Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tasting Report: Napa Valley Cabernet & Blends

You get what you pay for. Sometimes. Frequently, you get less. Only rarely do you get more.

Assessing the relationship between quality and price is one of the most frustrating things about wine. Paradoxically, it’s also one the most fun things. When tasted blind, without any knowledge of the producer or price tag, a taster can focus solely on what’s in the glass: the color, the aromas, the flavors, the acid, the complexity, the length of the finish. When we’re dealing with pricey categories of wine — like Napa Valley cabernet for example — blind tasting can be an interesting case study in quality vs. cost.

My last cabernet sauvignon tasting report focused more broadly on the New World, but today I’m focusing specifically on cabernet sauvignon-based blends from Napa.

All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind.

2008 Franciscan Oakville Estate Magnificat - Napa Valley ($50)
The nose is dark and deep and needs some time to open. But I got some lovely smoked earth, sweet plum, potpourri and toasted oak with some time in the glass. Very creamy on the palate, showing richness but also intensity. Black cherry fruit, earth and mocha are topped with sweet cedary oak, perhaps a bit much for some palates, but I think the oak is balanced by the overall power of the juice. Tobacco and hints of lavender linger onto the finish. Time in the cellar would do this good. A blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot and 2% Malbec. (90 points)

2008 Castello di Amorosa La Castellana - Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain ($88)
Intoxicating aromas of wild raspberries, sweet plums, some violets, fig paste and cedar. Fresh red and black fruits start off the palate, raspberry, plum, fig, even some notes of dried apricot. Flavors of soil, coffee, cedar and hazelnut add complexity. The tannins have smooth edges, making this easy to drink now, although I think it could be cellared for five years easily. The acid lingers onto the finish along subtle notes of vanilla bean and toast. A fruit-forward yet elegant blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 16% Sangiovese. Simply delicious. (91 points)

2009 St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley ($30)
Aromas of ground coffee, cherry liqueur and notes of rhubarb. Rich and jammy on the palate, but really firm tannins provide structure. Lots of red currant, red apple peel (no joke) mixed with flavors of vanilla bean and toasted coconut. A solid Cabernet Sauvignon that will gain complexity over the next few years. 5% Merlot in here as well, all aged 22 months in 40% new French oak. (88 points)

Luscious nose of red and black plums, cherry pie, cedar and cinnamon candies. On the palate, fine tannins and medium acid provide a base for the bright cherry and tangy plum fruit. Cinnamon, cedar, campfire smoke and vanilla bean flavors grab my palate’s attention and keep it. With time, hints of dill pickle and sage drift in and linger through the long finish. Throughout, the wine maintains a very fresh, unassuming style, but it’s layered with complex flavors and seems capable of serious development in the cellar. A Steve Matthiasson wine. (92 points)

Aromatically, this wine is rocking: pure plum and blackberry fruit, hints of white and bell pepper, wet leaves. The fruit is distinctly Californian, but it has a Bordeaux-like approach as well, and I love it. Fresh acid balances with fine tannins and rich plum fruit. Complex and lush, with those same peppery notes, tobacco and a braised meat flavor. Soft oak adds toast and vanilla notes, but they don’t overwhelm. Very balanced and ready to drink now. (90 points)

2010 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five - Napa Valley, Stags Leap District ($72)
Incredibly dark purple color in the glass with thick legs. Aromas of black plums, espresso, toasted oak, hints of rose petals. Grippy tannins provide solid structure. The plum skin, blackberry and cassis flavors are strong and compact and need time to develop. Acid seems a little low. On the finish, flavors of black tea, espresso and dried leaves mingle with a big dose of toasty oak (it’s aged 20 months in 100% new French oak). If you’re drinking it now, a long decant is the way to go. (88 points)

2010 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District - Napa Valley, Stags Leap District ($70)
Dark and rich on the nose, like blackberries and currants cooked down with brown sugar and ground coffee. Notes of tobacco, dusty earth and anise come out on the nose as well. The tannins are firm and dusty, the acid is focused and the blackberry and currant fruit is pure and velvety. Notes of potting soil, soy sauce, mocha and pipe tobacco add complexity. Long finish with notes of creamy oak. A beautiful example of 2010 Napa Cabernet, and a wine that will do wonders over the next 10-15 years. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in 54% new French oak. (93 points)

2010 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon “Cru” - Napa Valley, St. Helena ($54)
Dark purple colored. Aromas of dark plums, raspberry jam and sweet pipe tobacco, also some cedar and mocha. Really alluring aromas that transition to rich flavors on the palate. Medium-tannins, medium acid and a rounded use of oak set up the dark plum and boysenberry flavors. Mocha, toast and cherry liqueur mixed in. A rich finish with notes of vanilla and cherry wood. A hedonistic wine, but impressive in its concentration. Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak, this cabernet sauvignon includes 7% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. (91 points)

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