The 75th Anniversary of the Napa Valley Vintners seems like a great time to open one of the valley’s stunning top cabernet sauvignons (read on for a list of my top choices), and to think a bit about where Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon has come from and where it is headed.
Many readers may not remember that Napa Valley cabernet was hard to sell back in the 1970s, when the valley was just beginning to embark on what would prove to be a Second Golden Age (the First was in the 1880s). But the late 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, were times of great change. And cabernet sauvignon was the vehicle that documented that evolution.
In recent tastings of top Napa cabernets 30 or more years old, I’m always captivated by their beauty, and I hope 30 years for now, other writers will look back at today’s Napa Valley cabernets and be similarly impressed. I know one thing for sure. We are currently in another period of transformation. For the first time in interviews with dozens of Napa’s cabernet winemakers, new words are being used to describe what they are after—words like tension, vivacity, minerality, harmony, freshness, aliveness. These words reveal a shift in thinking, a shift I believe will result in a new and delicious era for Napa’s best cabernets.
ACCENDO Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $375
Soaring with savory flavors and wonderful minerality. Exquisite baritone richness. Delicious silky finesse without a shred of heaviness.
BOND “Melbury” 2015 (Napa Valley, CA) $700
The 2015 has the intoxicating wild berry and mountain “chaparral” aromas reminiscent of the dry California forests that ring the valley. Very structured, lots of fine tannin but with a sense of freshness.
CARDINALE Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $325
A delicious symphony of mountain grapes from all of Napa Valley’s mountain AVAs. Very nuanced and long, with flavors that exude spiciness, savoriness, and minerality.
CHAPPELLET “Signature Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $70
A dark, savory, sexy wine redolent of tobacco, old leather, sandalwood, woodsmoke, and exotic spices. Powerful structurally but plush at the same time. Terrifically priced.
COLGIN “IX Estate” 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $650
Savory, spicy, and minerally, with beautiful cassis notes and a compelling lit-from-within quality. A wonderfully complex subliminal note of mountain bay laurel, sage, and chaparral. Precise and polished.
CONTINUUM Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Napa Valley, CA) $240
Exquisite almost primordial aroma of dark berries, sun baked rock, botanical herbs, and mountain sage brush. Enormous tannin structure, yet the wine nearly melts in the mouth. Great precision and hedonism.
CORISON “Sunbasket” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Napa Valley, CA) $185
Silky and exquisitely pure-tasting, with lively flavors evocative of fresh-chilled cherries and exotic spices. Wonderful structure and delineation. Very languorous and long.
DALLA VALLE Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $260
Rich and intense with saturated blackberry and cassis flavors, plus bitter cocoa notes and a minerally rockiness. Although the Dalla Valle wines can be closed when young, the 2016 is open, fresh, luscious and long.
DIAMOND CREEK “Gravelly Meadow” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Napa Valley, CA) $225
Diamond Creek has a long track record of excellence and deliciousness, and this Gravelly Meadow is no exception. A wine of great purity, finesse, sleekness, and suppleness with exquisite menthol, cassis, and vanilla notes.
DUNN VINEYARDS Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, CA) $130
Powerfully structured, lean, and focused with soaring fine tannin and lots of fantastic savory and spicy flavors from black olives to Chinese 5-spice. Almost a cool blue character. Will take a few more years to fully unfurl itself.
EISELE Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $550
From one of the most legendary vineyards in the Napa Valley. Utterly precise, pure, and vivid with pinpoint balance. Haunting beauty and vitality. A soaring tannin structure arching over the wine like the flying buttresses on a cathedral.
FAVIA Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Coombsville, Napa Valley, CA) $175
Coombsville’s volcanic soils are the remnants of a collapsed volcano that erupted about 8 million years ago. Beautifully balanced and vibrant with cassis and savory flavors. Majestically and classically structured yet polished and supple.
HARLAN 2015 (Napa Valley, CA) $1,500
An exquisitely balanced classic with a texture of pure silk. Languorous and sublime with vivid cassis, sweet tobacco, and foresty aromas and flavors, and an achingly slow finish.
JOSEPH PHELPS “Insignia” 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $300
Insignia has a certain old-fashioned character. A bit oaky at first, then opening up into velvety softness. Packed with juicy, dense, sweet berry flavors, plus notes of tobacco and graphite.
RUDD Estate 2014 (Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $269
An immaculate cabernet of great restraint, beauty, and purity. More like silk than velvet. Gorgeously long. From a sloping landslide of volcanic rock and red iron-rich soil in the eastern foothills of Oakville.
SCARECROW Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA) $400
A stunning wine with dazzlingly delicious flavors that flash open like a peacock’s tail. Precise, alluring, and complex. Texturally sublime. Named after the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
SCHRADER “Las Piedras Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, CA) $430
Pure cashmere in texture and beautifully balanced. Vividly alive, fresh and engaging. Violet and cassis flavors whirl about in the glass and are juxtaposed against a delicious minerality.
SPOTTSWOODE Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA) $225
Paradoxically, a wine of gentility and vivid concentration at the same time. The reverberating flavors are like the echoing sounds of a church bell. Wonderful exotic, spicy mulberry and cranberry notes. Fine tannin.