Napa Valley


Trying to be a good sport about this Merlot Month thing, so here’s a dependable example from PrintNapa Valley. The Flora Springs Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, derives from sustainable cultivated vineyards in Napa valley generally and from the St. Helena and Rutherford sub-AVAs. The wine aged 16 months in new and used French oak barrels. The color is a very dark ruby-purple that hews closely to the concept of ebony; those looking for a sensuous and seductive bouquet need look no farther than these aromas of rich and ripe black currants, cherries and plums infused with notes of cedar and mint, iodine and thyme, lavished with hints of licorice, lavender and violets and exotic woody spices. Lip-smacking acidity plows through the succulent black fruit flavors — abetted by a strain of blueberry — and long, lithe dusty tannins provide ballast and balance, all given freight by a load of penetrating graphite that gives the finish a slightly hard edge. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with steaks and chops, braised short ribs and veal or lamb shanks. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Here’s another selection for International Merlot Month. The Ca’ Momi Winery is owned by the cm_merlotfacelabel_black_lrsame people who own the Ca’ Momi restaurants in Napa Valley, so perhaps it’s fitting that this wine — the Ca’ Momi Merlot 2014, Napa Valley — is as wildly exuberant as Italian cuisine can be. I would be interested in knowing what the oak regimen for this wine was, but rarely have I visited a winery website so disinclined to reveal actual information about the winemaking process, even in its trade pages. Be that as it may, the wine displays a very dark ruby hue, even unto an opaque, almost black center. It’s a deep, dynamic merlot that offers scents and flavors of spice-infused black currants, cherries and plums — there’s a touch of fruitcake — with top-notes of blueberry and pomegranate. Dusty graphite comes into play and a strain of damp loam that opens to granitic tannins harboring vibrant acidity for liveliness on the palate. After 30 minutes or so, the black fruit unfurls elements of cedar and tobacco, dried rosemary and thyme, and the flavors feel somewhat macerated and roasted; the structure builds through a feral, iodine-and-mint and mineral-packed finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink this through 2019 to ’21 with steaks and chops, hearty pizza and pasta dishes or dry, mature cheeses. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

As far as white wines are concerned, Spring and Summer tend to be the domains of bright, light, delicate wines that go down easy as aperitifs while we’re sitting out on the porch or patio or lounging in a bosky dell on a frolicsome picnic. Nothing wrong with those scenarios at all. Now that the weather is in transition, however, when there’s a touch of chilly, rainy uncertainty in the air and our thoughts are sliding toward more substantial fare than cucumber and watercress sandwiches — no crusts, please! — the logical choice would be white wines with a bit more heft, flavor and savor. The 10 examples under review today provide those qualities in diverse ways, because they are, naturally, diverse wines. Grapes include sauvignon blanc, riesling, roussanne and marsanne, vermentino, verdicchio and trebbiano. Some of the wines saw no oak while others received extended barrel aging. Their points of origin range from various spots in Italy and several regions in California, from Alsace in France to Pfalz in Germany. Above all, and I cannot emphasize this note too strenuously, every one of these wines was a joy to drink, first because they are so different each to each, and second because in their eloquent variations they reflect integrity of intentions in the vineyard and the winery, an integrity dedicated to the expressiveness of a location and grape varieties. Each wine mentioned here made me feel as if I were sipping liquid gold.
Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review.
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The pale gold Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, performs that gratifying task of balancing the utmost in a delicate, elegant character with a vivacious, appealing personality. Aromas of pea shoot, heather, cucumber and lime peel are infused with damp limestone and flint, roasted lemon and lemon balm and a hint of raspberry leaf. The wine is bright and crisp, dense but paradoxically ethereal, and it opens to touches of almond skin and pear skin, waxy white flowers and a hint of the wildly exotic and tropical. All of these exuberant elements are handily restrained by brisk acidity and the mild spicy/woodsy aura of a touch of French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. A truly beautiful sauvignon blanc, made by Jennifer Williams, for consuming through 2018 or ’19. Exceptional. About $35.
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The color of the Domaine Barmès-Buecher “Hengst” Riesling Grand Cru 2012, Alsace, is a slightly brassy medium gold hue of intense purity; the bouquet unfurls multiple layers of nuance as Platonic ripeness invests aromas of peach and quince touched with hints of lychee, musk-melon and apricot nectar, yielding to apples, green tea and lemongrass and an intriguing, lingering note of petrol. The wine is moderately sweet at entry but segues to dryness as it flows across the palate, reaching a finish that feels profoundly minerally with elements of iodine-washed limestone and flint. Between those points, a lithe silky texture is emboldened by vibrant acidity, a strain of savory, woodsy spices and macerated stone-fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
Imported by Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J.
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Hungarians are justly proud of their indigenous grape, furmint. Tasting through a few furmintexamples recently, I was impressed by the grape’s versatility and its capacity for making wines that are seemingly light-filled and weightless in affect yet layered in complexity of detail and dimension. The Béres Tokaji Furmint 2014, Szaraz, displays a light golden-yellow hue and subtle aromas of ripe lemons, apples and pears; a few moments in the glass unveil notes of straw, heather, thyme and peach. A particular sense of balance between the sweet ripeness of the stone-fruit flavors and the dry, bright acid and mineral structure creates an immensely satisfying effect, the entire package driving leisurely to a limestone and flint-packed finish. 13 percent alcohol. The sort of wine that makes you happy to drink. Now through 2018 or ’19. Winemaker was János Jarecsni. Excellent. About $19, representing Good Value.
Imported by New Wines of Hungary,
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What a beauty this is! The Weingut Eugen Müller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett, forster2013, Pfalz, is a wild, meadowy, golden, sleek and crystalline riesling whose very pale straw hue almost shimmers in the glass; notes of peaches, lime peel and lychee feel a little slate-y and loamy, though there’s nothing earth-bound about the wine’s delicacy and elegance. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of green apples and cloves, while a sweet entry retains a modest claim of a fairly dry, limestone-etched finish. 9.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $19, a local purchase and Real Value.
A Terry Theise Estate Selection, Skurnik Wines, New York.
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gallica
Rosemary Cakebread made only 180 cases of her Gallica Albarino 2015, Calaveras County, so you should call the winery right now and try to reserve a few bottles. The grapes derive from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard, located at about 2,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Foothills; the wine — including a touch of muscat blanc — aged nine months in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels. A pale yellow-gold hue presages aromas of yellow plums and pears, figs, acacia and heather that evolve to a slightly leafy, grassy quality. What a joyful, lively, expressive personality this wine offers; the texture is supple, suave and elegant, all elements defined by balance and seamlessness yet edging to wild, spicy, savory qualities in the chiseled finish. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
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The Garofoli “Podium” 2013, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, podiumincorporates no oak in its making and is all the better for it. Produced in Italy’s Marche region by a family that has been making wine since 1871, this 100 percent verdicchio offers a pure medium gold hue and ravishing aromas of tangerine and peach, jasmine and almond skin and — how else to say it? — rain on Spring flowers, yes, it’s that incredibly fresh and appealing. It’s also, somewhat paradoxically, quite dry and spare though warm, spicy and a bit earthy, enlivened by keen acidity and a scintillating quality of limestone and flint minerality. Again, it’s a wine that feels very satisfying to drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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My reaction on seeing that this white wine aged 22 months in new French oak barriques was a big “Uh-oh.” I mean, friends, that’s a whole heap of new wood influence. However, in the trebbianoMasciarelli Marina Cveti? Trebbiano Riserva 2013, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, the eponymous winemaker manages to pull off a remarkable feat. The opening salvo is an attractive bright medium straw gold color; then come notes of candied tangerine and grapefruit peel, ginger and quince, cloves and a sort of light rain on dusty stones effect; after a few moments, the wine unfolds hints of lemon balm and roasted lemon, lilac and lavender. Yes, it’s pretty heady stuff. On the palate, this Trebbiano Riserva ’13 feels vital and vibrant, rich and succulent with spiced and slightly baked peach and apricot flavors, though its opulence is held in check by chiming acidity and a resonant chiseled limestone element. You feel the oak in the wine’s framework and foundation but as a supporting factor that lends shape and suppleness rather than as a dominant element. 14 percent alcohol. Quite an achievement for drinking through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $43.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass.
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E&J Gallo acquired distribution rights to the venerable family-operated Soave producer Pieropan in March 2015, adding it to Allegrini and Poggio al Tesoro in the company’s Luxury Wine Group. The Pieropan Soave Classico 2015 is a blend of 85 percent garganega grapes and 15 percent trebbiano di Soave, derived from certified organic vineyards. The wine saw no oak but fermented and matured in glass-line cement tanks. The color is pale yellow-gold; aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bright, clean and fresh and permeated by notes of almond blossom, acacia and grapefruit rind. The wine delivers amazing heft and presence for the price category, yet it remains deft and light on its feet; brilliant acidity keeps it lively on the palate, while a saline limestone quality lends depth and poignancy. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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Steve Hall made the Troon Vineyard Longue Carabine 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern troon-carabineOregon, by co-fermenting different lots of marsanne, viognier, vermentino and roussanne grapes, with slim dollops apparently (depending on what infomation you read) of sauvignon blanc and early muscat. The final proportions of the blend are 38.5 percent vermentino, 33 percent viognier, 27 marsanne and 1.5 roussanne; information as to oak aging, type of oak and length of time is not available. The wine is seriously complex and intriguing. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole effect is spare, high-toned and elegant, with hints of baked peaches and pears, hints of grapefruit, fennel and celery leaf, bee’s-wax, lanolin and flowering heather, all robed in a tremendous acid-and-mineral structure that creates a sense of vital dynamism. above depths of dusty, flinty loam. These elements take time to blossom, the wine being fairly reticent at first. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 163 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $34.
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The Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, offers a 2-shepspale straw-gold hue and beguiling, compelling aromas of jasmine and gardenia, peach and pear, bee’s-wax and lanolin over hints of lime peel and grapefruit pith; the wine sees only neutral French oak, a device that lends shape and suppleness to the structure without incurring undue wood influence. Riveting acidity and a remarkable shapeliness and heft in the texture give the wine tremendous personality and eloquence. Time in the glass bring in notes of heather and thyme, roasted lemon and sage, lemon balm and sour melon, all elements engaged in a remarkably poised feat of crystalline tension and resolution. 13.3 percent alcohol. Brilliant wine-making from William Allen. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 75 cases, so go online now. Exceptional. About $26.
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For some reason, October is International Merlot Month. No one asks me about these matters, but a whole month devoted to a grape variety seems excessive. Most grapes only get one day named in their honor, like National Alicante Bouschet Day or International Pinotage Day. Some marketing 2013-merlot-edit1people got together, however, and launched the concept, so I’ll play along to the extent of using some merlots as Wines of the Day this month. First is the Ehlers Estate Merlot 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley, a blend of 95 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc, derived from 100 percent certified organic vineyards. The color is opaque black-ruby breaking to a vivid violet rim. This wine exudes confidence and elan; it just smells wealthy. Aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums are permeated by a strain of intense graphite and lavender borne on penetrating granitic minerality. The wine is mouth-filling yet spare and sculpted; though its black fruit flavors are full-blown, ripe and spicy, the wine does not feel succulent or velvety, and in fact it rests on a foundation of dusty, almost shaggy (but not rustic) tannins and bright, vital acidity. It’s a fleet and darksome merlot whose elements of polished and finely sifted oak and deep, chiseled mineral qualities distinguish it for grip, elegance and style. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Drink now through 2020 to ’23 with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill; roasted venison with huckleberry (or some such) sauce; braised short ribs; you get the idea. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.

My Wine of the Day back on November 19, 2015, was the Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. That wine went on to be included in my list of “50 Great Wines of 2015.” Why would I montelena rieslingfeature, only nine months later, the version of this riesling from 2015? Because it illustrates how perfectly consistent and well-made the wine is; it certainly can claim its place among the best rieslings produced in California. The Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley, which aged six months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, exhibits a pale but radiant gold hue and immediately appealing notes of lemon balm, quince and ginger, with hints of lychee, peach and pear and an upper register of lilac and jasmine. On the palate, the wine is lively and vivid, offering an extraordinary texture and body like dusty graphite, talc and loam cut by riveting acidity and a bright limestone element. The balance here, the poise among all elements is exciting, racy, a little risky, yet it also delivers a pleasing and paradoxical softness, a cloud-like suspension of ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this bottle last night with dinner: swordfish marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, maresh and urfa peppers and smoked hot paprika; a mash of Yukon Gold potatoes and one sweet potato; and green peas cooked in riesling and mint, all pretty damned perfect. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Back in July, I used as a Wine of the Day the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, follow the link here for the review, a selection that could, of course, have fit right in with this group of eight sauvignon blanc wines, also from Napa valley. Based on these models and others I tasted over the past few years, I would say that the world-famous wine region should be as well-known for this white grape variety as for the red cabernet sauvignon, of which it happens to be a parent (along with cabernet franc). Today I offer brief reviews of six sauvignon blanc wines from 2015 and two from 2014. The ratings divide into one Exceptional, six Excellent and one Very Good+. Scoring aside, however, this was a satisfying and exciting group of wines to taste, and I encourage my readers to stock up on such wines or order them in restaurants. These reviews are quick and incisive, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and simply fleshed out to complete a full profile of each wine. Typically in the Weekend Wine Notes I eschew technical information, but for two of these selections I include a bit of data that I found interesting. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Acumen Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.45 alc. Very pale gold; leafy and grassy, celery seed and caraway; lime peel and grapefruit, with undercurrents of limestone and flint; a few minutes in the glass bring in intriguing notes of preserved lemon and lemon balm; a suave saugivnon blanc with plenty of verve and energy, a pleasing texture balanced between softness and crispness and a fluid spice-and-limestone infused finish. Super attractive. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale gold color; interesting regimen in the winery: 52% French mainly neutral oak barrels, 42% stainless steel tanks, and 6% concrete eggs, no malolactic fermentation; elegant yet assertive in character, with hints of lemon rind and curd, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger; undertones of sunny, leafy figs, heather and meadow flowers, and a bell-note of currant at the center; an absolutely lovely texture poised between a soft, slightly powdery effect and the propulsion of vivid acidity and flint-chalk minerality. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015, St. Helena, Napa Valley. NA% alc. Very very pale straw-gold hue; so attractive and appealing in body and presentation and feeling quite deliberately and thoughtfully wrought; roasted lemon and lemon balm, tangerine and honeydew, heather and flowery meadows; pert acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality lend an almost glittering quality to the palate; a soft, powdery texture that’s still lithe and supple; citrus and stone-fruit flavors — notes of grapefruit and peach, with a hint of greengage — are slightly leafy and grassy, all devolving to a delicate, elegant finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Very pale gold hue; the most tropical of this selection, with notes of mango and passion fruit and touches of lime peel, peach and nectarine; a sleek and lively sauvignon blanc that unfolds a soft sfumato effect heightened by a saline and savory character, poised over layers of limestone and chalk minerality. Starts simple and direct and builds to surprising complexity; the wine aged 9 months in a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks, French oak barrels and stainless steel drums. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Label date is one vintage behind.
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gamble
Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, nectarine, talc and lilac; hints of celery seed and fennel, lychee and almond skin; some moments in the glass bring in elements of roasted lemon, ginger and quince and penetrating notes of gunflint and graphite; lively and vital on the palate, with a lovely talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; stone-fruit flavors are slightly leafy, with a touch of fig in the background; a long, lithe, minerally finish. Really beautiful tone, presence and balance. Now through 2019 to 2020. Exceptional. About $25, a Bargain at the Price.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Pale gold color; generously woven notes of mango and pear, lilac and lemongrass, lemon balm and lemon curd, all wrapped around an intense core of leafiness and heather, fig and graphite; a whisper of oak adds hints of woodsy spice; very dry, with a fleet arrow of acidity and a scintillating limestone character; penetrating personality and august character in a perfectly balanced package. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $31.
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Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc
Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Pale gold hue; very pleasing effect of lime peel, grapefruit and gooseberry, fennel and celery seed, talc and jasmine and leafy fig; jazzy and snappy, the most New Zealandish of these sauvignon blancs, but more subdued than those models can be; very dry, clean and bright, lithe and fluent, and overall very appealing. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $22.
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Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold; subtle and nuanced, with hints of peach and mango, celery seed, lemongrass and spiced pear; a little airing unfurls notes of graphite and gunflint, lilac and celery leaf and a touch of ripe yellow plum; quite dry, sleek and polished, lithe and supple, animated by keen acidity and avid limestone minerality; lovely presence and weight. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Somerston
Made in stainless steel drums and tanks, fermented with natural yeast, the Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, allows the eloquence of the grape to express itself with clarity and elegance. The color is very light gold, almost colorless, but displaying an elusive shimmer of pale green; aromas of dusty lilac, pear and apricot are highlighted by notes of dried thyme and sage, heather and meadow flowers, while a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of woodsy spice and acacia. The wine is quite dry but juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors and enhanced by incisive acidity and scintillating limestone and flint-like minerality. Though it flows with surprising density on the palate, it remains lithe and lively and vibrant. 14.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Craig Becker. The wine is perfectly suited for drinking with grilled fish, seafood risottos, shrimp salad and the like, through 2018. Production was 1,643 cases. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Unlike designations for, say, Sonoma County or Mendocino County, the Napa County indication on a sterlingwine label is rare. That’s because the world-famous Napa Valley AVA and its sub-AVAs occupy most of Napa County, from top to bottom and side to side, except for Lake Berryessa and an area in the northeast, beyond the Chiles Valley sub-AVA. So the designation on the Sterling Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa County, probably involves a cross-county origin for the grapes, with Napa County providing the preponderance. This is a sauvignon blanc that offers terrific character and personality for the price. The color is very pale gold; aromas of tangerine, lime peel and pink grapefruit are permeated by notes of grass, hay and heather, wrapped in an intensity of talc, graphite and gunflint. Give this a few minutes, and it unfurls hints of pea-shoot and caraway, fig and sun-warmed leaves. A nicely powdery texture bathes the palate, as well as juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, but riveting acidity brings liveliness and crispness, while the finish dredges from a deep grounding in limestone minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 as a pert and sassy aperitif or with grilled fish or seafood, chicken salad or shrimp salad. Excellent. About $18.

A sample for review.

Cabernet sauvignon is the king of grapes in the Napa Valley, but let’s not neglect that other “sauvignon” known as sauvignon blanc. In fact, if it were not for the marriage, so to speak, of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc in the 18th Century, Bordeaux might be a series of wind-swept forests between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde River and Napa valley still the purview of 2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5walnut and plum orchards. Yes, world-class wines based on the cabernet sauvignon grape are endemic now to Napa Valley, but the region and its sub-AVAs also produce some of the world’s best sauvignon blanc wines. One of those is today’s featured wine, the Rombauer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a 100 percent varietal wine made 90 percent in stainless steel tanks, 10 percent in neutral French oak barrels, “neutral” meaning the barrels were used for so many vintages that their wood influence is almost subliminal, more in terms of gently shaping the wine’s texture and structure rather than asserting a definite woody-spicy-vanilla thumbprint. The color is very pale gold with a faint light green cast; pungent aromas of lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass and celery seed are highlighted by notes of jasmine, almond skin and tangerine, with a pert hint of flint and limestone in the background. On the palate, the wine is sleek, elegant and steely but not austere, and its soft talc-like sensation is animated by brisk acidity and a scintillating edge of limestone minerality. It’s quite dry but feels pleasantly ripe with lemon, nectarine and lime flavors that lead to a supple finish of heather and grapefruit; right at the slightly leafy and figgy core, there’s a pure singing drop of currant. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Director of viticulture and winemaking at Rombauer is Richie Allen. Excellent. About $24.

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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Galerie 2012 Pleinair Cabernet
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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