Napa Valley


Napa Valley is best known for its wines based on the cabernet sauvignon grape, exceeded in reputation only, if not actually, by Bordeaux. The merlot grape often lives in the shadow of cabernet sauvignon, used to add “flesh and roundness,” as Michael Broadbent says, to cabernet wines. Merlot, however, can make superb wine on its own or when used in the majority, as is demonstrated by the red wines of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, especially in the commune of Pomerol. Whether in recognition of that cousinage or because American consumers learned how to pronounce “mair-low” back in the 1990s, producers in Napa Valley cannot resist making merlot wines that may attain a competitive level. Here are six. These wines were samples for review.
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cornerstone merlot
The Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Station Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, represents one thrust in a focus on specific-site wines for Cornerstone Cellars. (Regrettably, I have no information about oak aging or other technical matters.) The color is a deep and concentrated ruby hue. Boy, you could eat this bouquet with a spoon; layers of ripe, fleshy black currants, raspberries and plums are infused with graphite, lavender and violets and notes of cassis, cedar and rosemary. The wine displays a lovely taut surface supported by dense, velvety tannins, supplemented, after a few minutes pass, by dusty, granitic minerality, underbrush and a root-like tea effect; bright acidity keeps the whole package lively and engaging, despite its sizable nature. Though the wine finishes with a touch of austerity, the fruit is gorgeous from beginning to end. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Keene, no longer with the winery. Production was 97 cases. Drink through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $75.
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The Flora Springs Merlot 2013, Napa Valley, contains 4 percent malbec in an otherwise pristine field of merlot. Most flora merlotof the fruit came from those districts that we think of as the heart of Napa Valley — 75 percent Rutherford, 9 percent Oakville — with 16 percent hailing from isolated Pope Valley — population 583 — east of Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley. The wine aged 15 months in 80 percent French and 20 percent American oak barrels, a combination of new and old. If opaque ruby-purple qualifies as a color, the definition is in this glass. It’s a very dark, rooty, spicy merlot, intense and concentrated yet animated and appealing. Spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors are permeated by notes of smoke and tar, cedar and rosemary, black licorice and oolong tea; the character here is dusty and dusky, pierced by graphite-flecked tannins and keen acidity. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. Drink now through 2020 through 2023. Excellent. About $30.
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The 100 percent varietal Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2011, Napa Valley, embraces the palate with ripe, spicy, smoky grgich merlotblack cherry, raspberry and mulberry fruit, but despite its richness, depth and density, the wine doesn’t feel opulent or overbearing. The grapes fermented with indigenous yeast; the wine aged 18 months in a combination of large and small French oak barrels, 30 percent new. It’s actually a fairly austere merlot, at least from mid-palate back through the finish, bursting with earthy notes of briers, loam, underbrush and dried porcini and bolstered by velvety, graphite-flecked tannins. The texture is taut, supple and lithe, and it flexes itself accordingly. A perfectly sensible 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Ivo Jeramaz. Drink through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $42.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
I try to maintain that essential sense of critical distance and discretion whatever wine I’m writing about, but then along comes a wine like the Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, and I feel myself giving in to paean and panegyric. This is a blend of 91 percent merlot, 7 percent petit verdot and 2 percent cabernet sauvignon. The grapes underwent native fermentation, and the wine aged 18 months in heavy-toast French oak, 75 percent new barrels. Friends, that’s a lot of oak, but the wine feels sleek, supple and effortless; there’s no sense of being oaky or over-played. This is a wine of unimpeachable character and presence, and you discern its confidence, depth and dimension with every sniff and sip. The color is dark to medium ruby; piercing aromas of black currants, blueberries and plums feel ripe, macerated and slightly roasted, while every molecule of the wine exudes lithic qualities of graphite and granite, iodine and iron. Rare is the wine that feels so deeply rooted in the bedrock of the vineyard. Mouth-filling? Ho-ho! Full-bodied? Are you kidding? This is a wine that caresses the palate with lithe and muscular attention even while it avoids any element of opulence or succulence; balance is all, from the purity and intensity of its start to its spice-and-mineral-packed finish. 15.2 percent alcohol. Yep, that’s high, but you feel no alcoholic heat or sweetness. Winemaker was Kale Anderson. Drink now through 2022 to 2025. Exceptional. About $85.
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The Rutherford Hill Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, begins with an entrancing dark ruby hue with a hint of magenta at the hillrim. The wine is a blend of 76 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent syran and 1 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot; it aged 15 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, a process that lent the wine shape and suppleness. Black currants and raspberry scents are ripe and fleshy, and they offer notes of blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and graphite, with a tantalizing hint of violets. This is an open-knit and juicy merlot that stops short of being lush because of its underlying granitic rigor and dusty tannic structure; it fills the mouth with luscious fresh and dried black fruit flavors, tempered by elements of iodine and iron, giving the wine a ferrous and sanguinary effect. Above all, it offers terrific balance and personality. 13.9 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Marisa Taylor. Drink now through 2019 to 2021. Excellent. About $28.
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swanson merlot
The sleek and chiseled Swanson Merlot 2011, Napa Valley, is a wine that exhibits edges and glances, as in a bright edge of iodine and mint, a deft glance at smoke, cloves and allspice. It’s not quite 100 percent merlot; there’s a bit of cabernet franc from Rutherford and Yountville and a dollop of petit verdot from Oak Knoll, south of Yountville. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of black currants, black cherries and plums are rooty and briery, opening to hints of ancho chile and bitter chocolate, and those other edgy, glanced at attributes. It’s a robust, vibrant merlot, with a panoply of dusty, bristly tannins, polished oak elements and clean acidity for structure and presence, though these qualities do not detract from an elegant, nuanced finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 to 2021. Winemaker was Chris Phelps, no longer at the winery. Excellent. About $38.
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Do I have to defend the right or necessity to drink rosé wines all year around? Do I have to man the barricades, go to the wall, belly up to the bar to convince nay-sayers that a shimmering, scintillating, beautiful rosé wine — dry, vibrant, fruity, subtle: not sweet — is appropriate in every month and season? If I have to do that, then my case may be hopeless, as far as the die-hard opposition goes, but those who have followed this blog for a considerable period will require no further persuasion, gentle or not. A clean dry rosé may serve as a refreshing aperitif in December as well as June, and few wines go better with fried chicken, for example, or various terrines or the egg-based dishes that front the sideboard for big family breakfasts during the upcoming holidays. Thanksgiving dinner itself is a good test for rosé wines. No, friends, do not neglect the rosé genre, from which I offer 10 models today. The Weekend Wine Notes eschew detailed technical, historical and geographical data (which we all adore) for the sake of incisive reviews ripped, almost, from the very pages of my notebooks, though arranged in more shapely fashion. These eclectic wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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billa haut
Bila-Haut Rosé 2014, Pays d’Oc (from M. Chapoutier). NA% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Pale copper-salmon hue; orange zest, strawberries and raspberries; a pleasing heft of limestone minerality with cutting acidity; juicy and thirst-quenching, but dry as sun-baked stones; a finish delicately etched with chalk and dried thyme. Very Good+. About $14.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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blair rose
Blair Vineyards Delfina’s Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco. 13.3% alc. 117 cases. Bright peach-copper color; ripe strawberries macerated with cloves, raspberries, hints of tomato skin and pomegranate; paradoxically and deftly fleshy and juicy while being quite crisp and dry and tightly tuned with limestone and flint. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $22.
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14_VinGris_Domestic_750
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014, Central Coast. 13% alc. 35% grenache, 18% mourvedre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsault, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise. Very pale onion skin hue with a topaz glow; quite delicate, almost fragile; dried strawberries and raspberries with a touch of peach and hints of lavender and orange rind; gently dusty and minerally, like rain-water drying on a warm stone; a note of sage in the finish. Elegantly ravishing. Excellent. About $18.
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bridge lane
Bridge Lane Rosé 2014, New York State (from Lieb Cellars). 11.9% alc. Cabernet franc 63%, merlot 21%, pinot blanc 8%, riesling 5%, gewurztraminer 3%. Ethereal pale peach-copper color; delicate notes of peach, strawberry and raspberry with a touch of watermelon and spiced pear; a hint of minerality subtle as a river-stone polished with talc; incisive acidity for liveliness; develops more floral elements as the moments pass: lavender, rose petal, violets, all beautifully knit. Excellent. About $18.
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heintz rose
Charles Heintz Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Beautiful salmon scale-light copper hue; blood orange, tomato skin, strawberries and raspberries, hints of violets and lilac, a note of cloves and damp limestone; red fruit on the palate with an undertone of peach; quite dry and crisp, lithe on the palate, but with appealing red fruit character and an element of stone-fruit and chalk-flint minerality. A gorgeous rosé. Excellent. About $19.
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cornerstone corallina
Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2014, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. 100% syrah. Very pretty pink coral color; strawberries and raspberries, hint of pomegranate and a fascinating note of spiced tea and apple peel compote; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tomato aspic and red currants; full-bodied for a rose, with a texture that would be almost lush save for the bristling acidity that keeps the whole package energized. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
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Crossbarn Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast (from Paul Hobbs). 12.5% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; intriguing musky-spicy note, crossbarn roselike rose hips, camellias, pomegranate, cloves and sandalwood macerated together; strawberries and orange rind; hints of pink grapefruit and peach; lively and crisp, with a chalk and flint edge to the supple texture; gains a fleshy and florid character on the finish. Very Good+. About $18
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loomis air
Loomis Family “Air” Rosé Wine 2013, Napa Valley. 12% alc. 41% grenache 36% mourvedre 13% counoise 10% syrah. 125 cases. Light copper-salmon hue; dried strawberries and raspberries, notes of lavender and red cherry; hints of watermelon and cloves; incisive acidity and limestone minerality bolster juicy red fruit flavors and an elegant and supple texture that retains a crisp chiseled character; a fillip of grapefruit rind and lemongrass provide interest on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
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cipressato
Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato 2014, Toscano IGT. 11% alc. Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah. (An Antinori brand since 1946.) Light pink-peach color; delicately floral and spicy, notes of raspberries and red currants and a hint of dried thyme and heather; clean acidity and limestone minerality offer gentle ballast for tasty but spare red fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $14.
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stinson rose
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2014, Monticello, Va. 13% alc. 100% mouvèdre. 175 cases. Classic onion skin hue with a tinge of darker copper; pink grapefruit, rose petals, cloves; raspberries and strawberries delicately strung on a line of limestone minerality and bright acidity; from mid-palate back notes of cranberry, pomegranate and grapefruit rind leading to a tart finish; lovely balance and integrity. Excellent. About $19.
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Fire up the grill! Here is a cabernet-based wine perfectly tuned to the broad strokes and the nuances induced by the kiss of flames upon beef, lamb, veal and pork. The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is the product of one of those vintages that winemakers refer to with sighs of relief and giddy smiles. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot and 3.5 percent each petit verdot and cabernet franc that never sees a smidgeon of artificial herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers and is fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine spent 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is deep ruby from opaque center almost to the rim, where it shades delicately into a violet-magenta hue; to touches of cedar and rosemary, cloves and allspice, ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and plums, the wine adds grace-notes of black olive and bell pepper, creating a beautifully complicated bouquet that picks up on the slightly resiny woodiness of rosemary and the exotic slightly astringent woodiness of allspice; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of lavender and licorice and a teasing wisp of roasted fennel. On the palate, this cabernet delivers weight and substance without being ponderous or overstated; while sustained by large dimensions of graphite and granitic minerality and deep but soft and finely sifted tannins, it embodies the vivid acidity to keep it engaging and animated and the gorgeous black fruit flavors — now feeling spiced and macerated — to make it eminently attractive. Still, this is a wine that focuses a good deal of attention on structure, and the finish, from mid-palate back, shifts toward a bastion of austerity and aloofness. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try tonight with something grilled or from 2017 or ’18 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

I don’t cotton to wines with fanciful names, but I’ll admit that after a few moments in the glass the Loomis Family Ember Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley, seethed like a seductive glowing coal of smoldering lavender, licorice and graphite. The wine is a blend of 49 percent syrah grapes, 22 percent grenache and 7 percent mourvèdre, grapes associated, of course, with France’s Rhône Valley, and it aged 20 in French oak barrels. Winemaker is Timothy Milos. The color is dark ruby with a hint of magenta at the rim; aromas of ripe and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums open to elements of briers, brambles and underbrush for a fairly rigorous foundation, leading to a gradually burgeoning structure of chiseled granitic minerality, taut dusty tannins and lip-smacking acidity. There’s a tinge of red to the succulent and spicy black fruit flavors, but despite the frank deliciousness, the wine is quite dry. Give it a chance, and it develops an intriguing earthy, funky edge from mid-palate back, driving an exotic finish that’s packed with cloves and sandalwood, loam and leather. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 75 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review, a bit of information I am required to provide according to ruling by the Federal Trade Commission. This dictate applies only to bloggers; print journalists are not so required.

Oh, what the hell, let’s have a bottle of sparkling wine! Surely you can come up with something to celebrate. Or not. I would just as soon drink Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine for any purpose, any whim, any occasion, even if it’s merely standing around the kitchen preparing dinner. For our category of sparkling wine today, then, I choose the Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, a non-vintage blend of primarily chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes with a dollop of pinot noir, the sources being the Carneros regions in Sonoma County (58 percent) and Napa County (42 percent). The wine rested sur lie — on the residue of dead yeast cells — five years in the bottle after the second fermentation that produces the essential effervescence. The color is an entrancing medium copper-salmon hue riven by an upward-surging torrent of glinting silver bubbles. Notes of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry unfold to hints of lime peel, quince and ginger, with, always in the background, touches of limestone, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and orange marmalade; think of the tension and balance between the subtle sweet fruitiness and bitterness of the latter. On the palate, this sparkling wine works with delicacy and elegance to plow a furrow of juicy red berry and citrus flavors — with a bit of pomegranate — into a foundation of slate and limestone minerality and lively acidity for a crisp, dynamic texture and long spicy finish. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

High altitude cabernet sauvignon from Mendoza yesterday; high altitude zinfandel from Howell Mountain today — yes, ma’am and sir, the Wine of the Day requires Seven-League Boots, a vast imagination and flexible taste-buds. The zin in question is the Elyse Winery Zinfandel 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, a blend of 89 percent zinfandel grapes and 11 percent petite sirah, the zinfandel derived from Howell Mountain’s well-known dry-farmed, sustainably-operated Black Sears Vineyard, which rises to 2400-feet elevation. Ray Coursen is the owner and winemaker of Elyse. The wine aged 10 and a half months in American oak barrels, 25 percent new. The color is dark ruby-purple, and the bouquet, which I thought at first was too earthy, smoothed out admirably into an exemplar of the grape’s classic aspects of blackberry and loganberry with undertones of black currants and plums etched with notes of graphite, lavender and wood smoke, all borne on a foundation of loam, iodine and iron. Many of these characteristics segue faultlessly onto the palate, where the wine’s scintillating purity and intensity resonate with a feeling that combines energy with a brooding nature. Here, this zinfandel turns knotty, briery and brambly, adding to its ripe and spicy black fruit flavors long-drawn out touches of brandied raisins, black pepper, bitter chocolate and dusty tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 864 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20 with steak, venison, boar and similar hearty and big-hearted fare. Excellent. About $37.

A sample for review.

Let’s be honest. Rosé wines should not be too serious, thought-provoking or complicated. Their raison d’etre is delight and evanescence, the way that a quick cooling breeze brings delight and relief on a hot afternoon. On the other hand, occasionally I taste — or greedily consume — a rosé of such startling freshness, such intense loveliness and layered pleasure that it transcends mere prettiness and joy and attains a level of perfection and provocation, as a scent-laden gloaming works upon our senses, memories and imaginations. Such a one is the Ehlers “Sylviane” Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, from the St. Helena AVA of the Napa Valley. This is, frankly, about the most beautiful rose I have encountered in my life of writing about wine. The estate is run on biodynamic principles and is certified organic; the grapes derive from portions of the vineyard dedicated to making rosé, so this one is not an afterthought. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is a radiant light fuchsia-sunset hue; aromas of raspberries and watermelon are woven with rose petal and woodsy notes, with touches of flint, dried thyme and balsam. A few moments in the glass bring up hints of strawberries and a sort of Necco wafer dustiness. The wine slides across the palate in a lively (but not crisp), sleek, lithe flow that propels flavors of wild berry compote and citrus rind through to a delicate, elegant finish. More time, more sniffing and swirling encourage the unfurling of an extraordinary core of lilac, talcum powder and Evening in Paris perfume; it’s hypnotic and tantalizing. 12.9 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2016. We had this last night with a Spanish omelet with potatoes, sausage and parsley. Exceptional. About $28.

A sample for review.

By “all over the map,” I don’t mean that every sub-AVA of the Napa Valley is represented in this post, seventh in a series. True, Mount Veeder is here and Howell Mountain and Rutherford, but what I actually refer to is the technical and stylistic map upon which these examples of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon play their part. Seven of these wines are from 2012, one each from 2011 and 2010. The alcohol levels range from a mild 14.2 percent to a soaring and unmanageable 15.7. The use of oak barrels for aging varies enormously. The intention of the wines feels vastly different, with some wineries going whole-hog for the opulent and super-ripe, others tracking more toward the structured and elegant. In this panoply of approaches, do we discern a Napa Valley style? It’s difficult to say. To my mind — and my palate — the Sequoia Grove, Robert Mondavi and S.R. Tonella 2012s and the Napa Vintage 2011 adhere to a kind of general Napa-ness in their balance of fruit, tannin, acidity and mineral qualities and their pleasing herbal qualities, texture and depth. The other five feel more anomalous, marred by high alcohol or strenuous deployment of oak barrels. Of course no one would want Napa Valley to be homogenous nor its many wineries to operate on identical practices. We celebrate the place and the individuality together. These wines were samples for review.

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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. There really are towering sequoias — I guess that’s redundant — at Sequoia Grove Winery; one feels rather dwarfish in their company. The winery, founded in 1979, occupies salubrious geography in the Rutherford appellation, in the heart of Napa Valley. President and director of winemaking Mike Trujillo has been at Sequoia Grove since the early 1980s, was appointed assistant winemaker in 1998 and in 2001 took the position he has now. Winemaker is Molly Hill. The winery is owned by its national distributor, Kobrand Corp. Sequoia Grove, while making a variety of wines, focuses on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and it’s to the latter that we turn today.

The blend for the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec, meaning that it employs, even if only in dollops, all five of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine aged 20 months in barrels, 60 percent French oak, 40 percent American oak. The color is opaque ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; the aroma profile begins with dusty leather and graphite and unfolds notes of ripe black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry, all permeated by cloves and allspice and a background of walnut shell and wheatmeal; top-notes are wild and slightly exotic. This is a dense, chewy and dry cabernet that coats the palate with dusty, velvety tannins; it’s loamy and rooty, a bit granitic, and yet bright acidity keeps it lively and boldly ripe and slightly fleshy and roasted black and blue fruit flavors make it delicious. Still, it could use a year or two to meld. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’24. Beautifully crafted and balanced. Excellent. About $38.
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Flora Springs Winery and Vineyard Trilogy 2012, Napa Valley. Trilogy is the flagship wine for Flora Springs. 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. I generally enjoy the wine of Flora Springs and last year made the Chardonnay 2012 and the Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Wines of the Week. I have a quibble, however, with the Trilogy 2012.

The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot, malbec and petite verdot. The wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new, 40 percent one-year-old. The color is dark but vivid ruby-magenta with an opaque center. The bouquet — indeed the entire package — is centered to an obtrusive degree on the graphite, smoke and charcoal-tinged character of oak. You know how I feel about these matters; if a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much oak! Bright glimmers of ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and raspberries emerge, with notes of lavender and licorice and undertones of loam and aged fruitcake, and the wine certainly offers an almost rapturously supple and lithe texture, verging on plush but balanced by clean acidity, dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic structure, but the oak kills it for me. 14.2 percent alcohol. Perhaps a few years in bottle will tame it; try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $75.
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Napa Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Sean Piper grew up in Napa Valley, and after a career in the Coast Guard, he returned to, first, start Wine Consumer Magazine and, now, establish his own wine label, Napa Vintage. The initial outing is sourced from Howell Mountain and is an example of a successful cabernet sauvignon produced in a chilly rainy year. The wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in all new French oak barrels. The color is inky ruby-purple, and the whole package reflects the intensity and concentration available from mountain-grown fruit, with its attendant notes of walnut shell and dried porcini, classic touches of cedar and rosemary (with the herb’s hint of resiny earthiness) and burgeoning elements of black currants and plums highlighted by a hint of pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s touch of exotic astringency. This is, no surprise, quite dry, replete with densely buttressed tannins, and thoroughly oaked, yet well-balanced and integrated. All these elements are wrapped around a fervent core of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 414 cases. The Napa Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 seems to me to be a model of an upper-altitude Napa cabernet, displaying its rooted firmness and supple flexibility in fine style. Drink now with a medium rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $42.
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S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Rutherford, Napa Valley. There’s little doubt that Napa Valley’s Rutherford Bench is one of the most advantageous pieces of earth on which to grow cabernet sauvignon grapes. Lying at the heart of the Napa Valley, west of Highway 29 and bordered (approximately) on the north by Zinfandel Lane, just above the town of Rutherford, and on the south by Oakville Grade, just below the town of Oakville, this area backs up to the foothills of the Mayacamas range in the west. The soil on this alluvial fan is well-drained gravelly loam. André Tchelistcheff, famed winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards and guiding spirit of its George de Latour Private Reserve, called wines from the bench “dusty,” a term now accepted, perhaps too easily, as “Rutherford dust.” The cabernet wines that originate from the area undeniably often display a dry, dusty granitic aspect but not so uniformly as to make that characteristic applicable in every instance.

Steve Tonella’s heritage goes back a century in Rutherford. His great-uncle, Joseph Ponti, came from Italy to San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906, traveled up to Napa Valley, and became superintendent and winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards, founded in 1900. Ponti’s nephew, Louis Tonella, joined Ponti at BV when he was 17. From his uncle, Louis Tonella inherited vineyards in the Rutherford area to which his son, Raymond Tonella, added purchased acreage. The Neibaum-Tonella Vineyard in Rutherford is the winery’s estate vineyard; Morisoli-Borges, owned by Mike Morisoli, a fourth-generation grower, lies at the heart of the Rutherford Bench. From these sources, Steve Tonella makes his cabernet-based wine.

There’s five percent merlot in the S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012; the wine aged 28 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is opaque ruby-magenta; the wine is deep in its dimensions, intense and concentrated, full-bodied and flush with dense, dusty, lithic tannins. Aromas of walnut-shell, dried porcini, loam and graphite yield little space to hints of ripe black currants and black cherries that carry classic notes of cedar, tobacco and mocha. It’s a cool yet savory and spicy cabernet wrapped around a tight core of bitter chocolate and lavender buoyed by vibrant acidity; the finish, not surprisingly, is focused, dynamic and granitic. 14.4 percent alcohol. Despite it’s size and substance, the S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 feels well-balanced, filled with energy and personality. Fewer than 500 cases were made. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent potential. About $74.
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Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Robert Mondavi wasn’t the first person to think that the Napa Valley was capable of producing world-class cabernet sauvignon wines, but after he founded his winery in 1966, he brought the full force of his conviction, enthusiasm and larger-than-life personality to the task. Barrels of ink and puncheons of pixels have been spilled in outlining and commenting on the history of Robert Mondavi — the man, the family and the winery — so I will forgo that endeavor for this post. The winery continues to turn out excellent products under the ownership of Constellation (since late in 2004) and the tutelage of winemaker Genevieve Janssens, though I’ll say that this admittedly well-made cabernet felt almost too typical of its place and intention; it could have used a bit more individuality. On the other hand, it’s not a single vineyard or sub-appellation cabernet, so perhaps we should all just enjoy it.

The wine employs all five of the “classic” Bordeaux red wine varieties: 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent merlot and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Thirty percent of the grapes came from the famous To Kalon vineyard in the Oakville AVA, with 14 percent derived from Mondavi’s Wappo Hill vineyard in the Stags Leap District, with the rest, I assume, grown in other estate or nearby vineyards; the intention obviously was to create a “Napa Valley” style cabernet sauvignon without reference to a particular sub-AVA. The wine aged a very sensible 16 months in French oak, only 15 percent new barrels. The color is a rich dark ruby with a magenta tinge; aromas of cassis and black cherry are permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and dried thyme, with deeper hints of lead pencil, briers and brambles and loamy graphite. Tannins are dry, a bit earthy and leathery, firm yet unobtrusive; fleet acidity keeps the wine energetic and thirst-quenching; a subtle oak influence shows up in the wine’s supple, lithe texture and in a wafting of exotic spice.The sense of balance and integration is well-nigh perfect. Alcohol content is the now New World average of 14.5 percent. What’s not to like? Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $29.
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Petar Kirilov made 50 cases of his Kukeri Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, aging it 36 months — yes, My Readers, three years — in French oak. Come now, sir, this is not Brunello di Montalcino, but Kirilov believes in oak, so oak it is, and the inky dark wine wears its oak on its sleeve. Aromas of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary are drenched with notes of walnut shell, dried porcini, leather and loam, with all the attendant resinous, foresty, underbrushy elements we would expect. Fruit? Yes, there are glimmers. Acidity? Oh, sleek and dynamic. I still wouldn’t touch this wine, though, for five more years. The 2011 is the current release, made in 79 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Rating? Anybody’s guess, but time will be the ultimate judge, as it is in all matters concerning these sublunary precincts. About $79.
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Jamieson Ranch Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Jamieson Ranch Vineyards is the southernmost winery in the Napa Valley. Formerly known as Kirkland Ranch Winery and Reata Vineyard, the company changed its name to Jamieson Ranch in 2013. The history of the property is tangled, involving dubious business decisions going back to the late 1990s and bankruptcy filings, but it is owned now by Madison Vineyard Holdings of Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company involved in myriad enterprises including high-end art storage in New York. Jamieson Ranch produces about 35,000 cases annually under its eponymous label, retaining the Reata name for some pinot noirs and chardonnays, and uses the Light Horse brand for inexpensive products. Winemaker is the Chilean Juan Jose Verdina.

About 2/3s of the grapes for this wine went through “flash détente,” a process much used in Europe, South America and Australia but fairly new to California. Before fermentation, grapes are heated to about 180 degrees and then sent to a vacuum chamber where they are cooled and the grape skins burst from the inside. The result — don’t ask me how — is better extraction of skin tannins and anthocyanins, the phenolic compounds responsible for the color of red grapes. That’s the simplified version, believe me, and doesn’t begin to approach the complications inherent in the process or the opportunities for manipulation they present.

The blend for the Jamieson Ranch Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is 86.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot, 4.5 percent — surprise! — petite sirah. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, amount of new oak not specified. A dark ruby-purple color is fresh and vibrant; aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, raspberries and plums are wreathed with notes of leather and lavender and a touch of graphite. Slightly dusty and granite-tinged tannins are well-integrated in a lithe texture that’s animated by bright acidity, while black fruit flavors are deep and rich; the finish brings in the oak influence. 14.8 percent alcohol. A well-made and enjoyable but not compelling cabernet sauvignon. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
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Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley.

Perhaps it’s the 14.9 percent alcohol, but I found this cabernet to be inchoate and unbalanced. It’s 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, aged 22 months in French oak, 35 percent new, 65 percent neutral, a regimen with which I fully agree. It displays a dark ruby-mulberry hue and all the austere elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dried porcini mushrooms over loam, dusty tannins and a startlingly high yet hollowed-out level of acidity. On the other hand, the black and blue fruit flavors are not only very ripe but sweet and jammy, making, altogether, for a package that does not cohere. Perhaps a few years in bottle will calm the wine down, but I’m not hopeful. Not recommended. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. The story begins in 1977, with Ray Signorello’s purchase of 100 acres on the Silverado Trail in eastern Napa Valley. Originally intending to grow grapes to sell to other wineries, the emphasis shifted to making wine in 1985. Ray Senior died in 1998, and Ray Signorello Jr. operates the estate now. He is listed as proprietor/winemaker and Pierre Bierbent as winemaker/vineyard manager. This is a luxury wine estate, with packaging and prices to match its aspirations.

A touch of cabernet franc — 6.5 percent — completes what is otherwise all cabernet sauvignon in this large-framed and fairly lumbering wine. Fermented with native yeast, yes, that’s nice; aged 21 months in French oak. all new barrels, okey-dokey, but 15.7 percent alcohol? Please! The color is motor-oil-opaque with a purple-violet rim; it’s a vivaciously ripe wine, with sweet scents and succulent notes of cassis, black raspberry jam, brandied cherries, fruitcake and a hint of zinfandel-like blueberry tart. By contrast, potent tannins and truckloads of dusty graphite define a structure that becomes formidably dry and austere, leading to a feeling that the wine is at war with itself; imbalance and lack of integration personified. Give it a few years if you so desire, but don’t invite me when you eventually open a bottle. Not recommended. About $90.

What’s disheartening about this wine is that I rated the Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (the last I tasted) as Excellent and named it as one of my “50 Great Wines of 2012.” It came in at 14.7 percent alcohol. The cabernet under review today feels as if it had been given different marching orders.
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I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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Any producer in Napa Valley will report that 2011 was a challenging season because of the cool weather, cloud cover and rain, all occurrences that inhibited ripening and delayed harvest until a burst of fine weather in October provided a respite. The five examples of cabernet sauvignon-based wines that I look at today came out fine, thank you very much, and yet despite marked similarities, especially in their acute mineral qualities, they also reveal distinct differences, several lying in the camp of opulence, others adhering to a more spare and elegant mode. These wines — all samples for review — are not cheap; prices range from what seems like a light-hearted $45 a bottle to a blockbuster $250. Go figure, Readers, and weigh the discrepancies of supply and demand, hubris and accountancy. This post is, as the title asserts, the sixth in a series that examines the cabernet sauvignon wines of Napa Valley, a region noted for its production, if not always for the finesse, of that grape. This is also the 10th post to BTYH of 2015.
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Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. Jess Jackson (1930-2011), founder of Kendall-Jackson Winery, decided in 1983 that the company needed a flagship cabernet sauvignon wine to serve as a Napa Valley icon among the other well-known Napa Valley cabernets. Eventually becoming its own brand with a dedicated facility in the Oakville District, site of the old Robert Pepi winery, Cardinale indeed is a tribute to mountain-grown grapes, of which it is mainly composed, and a model of self-assurance and command. Cardinale 2011 is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and 11 percent merlot. The majority of the grapes of which it is composed — 87 percent — derive from vineyards on Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain with a bare two percent from Diamond Mountain. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 81 percent new barrels. Winemaker is Christopher Carpenter.

Matching its nature as the embodiment of intensity and concentration, the color is opaque ruby with a tinge of magenta; the wine is boldly earthy and spicy, featuring aromas and flavors of ripe black currants, cherries and raspberries permeated by notes of briers and brambles, walnut shell and dried porcini, cloves and lavender and the slightly resinous herbal character of rosemary pared from the stalk. This is a persistent and authoritative cabernet sauvignon, framed by burnished oak and dusty, graphite-inflected tannins, all animated by penetrating acidity; as the moments pass, the fragrance deepens and expands, bringing in hints of dried fruit and flowers, and the black fruit flavors achieve a state of savory generosity, while the structure remains stalwart, tense and resonant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’18 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent. About $250 (a bottle).
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Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. The website for Caymus Vineyards lists no technical information about its celebratory cabernet sauvignon for 2012, released in honor of the winery’s founding in 1972, by Charles and Lorna Wagner and their son Chuck, the present owner and winemaker. Caymus grew from modest beginnings into a bulwark of Napa Valley cabernet, with its Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon a perpetual contender for top cabernet of the vintage and a darling of collectors, even as the price climbed. Through its Wagner Family of Wines, Caymus now includes Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Belle Glos and Emmolo.

The Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 offers an inky-purple color and chastening notes of iron and iodine that expand into exotic and spicy and quite ripe scents and flavors of macerated black currants, plums and blueberry tart; hints of cloves, lavender and licorice are swathed in touches of bitter chocolate and intense graphite. The wine is ostentatiously floral, plush with dusty, velvety tannins barely reined in by a tremendous mineral element, with back-notes of vanilla and sandalwood. Despite this panoply of riches, the wine is quite dry and finishes with a line of polished oak and some briery, brushy austerity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Best from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25; it could stand to calm down a little. Excellent. About $60.
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Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. The Cornerstone is the flagship cabernet of Cornerstone Cellars, produced from the winery’s Oakville Station Vineyard blocks in To-Kalon District. For 2011, the blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 22 months in all new French oak barrels. Winemaker is Jeff Keene. The winery is owned by two doctors in Memphis and a group of investors. General manager is Craig Camp, who has overseen Cornerstone’s expansion in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The color is dark ruby shading to a lighter mulberry-hued rim; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by elements of iodine and iron — slightly feral and sanguinary — cedar and tobacco, walnut shell and underbrush, woven with notes of lavender and caramelized fennel, aged fruitcake and loam, all making for a profoundly layered and provocative bouquet. On the palate, this cabernet is dense and chewy, lithe and lithic, deeply rooted in dusty, finely-sifted oak and tannins and propelled by keen acidity; the long, vibrant finish is packed with cloves, blueberries, bitter chocolate and graphite. A cabernet of tremendous confidence and authority. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2028 to 2030. Production was 100 cases. Excellent. About $150.
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Shah Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. It’s a bold move to charge top-dollar for the initial release of a wine, but Bijal and Sinead Shah, owners of this fledgling winery, were not deterred. Shah and his wife Sinead, a pilot for United Airlines, own The Woodhouse Wine Estates in Washington, where they produce a variety of wines under the Kennedy Shah, Dussek and Darighe labels. This cabernet and its stablemate chardonnay represent the couple’s first venture south. The winemaker is Jean Claude Beck, originally from Alsace. The grapes for this 100 percent cabernet wine were grown in Caldwell’s Block 11, part of a vineyard in Coombsville, a fairly obscure AVA in southeastern Napa Valley that received official recognition in 2011. The wine aged 24 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels.

The color is deep ruby-mulberry, dark but not opaque; vivid notes of mint, eucalyptus and toasty oak, poised against a background of ferrous iodine, are meshed with ripe and very spicy black currant and cherry fruit touched with lavender and bitter chocolate; hints of dried rosemary and cedar lend a piquant earthy/herbal aspect. In the mouth, this cabernet is supple and sleek, almost chiseled in its granitic minerality and quite intense in its drenching, almost sweet black fruit flavors, woven with nuances of cloves and oolong tea. New oak intrudes somewhat on the long, spicy, mineral-flecked finish; I would recommend opening in 2016 or after; for drinking through 2022 to ’25. Production was 168 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $150.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. The fact that brothers Charles and Stuart Smith continue to keep prices for their exemplary wines so much lower than the competition is one of those miracles and mysteries that make life interesting, and as far as I’m concerned we should not question this phenomenon. The grapes for their cabernet-based wine — for 2011 a blend of 83 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc and 7 percent merlot — are grown on steep, dry-farmed slopes at an elevation of 1,800 feet on Spring Mountain, west of the city of St. Helena. Made from 39-year-old vines, the wine aged 19 months in French oak barrels.

The color is intense, vibrant dark ruby; it’s a deeply loamy cabernet, saturated with closely focused black currant and cherry scents and flavors but infused with notes of graphite, briers and brambles, lavender and dried porcini, redolent with a sort of dusty rosemary, thyme and cedar aspect that’s slightly resiny; the kind of wine you could spend hours swirling and sniffing, an intellectual as well as a sensual exercise. It’s quite concentrated in the mouth, lithe and sinewy, but not lacking in a generous character; dense, chewy tannins are part velvet, part graphite, made lively by a flare of bright acidity and a faceted granitic quality and given depth by an almost primal, dusty, robust earthiness; you feel the elevation, the scrappiness and spareness of the soil, the mineral underpinnings where the roots dig deep for sustenance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,070 cases. Nothing flamboyant or over-ripe here. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to 2030. Excellent. About $48, a bargain in this company.
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