Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005-2014

The Napa Valley is one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Just 30 miles long and five miles wide, this may be a celebrated wine region but it only accounts for around 4% of California’s wine production. As part of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, I attended a tasting that took us through 10 Napa Valley wines, spanning 2005 through to 2014, with one vintage of each year.

The wines were all Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the dominant variety in the region. It represents 47% of all plantings in Napa and 67% by value of grape production. ‘The economics are there will be a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon planted even if it isn’t optimal for all sites,’ says Kirk Grace of Stag’s Leap. If you can grow Cabernet here, you do, which doesn’t always work for the wines.

Merlot is being pushed out, and Petit Verdot is gaining ground says Ray Signorello of Singorello winery. ‘From the Oakville and Rutherford areas they aren’t using so much Merlot.’ He says that Enologix is doing a big study on the climate of the last 30 years and the predictions for the next 30. They think the varietal mix will change in the valley. But Silver oak proprietor Vivien Gay says her Twomey Merlot is one of the top sellers. ‘For us it is an extraordinarily important variety.’ Jean-Charles Boisset thinks there’s a bright future for Cabernet Franc. ‘It is the father of Cabernet Sauvignon,’ he says. ‘It has potential for growth. It complements CS magnificently.’

There are currently 16 AVAs in Napa, but Jean-Charles Boisset of Raymond thinks there could be more, referencing Burgundy. ‘The monks began a long time ago and they’ve kept adding AVAs.’ He thinks that this is the way forward for Napa. ‘The reason to exist is the differentiation of those small towns the soil composition of Napa is the most complex in the planet. We have 16 AVAs but I think we will have 160. It’s only the beginning. It is our role to continue to define the map of the future.’

These were an interesting set of wines. To my palate, many were picked too late and given too much new oak. I think that the Stag’s Leap really stood out. Anthony Gismondi says this is more like old school Napa. Those wines aged really well. Some of the riper wines won’t.

St Supery Estate Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley, California
Large property at higher elevation with 13 different soil variations. This part plated in 1983 with shale-dominated soils. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Supple and quite mellow with sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There’s some freshness here and lovely smoothness of texture. Polished and assured, but showing quite a bit of oak. It’s lush, modern and easy with sweet oak, and easy to like, but lacks real definition. But some people will love this: it does taste expensive. 91/100

Louis M Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Napa Valley, California
There’s lovely, lush, smooth ripe blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Rich and opulent with seductive ripe fruit. Oozes fruit and opulence. Has some hints of mint and dried herbs. Nice finesse here in this ripe, polished style. Hints of tobacco and cedar on the finish, with a smooth, long finish. 92/100

Beringer Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa Valley, California
This is quite structured with a warm, supple palate showing herbs, tar and ash with nice structure, but it’s quite ripe and mushy and beginning to dry out a bit. Has a slight bitterness on the finish. A ripe style showing sweet blackcurrant fruit. I’m not a huge fan of this, even though it has concentration and serious aspirations. 88/100

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Napa Valley, California
7% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot in the blend (so it’s only in the USA that this could be labelled as a Cabernet Sauvignon). Founded in 1972 when there were only about 20 wineries in Napa, by the Duncan family who still own. Just two Cabernets, one from Napa, one from Alexander Valley. Nice definition here: it shows sweet blackcurrant fruit with nice supporting oak, and good focus to the lush fruit. There’s a vanilla-edge to the finish, where the American oak begins to show a bit more. The bright, sweet blackcurrant fruit here is really nice, but there’s quite a lot of polish and oak lurking around. Potential for development: still quite fresh and direct. If you like oak you will love this now. 92/100

Signorello Estate Padrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Napa Valley, California
Lost their property in the wildfires, and currently rebuilding the winery. Long, cool season with a rainy finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time. There’s some nice complexity here. Concentrated with cedar, herbs, some spice and nicely defined blackcurrant fruit, with some juicy freshness on the finish, and notes of leather and herbs. Has some grippy structure, and a bit of dryness on the finish. Hints of roast meat, medicine and herbs on the finish. The finish detracts a little. 89/100

Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2010 Napa Valley, California
Aromatic, floral blackcurrant fruit nose with some nice green hints. There’s certainly some ripeness here with a supple, smooth, fresh mouthfeel. Very stylish with a lovely concentrated, ripe fruit profile. Sweet, lush, quite fine and very easy to like, but not terribly complex. 91/100

Stag’s Leap Vineyard Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Napa Valley, California
This has lovely freshness to it: it feels like the grapes were actually picked at the right time. Sleek but focused blackcurrant fruit with a graphite and pencil shaving edge to the concentrated, well structured palate. This is serious, and should age beautifully. Really fine. Ripe but not too ripe. 95/100

Black Stallion/Delicato Family Vineyards Transcendent Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Napa Valley, California
Sweet, ripe and lush with sumptuous black cherry and blackberry fruit. Ripe and exotic with a slight disconnect between the sweet fruit and the drying structure. Is a bit mushy and ashy, and unfocused and overripe. Easy to like if you appreciate sweet fruit and not much else. 86/100

Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Napa Valley, California
Made by Chris Carpenter for Jackson Family Wines. This is a blend from mostly hillside and mountain vineyards. Really concentrated, intense and quite focused. There’s some very ripe blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, but it has nice structure and focus, with some grip and good acidity. Has a slightly citrussy finish with a primary, fruit-driven character. Should develop very nicely over the next decade, and possibly longer. Lovely. 93/100

Raymond Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Napa Valley, California
This is quite vital and vivid with bright blackcurrant and cherry fruit, showing nice freshness. Supple and very drinkable, but it has some structure, too. The fruit profile is certainly quite ripe, but there’s some balance and restraint. Juicy finish. It’s quite a joyful, playful wine. 92/100

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