Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Bunch of Impressive California Cabs

I find it thrilling to blind taste California Cabernets. You never know when you’re going to be shocked my something special. Luckily for me, that happened several times with this batch. I’m continually impressed by the combination of richness and elegance in a lot of 2010 Cabs, especially those from Napa.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

2009 Star Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $41
Rich and full on the nose, with dark plums, blackberries, magic marker and cedar, some tobacco. Medium-grain tannins, slightly less than medium acid, and velvety fruit: black cherries, blackberries and black currants. Lots of cedar and tobacco pervade the fruit. A bit hot and full-throttled, needing some time to unwind perhaps. (86 points)

2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Nose of roasted plums, black currants, a hefty dose of tobacco leaf and oak as well, a lot going on but this clearly needs a lot of air to open up. On the palate, grippy tannins provide structure, and there’s some fresh acid. The black currant and pomegranate fruit is both tart and rich at the same time. I’m getting a lot of tobacco, some mint, loam, some toasted nuts as well. Wow. This is put together extremely well, and it’ll reward some patience in the cellar. A gorgeous young Cabernet with 7% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. (92 points)

2010 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Dark purple color. Complex aromas of roasted plums, currant jam, blackberry, herbs, dark roasted coffee and cedar. Firm but fine tannins on the palate. Fresh acid, a rich but not overbearing mouthfeel. Awesome concentration. Black currants galore, along with some dark plum skins and wild blackberry, integrated cedar and mocha notes. What I like most about this wine are all these roasted peppers, eucalyptus and tobacco notes, which seem like they need time to fully develop. This is delicious stuff that could do well with five to ten years in the cellar and will likely stick around for the long haul. Includes 5% Petite Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot, 21 months in 60% new oak. (93 points)

2010 Kelly Fleming Wines Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $110
Black cherries, currants, coffee, black licorice and toast on the nose, really rich and perhaps a bit foreboding. But on the palate we’ve got firm tannins and a moderate dose of acid, combining for a velvety mouthfeel. Lots of blackberry and currant fruit, mixed in with a hefty dose of cedar, sweet oak and mocha. Notes of tobacco and birch beer linger long into the finish. Very rich, but also very well made. Long life ahead. 100% Cab, 80% new oak, but they pull it off with style. (91 points)

2010 Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Showing currant and berry fruit on the nose, roasted coffee and bourbon-coconut notes. Solid tannic structure, some nice grip, but the acid provides balance. Black currant fruit abounds, as do the coffee, vanilla and pepper notes. A forward wine with lots of personality, but nice structure and complexity. Long, creamy, toasty finish. Seems like it could use some time sideways. (90 points)

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Cornerstone - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $65
A dark and full purple color. Aromas of sweet plums, blackberry jam, mocha, cinnamon and clove, a perfect aromatic accompaniment to winter. On the palate, plush texture from a combination of firm tannins, fresh acid and ripe fruits. Black currants and wild blueberry mixes with nutty, roasted coffee tones. Some clove and cinnamon, earth and roasted red pepper. Full and rich, but maintains freshness and vibrancy. Drinks well now, but I’d like to squirrel some bottles of this away for at least two or three years. (91 points)

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Cornerstone - California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
SRP: $80
A rich plum color. On the nose: roasted plums, currants, sweet violets, some tobacco leaf, cinnamon and clove. Fine tannins, but they’re really well structured, tamed by medium acid. The snappy black cherries, currant and tart plum skin flavors are really rocking, the fruit is so plush. A nice peppery, smoky, potting soil and iron combination. The oak influences are nuanced, like roasted nuts and a bit of toffee. I wouldn’t think twice about putting this down for 5 years, as it’s got a lot of unwinding to do. (92 points)

2009 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $45
Dark ruby color. Aromas of plum sauce, black cherries, sweet vanilla, caramel, some nice forest floor and peppered steak. On the palate, medium acid and firm, gritty tannins. Currants and plum fruit lead the way, followed by some kicking spices, charcoal and an herbal, maybe a pickled beet note? Sweet vanilla and cedar, but not too much, and they’re matched by the fallen leaves and soil notes that come out strong on the finish. I love this tart pickle note on the finish. A unique wine with equal parts guts and nuance. Seriously impressive stuff that’s built to last. Includes 8% Merlot and 8% Cab Franc, the wine was aged 22 months in new American white oak. (92 points)

2010 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon “1886” - California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $95
Dark, rich blackberry-purple color. Wonderfully complex and alive aromatics: currant jam, blackberries, loamy soil, mocha, tobacco leaf and vanilla. The palate shows pure acid against a dry frame of firm tannins. Some wonderfully tart berries and snappy currants make this full and mouthfilling, but also exquisitely balanced. Some sweet mocha, hazelnut and caramel, but there’s also a lot of fresh cracked pepper and tobacco. Quite young, but not overwhelming, this wine has a lot to unpack. Amazing stuff that begs for contemplation and a fireplace. Includes 10% Cab Franc, 7% Merlot and 1% Petite Vedot. (94 points)

2010 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Landslide Fire - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
This is special stuff. Amazing aromas of deep currants, plum, kirsch, mixed with cedar and cocoa powder. The tannins provide structure but also a velvety mouthfeel, with some freshness from the acid. Juicy blackberries and currants are matched with delicious notes of coffee, mocha, vanilla and pipe tobacco. Complex, lush and layered. I’m really surprised by how accessible this wine seems right now, although it has quite a ways ahead of it. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. (92 points)

2010 Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon Red Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $40
Purple-ruby color. Smells of rich plums and currants, underlying notes of coffee, loam and cedar. The tannins are a bit rough and gritty, but I like it, and there’s some acid to smooth it out. The currant and plum fruit is juicy and bold, but restrained as well. Complex notes of tobacco, vanilla and spicy cedar. A bit young, but showing lots of potential. Very tasty stuff. 12% Merlot and 1% Malbec in here. (90 points)

2010 Mossback Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $25
On the nose, dusty cherries and plums, tobacco, some charcoal and green peppercorns. Fine tannins on the palate, some moderate acid and bold fruit (black cherries, blackberries, all sorts of plums), it all combines and to form a wine with a rich and creamy texture. Dusty and loamy notes blend in with vanilla, spicy oak and red bell pepper. It’s not often I taste a Chalk Hill Cabernet, and, while this isn’t a profound one, I’m impressed. (88 points)

Sorry, some marker soaked through the brown bag
during the blind tasting and stained the wine label.
2010 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $40
Dark purple color. Plummy on the nose, currant jam, earth, violets, roses, vanilla and caramel. Incredibly complex nose that evolves a lot. Silky on the palate with fine tannins, beautiful structure and medium acid. Loads of pure berry fruit, along with vanilla bean, coffee, violets, bell pepper and crème brulee. Absolutely delicious, showing some elegance, but I think this is built to last as well. 18 months in 45% new French oak. (92 points)

2012 Magnolia Court Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $10
A mix of raspberries and blueberries on the nose, along with some cedar and violets. Some nice tartness on the palate, some medium tannins. Tart red currants mix with richer black fruits. A good amount of smoke and toasted oak. Fun stuff, and not bad for the price, just not very deep or memorable. (84 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

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