Napa Cult Cabs–Some Thoughts on Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bit More

My Teeny,Tiny, Two Chapter Book of Fancy Wines.

Chapter 1-Susan & Co.’s Excellent Adventure with High End Pinot Noir
Marcassin estate
You may recall last year I wrote about my lack of appreciation for Pinot Noir.  It wasn’t until I tasted a couple of different high end examples of this varietal, Marcassin Estate and Aubert, shared by my friend Steve, a prolific wine collector, that I finally began to understand what all the Pinot fuss was about.  I learned from those experiences, that indeed, there are amazing examples of boutique wine, cradled from berry to bottle, worthy of their reputation and steep price tag.  As with most of you I suspect, my knowledge is ever-evolving, and I will always consider myself a student of wine.  I recently tasted a few others…I’ll address those in a future post.

Chapter 2 —Susan & Co.’s Excellent Adventure with Napa Valley Cult Cabernets
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For many reasons I am thankful to know Steve and his charming wife Cynthia.  In the 8 years we
have been friends, they have been nothing but generous, loving and kind.  They share their time, treasure and talent within the school community we inhabit together and these wine tasting
opportunities pop up as a result.

Along with a crazy and eclectic group of people I do a lot of my wine drinking with, I attended a tasting function focusing on samples from Steve’s Napa Valley Cult Cabernet Collection.  It was an uncorking of bottles notable enough to attract attendance by a couple of Sacramento’s wine experts, David Berkely and Josh Nelson.  Here are my impressions of some of the wines sampled.  These wines would set you back well over $100/btl and would be extremely difficult to acquire by the common man.

Heitz Cellar, Martha’s Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet, 1997– This was one of my favorites of the collection.  A sophisticated example of an aged Cabernet from the Oakville area (the birthplace of the cult cab), I found this wine to be an interesting study–I like that in my wines.  It was supple, sexy and spicy, all while being a fine expression of the grape variety from that location in the Valley.  There were aromas and flavors of dark berries, bell pepper, and petrol.100_0476
With age, wine typically becomes more balanced.  Fruit, spice, oak and alcohol are all in
harmony, and no one component overwhelms . This allows you as the drinker to savor the characteristics of a wine crafted in a specific year, from a unique crop of grapes, and by an individual vintner.  This ’97 was a treat to sample.

Premier Napa Valley 11, Lot No. 141-O’Shaughnessey Mount Veeder, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005-No discussion of high end Napa Valley Cabs can occur without a mention of Premiere Napa Valley.  It is one of the rarest wine brands in the world.  Wines
are crafted by the Valley’s winemakers in tiny offerings, sometimes as few as a couple of cases, and then auctioned off to the trade.  The proceeds go back into the Valley in efforts to promote and protect its name, its appellation, and the land itself.  Last year’s auction rose over $3.1 million dollars; the highest single bid was for a 5 case lot of Cabernet Sauvignon that went for $70,000. 
So needless to say, it was a privilege to taste this particular O’Shaughnessy offering. Coming out of the  Mt. Veeder area, this wine was the color of dark cherries and in addition to pronounced red berry notes it had aromas and flavors that were floral, spicy and leathery in nature.  I picked up vanilla and bourbon nuances likely developed through the aging process, and the tannins were still present in a moderate amount, allowing for an assertive, yet silky finish. 

Before I even knew it was a Premiere wine, I favored this taste over the others I was trying because it had so many dimensions and layers.  I’m not completely surprised by my inclination.   I find that I have a personal preference for red wines grown at higher elevations where temperatures can be cooler.  In those locations grape berries and clusters will tend to stay smaller, resulting in a higher skin to pulp ratio.  This can account for a different flavor profile and texture in a wine.  I must have an affinity for that style of wine.100_0478

Levy & McClellan, Napa Valley Red Wine, Oakville, 2005-More brick colored than purple, this wine displayed aromas and flavors that danced between tobacco, meadow flowers and blackberry jam.  It was exotic and reminded me of Indian food.  I loved the gentle toast notes from the oak aging. Oh to just sit and drink this bottle would be amazingly indulgent.

MX Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, 2005-If there was
anything particularly critical to say about any of the wines; it would be that this maker markets its 750ml of liquid in an over-sized, astoundingly heavy bottle.  In another example of my host’s
generosity, Steve was sure that bottles and corks were saved for me so that I could study and photograph these unique wines—let’s just say, luckily for me, they weren’t all empty—a few additional sips the next day helped me with my more detailed notes for this post!  This MX bottle could give a gal a strained forearm.  I actually ran across some less than supportive comments about the packaging on the internet, regardless, the MX is a delicious wine.  This bright purple cab was more vegetal than the others; when combined with the effects from the oak, I’d say it was even
savory.

Colgin , IX Estate, Napa Valley Red Wine, St Helena, 2003-This bottle was loaded with aromas of what I can best describe as cran-raspberry juice.  Light and fruity, this cab was subtly tannic and velvety.  I did perceive the slightest hint of sherried nuttiness possibly due to oxidation.  It may have been one of the first bottles opened that evening and perhaps had seen a bit of air by the time I tasted it. I hate saying that about a fancy cult cab…it kind of feels like I am part of the
story line of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.   I really liked how its simplicity contrasted the boldness of a wine like the MX.  I did think it was interesting that one of my friends who has had Colgin on a few occasions, continued to note he is not a fan.
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Harlan Estate, Napa Valley Red Wine, Oakville, 2004. – Robert Parker says “Bill Harlan….produces utterly profound wines regardless of vintage conditions.  They are legendary wines representing the finest Napa, or any other Viticultural region can achieve” He rated this ’04 a
98 points and I’m pretty sure this bottle goes for $500+. 
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There are still a few sips in this bottle as I write, and even now, 4 days later, I can taste and remember.  A wine like this is delicate and beguiling.  It doesn’t express itself by screaming “hey look at me—I’m a big-ass Napa cab”; it captures your attention like a siren in the sea.  It beckons you, it tempts you.  I would have loved to sit in a mountain cabin and enjoy this bottle all on its own.

I want to finish by saying that one thing about the evening of tasting is that Cabernet Sauvignon is a magical wine, loaded with special aromas and flavors unique to the varietal.  Further, it expresses itself in so many ways, affected by climate, terroir and vintner’s hand.   We are so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing Cabernet in California, and having the opportunity to enjoy such highly regarded wine is an important experience as a consumer.  Most of us don’t have budgets that allow us to indulge in high end wines very often, if at all.  I have tasted a lot of Cabernet in my day.  I’ve had pretty good examples in the $20 and below range, really tasty specimens in the $30-40 range, memorable bottles above $50 and special and delicious bottles like those listed above.  I’ve also had disappointments in all categories.  It is up to you and your personal economic situation to decide if any one bottle is 5 or 10 times better than any other.  Whatever you decide, keep enjoying the fabulous Cabernet Sauvignons from the Golden State.

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