Napa Valley


Sometimes you encounter a wine that gets everything right, in terms of impression, quality and price. Such a wine is the Flora Springs Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley. The winery was founded in 1978 on the site of an abandoned 19th Century “ghost winery” by Jerry and Flora Komes, though the real work of establishing the facility and vineyards went to their children John Komes and his wife Carrie and Julie Garvey and her husband Pat Garvey; now the third generation is poised to take command. Winemaker is Paul Steinauer. The Flora Springs Chardonnay 2012 aged in a thoughtful regimen of 34 percent French oak barrels, 33 percent larger oak “ovals” and 33 percent stainless steel. The color is pale straw-gold; the wine is fresh and clean, floral in the jasmine-honeysuckle range with notes of cloves; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors are full-blown yet not over-ripe; everything is poised in a model of balance and elegance. A supple and moderately lush texture envelopes slightly candied citrus flavors — add a tinge of quince and ginger — with deeper layers of limestone and flint minerality and crystalline acidity; the finish brings in a note of earthiness. This is winemaking at its most shimmering and jewel-like, the result a chardonnay of exquisite purity and intensity. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or sauteed salmon or swordfish, with grilled shrimp, with tuna salad. Excellent. About $20, representing Terrific Value.

A sample for review.

At a time when most West Coast wineries have released their sauvignon blanc wines from 2012 and even in some cases 2013, it’s brave of Craig Camp, general manager of Napa Valley’s Cornerstone Cellars, to send not only review samples of the 2011, the winery’s current release, but the 2010 and ’09 as well. The implication is clear: These are meant as serious sauvignon blancs, 100 percent varietal, seasoned six months in mature French oak barrels and capable of aging as their counterparts in Bordeaux do, complex wines intended for, say, the richness of lobster, rather than the incisive brininess of oysters. The grapes derive from the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena, a fact that perhaps accounts for the remarkable consistency in the character and quality of the three wines. Winemaker for Cornerstone is Jeff Keene.
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The Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley, is a pale gold color and offers beguiling aromas of lemongrass, honeysuckle and cucumber, woven with white peach, ginger and quince, with notes of fig and spicy oak. The wine is very dry, packed with elements of limestone and flint, and it exudes an intriguing earthy, almost briery quality; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of mango, lychee and roasted lemon. Most impressive are the wine’s tremendous polish and presence, its vibrancy and energy, all wrapped in a texture that’s both irreproachably crisp and enticingly soft and palatable. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Production was 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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The Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, resembles its cousin from 2011 in its grapefruit-cucumber-lemongrass character, to which it adds notes of white pepper, sunny–dusty–leafy fig, lilac and licorice; a snap of black currant and vivid acidity animates the core. One feels the oak influence just a shade more in this 2010 than in the 2011, evinced in svelte suppleness and a dash more exotic woody spice. Again, though, the wine’s primary personality lies in its combination of substance and transparency, its heft and crystalline ethereal qualities. 13.9 percent alcohol; case production not available but certainly limited. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. Sold at the winery for $50.
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As with the 2011 and ’10, the Cornerstone cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley, offers a set of elements revolving around cucumber, lemongrass and grapefruit, lime peel, ginger and quince buoyed by powerful limestone and chalk elements. Perhaps the ’09 is a whisper less ripe and juicy, a hair more robust and structured than its stablemates, but at an age when many sauvignon blanc wines are lapsing into flatness and flaccidity, this one is wonderfully fresh and aromatic, vibrant and appealing. 13.9 percent alcohol; case production not available but certainly limited. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. Sold at the winery for $70.
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One truth that we hold self-evident is that wines made from the same grapes can be very different. The extreme example of this principle occurs in Burgundy, where producers who each own a few rows of vines in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards make wine that may be wholly divergent from the wine of their neighbors. On a broad geographical scale, we would not expect pinot noir made in, say, Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle-Musigny to resemble pinot noir emanating from the Santa Lucia Highlands or Anderson Valley. History, heritage, geology and philosophy all mitigate against such resemblance. Let’s turn, then, to cabernet sauvignon, where obviously the same principle applies. A cabernet-based wine from Pauillac or St.-Estephe in Bordeaux has no reason to be much like a cabernet-based wine from Howell Mountain or Paso Robles, even though the blend of grapes might be similar — or with those cabs produced in Howell Mountain and Paso Robles themselves — and yet we expect a core of cousinage born of the character of the dominant grape, some sign that the origin prevails.

Today, in line with those thoughts, I want to look at two cabernet sauvignon wines produced in Napa Valley, the Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and the Faust 2011. Last year, Forbes called Paul Hobbs “the Steve Jobs of winemaking,” and indeed Hobbs has a reputation for being meticulous, inventive and hardworking. He is winemaker for his eponymous winery as well as overseeing projects in Argentina and consulting in other countries. Hobbs favors emphatic wines that do not shy away from succulence while maintaining a firm hold on structure. Faust is a label from California veteran Agustin Huneeus and his son Agustin Francisco Huneeus, producers of the well-known Quintessa cabernet sauvignon. The Huneeus wines tend toward classic dignity and austerity whole maintaining, to continue the parallel, a firm hold on fruit. Let’s do a little comparison and contrast of these expressions of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and the vision of individual producers. Winemaker for Faust is Quintessa’s Charles Thomas.

These wines were samples for review. Image of cabernet sauvignon grapes in the Seven Oaks Vineyard at J. Lohr Winery from tripadvisor.com.

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The Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is a blend of 95 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes with three percent petit verdot and one percent each malbec and cabernet franc. The wine aged 20 months in French oak barrels, 65 percent new. This cabernet is immediately appealing, even gorgeous in the way that red wines made in Bordeaux tend not to be, but it is not elegant in the way that red wines made in Bordeaux often are. Vineyards that contributed grapes for Hobbs ’11 include Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, just outside the city of St. Helena, and Stagecoach Vineyard, stretching from Pritchard Hill to Atlas Peak at elevations varying from 1,200 to 1,750 feet.
The color is deep ruby-purple that’s almost opaque in the center. Aromas of blackberries and black currants are permeated with notes of lilac and lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate, all drenched in dried baking spices and dried fruit over a grounding of tar and graphite; as bouquets go, this one is spectacular. In the mouth, the wine is rich and plummy, close to jammy — there’s a hint of lingonberry — but it’s held in check by a powerful granitic mineral element joined to iodine and iron, supple dusty tannins and spanking acidity. For a frankly opulent and sensuous cabernet sauvignon, this one is impeccably balanced, and it drinks fine now, especially, perhaps, with a hot and crusty ribeye steak or leg or lamb right off the grill, or over the next 10 or 12 years. 14.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100.
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All right, notice this. As with the Paul Hobbs Cab ’11, the Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, contains three percent petit verdot and one percent each malbec and cabernet franc, though there the resemblance ends, because the balance of the Faust is 78 percent cabernet sauvignon and 17 percent merlot, the latter variety entirely absent from the Hobbs. Faust ’11 aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The preponderance of grapes for this wine derived from Coombsville, east of the city of Napa, declared an American Viticultural Area in 2011; the rest of the grapes came from vineyards as widespread (within Napa Valley) as Yountville, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak, St, Helena and Rutherford, which is to say, valley and mountains.
The color is deep ruby-purple with a magenta rim. If graphite and granite could be made into incense, this would be it, though with those aromas are woven notes of red and black cherries, black currants, cocoa powder and cloves. On the palate, Faust ’11 is dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, gritty mineral-laden tannins darkened by touches of slightly austere walnut shell and wheatmeal; structure is the raison d’etre, though depths of spicy black fruit flavors are not ignored. This strikes me as a cabernet not quite ready to drink, though even for all its emphasis on foundation and framing one feels its shapely aptitude and subtle elegance; try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Excellent. About $50.
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I am averse to making a limited edition product the Wine of the Week because it just ain’t fair to My Readers. On the other hand, the Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina 2013, Napa Valley, is that rare rosé of such character and quality that I don’t want you to miss it, though it must be marked Worth a Search. Made completely from syrah grapes given a long cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks and aged five months in neutral French oak, this wine is designated Napa Valley, but it’s made from dedicated grapes grown in the Crane Ranch Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District. The color is that true coral, what the French call “eye of the partridge,” and while I’ve never looked a partridge in the eye, I’ll take their word for it. Aromas of strawberries and peaches are highlighted by orange zest, a hint of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of flint; a few minutes in the glass unfurl a note of tobacco-leaf earthiness. The structure feels incisively chiseled from limestone, and there’s a deep cut of bright acidity under a texture lent suppleness and clove-like spice by the brief exposure to wood; all of this supports tasty and juicy yet spare strawberry and red currant flavors. Alcohol content is 13.1 percent. Winemaker was Jeff Keene. Production was 417 cases. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Before we get into the qualities that made me like the quite beautiful Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley — well, that sort of gives it away, doesn’t it? — let’s look at the interesting technical data, because for a wine that radiates purity and intensity of varietal purpose, it took considerable thought to make it that way. Cade Estate Winery was founded on Howell Mountain in 2005 by partners Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty — names with which to conjure, fiduciary-wise — and general manager John Conover. The most visible of the trio is Newsom, who was elected mayor of San Francisco in 2003 and 2007 and lieutenant governor of California in 2010 and whose business successes make me think that I just got off to the wrong start in life. First came the PlumpJack wine store in 1992, followed by PlumbJack Winery in Napa Valley and then a host of cafes, restaurants, resorts and retail outlets. Sheesh. And the guy is good-looking too.

Let’s turn, however, to Cade winemaker Danielle Cyrot, whose work I much admired when she was at St. Clement, and the regimen for this sauvignon blanc. In terms of grape origin, 39 percent of the grapes for this wine derived from Cade’s vineyard in Oakville; the rest came from growers in Oak Knoll, St. Helena, Calistoga and the Napa Valley AVA. Fermentation occurred in a combination of stainless steel tanks (71 percent), stainless steel drums (11 percent), French oak barrels (61. percent new and 11.8 percent used) and the remaining .1 percent in concrete eggs. That is, I will say, the most complicated fermentation process I have ever heard of. Oh, wait, of the portion that fermented in barrels, 80 percent of that was inoculated with yeast and 20 percent fermented on naturally-occurring yeasts. No malolactic (or secondary) fermentation occurred, leaving the wine with crisp acidity. The wine aged in tanks and barrels for five months. There’s a bit of a blend: 2.5 percent each semillon and viognier.

Did it actually require that much calibration to creative this wholly attractive sauvignon blanc? Whatever the case, this is a damned fine wine. The color is pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; fresh, enticing yet spare aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, pert gooseberry and earthy celery seed, peaches, tangerines and notes of lilac and lemon balm characterize the bouquet. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc elegantly balances vibrant, finely honed acidity with cloud-like lushness and a scintillating crystalline limestone element, all supporting citrus flavors etched with a slight sunny, leafy, herbal quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. We drank the Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013 one night with chicken breasts first seared and then poached in white wine and the next night with a roasted tuna Nicoise. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $28, the upper limit of what I would recommend in these Wine of the Week posts.

A sample for review. The label image on the winery website has not caught up with the change to the 2013 vintage of this wine.

The immediately appealing factor about the Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is that it bears no burden of exaggeration. Made completely in stainless steel and seemingly equal parts savory, saline and spicy, this pale-gold wine offers notable balance and integration of all elements. Don’t mistake it, though, for being mild-mannered or wimpy; plenty of crisp acidity and citrus fruit keeps this wine refreshing, lively and energetic. Hints of lemongrass, cloves, lime peel, quince and ginger permeate a background of roasted lemon and tangerine; crystalline limestone minerality lends shimmer and litheness to the structure, which supports bracing lemon and peach flavors that open to an intriguing edge of sunny leafiness and a ping of currant. The finish brings in more spice and a faint line of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. The Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 will be terrific this Summer as aperitif or with grilled shrimp, chicken salad, cold fried chicken, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts sliced off, please) and other patio and picnic fare. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery is now operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family, brothers Ryan and Miles MacDonnell. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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Building on last week’s Weekend Wines Notes devoted to cabernet sauvignon or cabernet-based wines from California, here are 10 more. Several are absolutely splendid, several more are well-made and enjoyable, a couple I do not wholeheartedly recommend and there are a couple of disappointments, but I’ll get over it. That’s the breaks in BTYH Land. These are brief reviews, ripped, as it were, from the cramped and crabbed penmanship of my notebooks, not intended to go into complete technical, historical or geographical detail but to pique your interest and, where appropriate, whet your palate. These were samples for review, and in the case of a few of them, I’m damned lucky that they were. Enjoy!
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.9% alc. 1,475 cases. With 7% petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim; pure iodine and iron, sanguine and savory; unfolding layers of licorice and lavender, cassis, black cherries and raspberries, cloves and sandalwood; a paradoxical marriage of remarkable intensity and concentration with generosity and expressiveness; smoke, graphite minerality; acidity plows a furrow through bastions of sleek dense tannins; brings up notes of bitter chocolate, loam and shale; a long finish packed with spice and fruit compote; pinpoint balance and integration. Now through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $70.
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Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) 76.2% cabernet sauvignon, 14.8% merlot, 4.9% malbec, 2.8% petit verdot, 1.3% cabernet franc. Lovely transparent ruby color; bouquet of graphite, lavender and violets, black currants and red cherries, hints of cedar, black olive and plum; mild tannins but very dry, bitter chocolate and exotic spice at the core, fairly austere finish, ending on a woody note; not badly-made but not compelling. Now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $35.
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Beaulieu Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% petit verdot, 3% merlot. Dark ruby purple color; a cool and confident cabernet, very well-balanced and harmonious, every element under control; needs a bit of wildness and recklessness to be really interesting, something to ruffle the feathers and wake it up. Now through 2018 to ’20 Very Good+. About $32.
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Flora Spring Trilogy 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 10% each merlot and petit verdot, 5% malbec. Dark ruby color; very intense and concentrated, very dry, highly structured, defined by stalwart grainy tannins and lots of dusty oak; the finish is austere, densely packed with wood and graphite elements; doubtless a well-made wine but so typically Napa Valley that you want to give it a shake. Try from 2016 through 2025. Very Good+. About $75.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. With 2% petit verdot. The signature on the label is that of winemaker Gina Gallo. Deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; ripe, fleshy, pungent; cassis and plums, notes of black raspberry, lively with cloves and allspice, lots of graphite minerality; pinpoint tannins and acidity bolster moderately dense and pliable tannins; really lovely depth and breadth; gratifying personality and character. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Halter Ranch ancestor Estate reserve 2010, Paso Robles. 15.5% alc. 900 cases. 39% cabernet sauvignon, 35% petit verdot, 26% malbec. I’m generally a fan of Halter Ranch’s products, but this wine is a disappointment. Dark ruby tinged with magenta; very intense, very concentrated, quite powerful; needs a moderating component and some coherence; lots of toasty oak, slightly over-ripe black and blue fruit flavors and sweet with alcohol; not much pleasure here, perhaps a few years aging will bring out the nuances. Very Good. About $50.
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Hooker Rugby Club “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. (Lawler Family Winery) 15.4% alc. 203 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; a real mouthful of lavender and violets, graphite, smoke and bitter chocolate; black currants, raspberries and plums with a touch of blueberry; quite rich, robust and plush, and you feel the oak too much from mid-palate through the finish, with that almost gritty charcoal-like edge; the 15.4% alcohol creates some heat on the finish too. If that’s yer cuppa tea, go ahead. About $32.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% malbec. (From the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard, the sparkling wine producers.) Profound in every sense. Deepest of ruby-purple hues with a violet rim; earth, loam, black tea, cocoa powder; intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; penetrating graphite and granitic minerality; rich, expansive, enveloping yet shapely and supple, a monument with elegantly rounded edges chiseled by keen acidity; dusty, rock-ribbed tannins that manage to provide foundation and framework without being ponderous or austere. A real beauty. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
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Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 14.1% alc. 100% cabernet. 189 six-pack cases. Dark ruby color but not opaque or extracted; spiced and macerated black currants and plums; graphite, leather, loam; lavender and licorice, oolong tea and sandalwood; dense and almost chewy, solidly built, spicy oak in the background, yet not heavy or obvious; notes of winsome wildness, mint, black pepper, rose petal; long steady finish. Both profound and delightful. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $65.
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Steven Kent Winery Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet. 143 six-pack cases. Definitely darker ruby (than the preceding SKW cabernet) with a mulberry edge; piercing minerality of graphite and ferrous elements; firm, powerful, lithe and muscular; tremendous presence and vivacity; black currants and plums, bitter chocolate, cedar, black olive and dried thyme; ascendent oak spreads its dusty influence, grainy tannins penetrate deep; a finish densely packed, sleek and supple. Try from 2016 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $65.
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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.

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