December 11, 2015

Spottswoode & Cabernet

Most mornings, I walk my dog along the silent, pastoral Spottswoode Vineyard. The vineyard sits at the foot of the Mayacamas mountains in the narrowest part of the Napa Valley. In the early morning, Pacific fog that has crept over the mountain hangs suspended in the air above the vineyard, giving it a surreal beauty. If you look quickly, it almost seems like the vines are topped with the airy foam of a cappuccino.

Two nights ago, I tasted the current Spottswoode wines with owner Beth Novak and winemaker Aron Weinkauf. Here’s what I thought about their stellar 2012 estate cabernet:

SPOTTSWOODE Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Napa Valley, CA) $165

Miles Davis once said about a piece of music that the quieter you played it, the more powerful it was. This has been a guiding principle at Spottswoode, year in and year out, one of the top Napa Valley cabernets on the finesse end of the spectrum. The 2012 (a remarkable vintage) has long, dark, sexy, salty flavors. It is not a wine merely of fruit, though it’s certainly rich in flavor. But there’s much more here: tar, bitters, dark chocolate, and an enticing aroma of walking in mountain forests. To me, great cabernet is judged in part by how the wine moves on the palate—long and slow being much better than short and fast. And so the measured waves of flavor–already evident in this 2012—are frankly irresistible and mark it as a wine not to be missed. 95 points.

Tasting the wine made me think about what it is that great cabernet possesses. Above all, I think the most compelling characteristic is cabernet sauvignon’s ability to exude a juxtaposition of opposites. In the same sip, you experience cabernet’s majestic structure.

Yet at the same time, you sense at its core, a deep, almost primal comfort. Cabernet is like falling asleep in a grand, imposing four poster bed, but you’re wrapped in a cashmere blanket. The best cabernets it seems to me are inevitable textural wines. That Spottswoode certainly was.

But the wine also had what I think of as a special choreography on the palate. A great cabernet is not a single bullet of flavor that disappears almost as soon as it begins. Instead, great cabernet unfolds slowly on the palate. Its “pacing” is drawn out and unhurried.

In a world where we want most things to be fast, wine gives us magical slowness, a true gift.

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