minds. Cosmic twins. Sublime dish with a divine wine. I could probably stop there, but you know I won’t. The wine is made from a high-elevation dry-farmed — that means no irrigation — vineyard planted 39 years ago. What’s remarkable is that the wines went through complete barrel-fermentation and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, yet it retains no sense of being woody or over-oaked or stridently spicy; those excellent mature grapes soaked up that oak and came out as a supple, subtly spicy and deeply nuanced chardonnay. The color is brilliant medium gold; aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and roasted lemon carry notes of jasmine and camellia, a hint of cloves, a bell-tone of mango. The wine is unusually dense and substantial without being heavy or viscous; it’s quite dry, almost tannic in effect, but it feels permeated with light and grace and elegance. a lithe and resonant construct of stones and bones, which is to say, abandoning metaphor, that it’s thoroughly enlivened by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Smith brothers do it again. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $30, a price more than fair for the quality.

This wine was a sample for review.

It’s true that Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I wanted to offer my notes — made in the kitchen, not at the table; that would be impolite — on the wines we imbibed during and after the great feast. I always offer a riesling, this year two, a zinfandel and a pinot noir, and I don’t usually deviate from the actual wines. Of course, Christmas is coming right up, and many households will mount the same or a similar meal, so these wines, or ones like them, would be equally appropriate. The idea, as you have doubtless read a thousand times in the past few weeks, is to serve wines that somehow encompass the range of Thanksgiving dinner’s complimentary and contradictory sweet and savory sensations. This trio has stood the test of the FK/LL groaning board for years, changing only vintages as time rolls along; the added riesling is one that I have tasted from several past vintages and never been disappointed. Unless indicated, these wines were purchased by me. Today’s reviews in Weekend Wine Notes are rather more full-bodied than usual. Enjoy!
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The additional wine this year was the Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, produced by brothers Charles and Stuart Smith, who share growing and winemaking duties. The color is a shimmery pale gold with fleeting green highlights; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon are infused with jasmine, lime peel and limestone. Flavors of roasted lemon, lychee and peach are fresh, ripe and lightly spiced, while crisp acidity and scintillating limestone and flint minerality lend the wine verve and excitement. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. This was a sample for review. Excellent. About $27.
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The Trefethen Dry Riesling, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, has appeared at our Thanksgiving dinner for years. I tend to like this riesling with a year or two of age — in 2011, we drank the ’08; in 2010, we drank the ’07 — to give it some golden burnish, and I mean that in terms of color but also metaphorically in a sense of sensual glow. The 2012 was what my local wine merchant had on the shelf, though, and he remembered that I like this wine at the present festive time of year. So, the color of the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2012 is very pale straw-gold; a bouquet of apple, pear and lychee wreathes notes of peach and honeysuckle and an intriguing hint of petrol or rubber eraser. In the mouth, flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear are pointed with ginger and quince and equipped with a spare elegant texture that features crackling acidity and high-toned chalk and flint qualities. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $23.
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In 2010, we drank the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, with Thanksgiving leftovers. This year was the turn of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009. The Yamhill Cuvée is the winery’s cadet pinot noir, made from estate vineyards but not as a single-vineyard or reserve wine. I first tasted the 2009 at a trade event in the middle of February this year; I bought a bottle last week, and it feels as if the wine — or at least this bottle — is reaching the peak of its development. The color is radiant medium ruby with a touch of garnet; notes of black cherries, plums and black currants are touched with elements of fruitcake, smoked game and loam. A few minutes in the glass bring out hints of melon and sour cherry that linger above a supple satiny texture buoyed by moderate tannins and slightly fading acidity. Quite delicious but not as fresh and vibrant as the example I tried nine months ago. Very Good+. About $45.

Image, much cropped, from sipswirlsavor.com.
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It’s not exactly cheating, but this year, instead of buying a bottle, as I usually do, of the Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys, a red blend that includes zinfandel, I substituted a 100 percent zinfandel wine, the Ridge Benito Dusi Ranch Zinfandel 2011, Paso Robles. This, I think, was the Wine of Night. Made from vines planted in 1923, and aged 12 months in a combination of one- to five-year-old American oak barrels, the Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2011 — the label, as you see, emphasizes the AVA rather than the single vineyard — offers a lovely dark ruby color with a lighter magenta rim; a bright and lively bouquet of raspberries, black currants and plums is highlighted by notes of red cherries, briers and brambles and a touch of black fruit compote. On the palate, the wine weaves smoke and leather and graphite with raspberry and black currant flavors wrapped around an intense core of violets, lavender and dried thyme, all supported by moderately dusty and chewy tannins and a fine line of crisply etched acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30 .
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Robert Turner is one of those people who qualify, as so many in California do, for the description “former [fill in the blank] turned winemaker,” in his case the long previous occupation being dentistry, with a practice in Palo Alto. He was in a wine club, got interested first in how wine was made and then in making wine, took courses at Davis, did some apprenticing and voila! he has a “winery,” in a rented space, where he produces tiny quantities of thoughtfully conceived and extremely well-made wines; ultimate goal is about 500 cases annually. A couple of days ago, at a local wholesaler’s trade tasting, I tried two vintages of his cabernet franc, the 2011 and 2010, and was more than intrigued by their quality; I was knocked out. The grapes derive from the Stoney Springs Vineyard in St. Helena. Robert Turner products are available at a handful of retail stores and restaurants in a handful of states. My recommendation is to go to the winery’s website — robertturnerwines.com — and order a few bottles directly. Here’s a link to my review on this blog of the Robert Turner Chardonnay 2011.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2011, Napa Valley, includes 10 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot. The wine aged for three or four months in new French oak barrels and then went into two- and three-year old French oak for a total of 12 months. The color is a strikingly vivid deep ruby-magenta hue; equally striking is the bouquet of pure and intense graphite and black raspberries, with notes of mulberries and red currants, violets and rose petals and a powerful undertone of tar and loam. The wine is very dry but vibrant with acidity, scintillating in its chiseled granitic minerality, spare and elegant in its moderately tannic structure yet offering deliciously ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was a minuscule 45 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet franc; it aged 16 months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Every element here resembles the aromatic, flavor and textural profiles of its younger sibling of 2011 except that this example includes hints of bell pepper and black olives, cedar and tobacco leaf and profound impressions of briers and brambles and underbrush amid very dry and slightly dusty graphite-freighted tannins. At almost three years old, the wine is stunning in its freshness and sense of immediacy and authority, though it carries that authority lightly, almost elegantly, though the finish. NA% alcohol. Production was 50 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $35.
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Anyone who keeps up with this blog — bless your bones and may your tribe increase! — will deduce that I receive a great deal of cabernet sauvignon wines from California as review samples. In fact, I would say, anecdotally, that I receive more samples of California’s premier wine that any other type or genre, hence the attention paid to such wines on these pages. The 12 examples under consideration today mainly, that is with one exception, do not fall into the over-ripe, over-oaked, high alcohol category that we frequently encounter, and that exception has to do with the oak influence. Primarily, these are well-balanced fruit-filled cabernets amply supported by essential tannins, acidity and mineral qualities to ensure liveliness and some measure of longevity. Several of them are among the best California cabernets I have tried in 2012. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I deliberately downplay details of history, geography, personality and technical matters in order to provide quick reviews designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review. Enjoy!

The image is of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Jordan Vineyards.
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Cimarone Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; nicely balanced, clean and fresh, tasty black and red fruit flavors; rather rigorous tannins, with classic touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal, but deftly integrated; hints of black olive, thyme, cedar and graphite; pleasing detail and dimension. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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Cimarone Le Clos Secret 2010, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petit verdot, 10% cabernet franc, 9% merlot, 5% malbec. 198 cases. Dark ruby shading to a slightly lighter ruby/mulberry hue; layered bouquet of walnut shell, graphite, cedar, thyme and rosemary; spiced and macerated aromas and flavors of red and black currants and cherries, ripe and slightly stewed; dense, intense, concentrated; exquisitely balanced but with a powerful structure and dynamic acidity for length and vitality. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Ferrari-Carano Trésor 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 6% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty walnut shell, fig and black olive, cedar and thyme; very intense and concentrated, tightly-wound; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; iron-sides clasped with graphite; vibrant acidity and resonant tannins; a little inchoate and chthonic presently, try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $52.
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Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 3% syrah, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; oak is the defining feature, the only one of these 12 wines to be so thoroughly imbued with wood; very dry, dense and chewy; walnut shell and wheatmeal, underbrush and forest floor; austere finish; for those who like their red wines to hit back. Not recommended. About $28.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby-mulberry color; the most highly structured Jordan cabernet I have encountered, fortunately stimulated by bright acidity and gorgeous black and red fruit; wheatmeal, walnut shell, graphite, cedar and rosemary; very pure, intense and high-toned, with penetrating granitic minerality; very dry but seductively flavorful; bolstered by dense, tense tannins. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $53.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. With dollops of merlot and petite sirah. Dark ruby color; black currants, plums, raspberries, undertones of smoky and macerated black cherries; very dry, dusty, minerally and tannic; full-bodied, with taut acidity, chewy and velvety texture; gets drier and dustier, with briers and branches, underbrush and loam qualities; finishes fairly austerely. Try 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 10% petite sirah. Intense dark ruby-magenta color; cool mint, iodine, iron and graphite; raspberries, black currants and plums, cedar and thyme; touch of spicy black cherry jam, earth and loam; rigorously structured, dense and chewy, with dust-permeated oak and tannins leading to austerity leavened by juicy black fruit flavors. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 7% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. Radiant medium ruby color; a typical, classic and gratifying blend of sensual appeal and structural precision; very ripe yet intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries, touches of cloves and sandalwood, cedar and tobacco, bare hints of black olives and rosemary (with the latter’s redolent and slightly resinous character); iodine and iron, licorice and bitter chocolate; dignified tannins with a display of hauteur and some asperity, yet a cabernet of great appeal and potential. Who needs a $500 cult cabernet when you can have this? Now (with a steak or braised lamb shanks) through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Annum 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 12% petit verdot. Intense dark ruby-purple color; whoa, just a huge wine in every respect, epitome of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove concept, and with an uncanny sense of alertness; very dense, very chewy but the highly polished oak and tannins are not only not punishing but balanced and integrated; graphite, cedar and tobacco; ripe, spicy, racy and slightly roasted black currants, black cherries and plums, every aspect permeated by granitic minerality. A benchmark Napa cabernet. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $95.
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Rodney Strong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby color, with a violet tinge at the rim; cool and clean, teeming with black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; freighted with powerful and dusty tannins, grainy and chewy, yet a supple, lithe cabernet; quite intense and concentrated, robust and dynamic; all wrapped around a penetrating core of licorice, lavender and bitter chocolate; long, dense but smooth finish. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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St. Supéry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% merlot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim, opaque at the center; wonderfully fresh, clean and intense; thyme and cedar; walnut shell, toast and tapenade; black currants and black raspberries, iron and iodine; dense, chewy, dusty, gritty yet pretty suave and supple, background, though, of gravel and tar; gets bigger, denser, deeper, more minerally and spicy; opens the box on black tea and bitter chocolate, fruitcake and sandalwood; leathery tannins, underbrush for the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. about $30.
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Stone Edge Farm Surround 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.4% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot. 692 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; intense and concentrated, graphite, lavender and licorice; piercing iodine and iron minerality, a smoke and charcoal edge; very dry, with velvety tannins that coat the palate, dusty graphite and granitic mineral elements; deep spice-drenched black fruit flavors, cedar, tobacco and black tea; long oak-and-tannin-permeated finish. Best from 2015 through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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