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A Showstopper Line-Up of Napa Valley Cabernets

By Karen MacNeil
October 30, 2015


Sometimes cabernet sauvignon takes your breath away.

That’s how I felt on Sunday, during a seminar I conducted with Gary Fisch, owner of the renowned retail store Gary’s in New Jersey. I was nothing short of amazed by the complexity and sheer deliciousness of several of the cabernets in the tasting. We tasted two vintages—the 2011 and 2012– of each wine.

It was, in retrospect, a perfect way to show the personality and wine style of each winery, since these two vintages could not be more different. 2011 was a “Bordeaux vintage”—cool, allowing the wines to show the distinctive characters of their sites; 2012 was warm and easy–what we think of as a “California vintage” –giving the wines greater weight and fruit, but also greater homogeneity.

What struck me most was the purity of the flavor in the best of these wines—as if every molecule was lined up along a single, dramatic trajectory of flavor. When Napa Valley cabernet soars; it soars high, with wines that are vivid and intense.

Here were the wines:

Barbour Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena, Napa Valley) $125 for the 2011; $125 for the 2012
Jim Barbour, a famous Napa Valley viticulturist, operates this winery with his partner Kathy. Under 400 cases produced, and the wines are exquisite—beautiful bursts of cassis and spice; crafted with an elegant touch by renowned winemaker Celia Welch.
2011: 92 pts.
2012: 95 pts.

HALL Wines “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $150 for the 2011; $150 for the 2012
HALL winery is owned by former ambassador to Austria Kathryn Hall and her husband Craig. The wines are full bodied and while structured, they come across very soft on the palate. There’s a definitive sweetness to the fruit, the result of considerable ripeness.
2011: 90 pts.
2012: 91 pts.

J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley) $100 for the 2011; $100 for the 2012
J. Davies Estate, owned by the Davies family (of Schramsberg fame) makes utterly refined, precise and beautiful cabernets reminiscent of another Diamond Mountain star: Diamond Creek. The savory, cedary spice and ultra-long length are fantastic.
2011: 92 pts.
2012: 94 pts.

Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford, Napa Valley) $50 for the 2011; $60 for the 2012
The MacDonnell family of Round Pond started as growers and began making their own wines in 2002. I liked the dusty, cocoay flavors of these wines but found them not quite as complex as the other wines here.
2011: 89 pts.
2012: 90 pts.

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $150 for the 2011; $165 for the 2012
Spottswoode is one of the top small wineries in the Napa Valley with a 30+-year track record of making vivid, rich, and refined cabernets. They are wines that pull you into them with their complexity and long swaths of flavor. Fairly wound up in its structure, the 2012 is not ready to drink, but should be luscious when it unfurls.
2011: 93 pts.
2012: 94 pts.

Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville, Napa Valley) $150 for the 2011; $185 for the 2012
The vineyards of Vine Hill Ranch (quite close to Harlan) produce cabernets that more people should know about. The wines have deep, dark flavors of incense and cedar, exciting spikes of exotic spiciness, masses of savory flavor and streaks of minerality. The richness and fascinating flavors are nothing short of stellar.
2011: 95 pts
2012: 96 pts