Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tasting Report: California Cabernets (Including Some Ridiculously Good Napa Gems)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

California Cabernet — what else is there to say? This week, we’re looking at a slew of Cali Cabs, from the fresh, fruity, inexpensive wines to the massively oaked, expensive nectar.  A few Cab-based blends were mixed in as well.

There are some big boys from Napa this report, Mondavi’s To Kalon, Chris Carpenter’s Cardinale, Shafer’s Hillside Select. These bottles stick out, demanding attention and inspiring awe. They just taste expensive. And they are. But these bottles need years to evolve and open up, and, on some level, I always feel like I’m cheating the wines by tasting and analyzing them at such a young age. Not that I’m complaining.

2012s have a ton to offer in terms of structure and aging potential, and several Napa Cab producers have told me the 2013s are even more exciting. Luckily some 2010s and 2011s (which were raised under much more difficult vintage conditions) are more approachable now while the 2012s sleep softly in the cellar.

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

2013 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast
SRP: $20
Deeper ruby color. Juicy and dark on the nose with plum sauce, some jammy black cherries, a bit of sweet toffee mixing with eucalyptus and chewing tobacco notes. Moderate tannins (soft around the edges), some medium acid for balance, the wine is medium-bodied and reasonably fresh. Flavors of tart red and black currants, juicy blackberries, some roasted plum notes as well. Coffee and eucalyptus rounded out by cedar and some dark chocolate shavings. Not too deep but put together well. Includes some Syrah, Petit Verdot, Mabec and Merlot aged in 25% new oak for 14 months. (85 points)

2013 Justin Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $28
Deep purple color. Dark and saucy aromas (deep black cherries, blueberry pie) along with mint, eucalyptus and some mineral-rocky notes. A full and chewy texture on the palate, velvety tannins, some moderate acid. Sweet blueberry and fleshy black cherry fruit combines with some complex notes of smoke, milk chocolate, roasted chestnut and vanilla. Woody but not overly so for my palate. Delicious right out of the bottle, but could age in the near term. Aged 14 months in 25% new American oak, 14.9% alcohol. (88 points) 

2013 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Vibrant purple color. Smells like blackberry and blueberry jams along with smoked wood, caramel and charcoal pit. Full-bodied with chewy tannins and low acid, a moderately structured for full-frontal approach on the palate. Ripe blue and black fruits, jammy and a bit roasted, I also get notes of charcoal, sweet caramel, roasted coffee and vanilla. Includes some Merlot and Petite Sirah. (87 points)

2013 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $44
Dark purple color. Big, compact and dense on the nose but it opens up with swirling and air to show boysenberry, inky blueberries and black currants, along with notes of loam, granite and toasted oak. Full-bodied and quite densely tannic on the palate, yet a lively acidity on the palate makes this a rich, structured yet velvety wine. Rich blackberry plays off tart black currant, and the fruit is laced with flavors of fallen leaves, chestnut, tobacco, pencil shavings and iron. Significant mocha, cedar and vanilla in this wine (high oak tolerance seems a requisite to enjoyment), but I think the wine is accentuated enough by these non-fruit elements that it works quite well. Still, this is a dark and concentrated wine that could use a significant amount of time to unravel. Includes 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. For the price - wow. (91 points)

2012 Revival Vineyards Field Guide - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $42
Dark ruby colored. Nose of currant jam mixed with tart fresh currants along with rich loam, sweet violets, clove, roasted coffee and vanilla bean. A complex aromatic display that begs for an evening in the decanter. Full and fleshy on the palate with velvety but structured tannins and some surprising acid that helps keep it fresh. The red and black currant fruit is plenty ripe and flows in waves over the palate, but it maintains a fresh crunch, which is quite attractive. Fruit is topped in smoke, pine tar and cedar planks (the oak is a bit too overt for my palate), but it’s rather balanced by notes of fallen leaves and pencil shavings that linger onto the finish. One of those paradoxical wines that’s bold but also elegant. Plenty there to enjoy now, but I’d like to revisit in three to five years. Equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. (91 points)

2012 Terlato Vineyards Episode - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $175
Rich purple color. Saucy, dark-fruited aromas of blackberry and cassis jam with a vanilla and violet-inflected approach, plenty of cedar shavings and cherry wood as well. So velvety and rich on the palate, the tannins are refined but offer plenty of structure, while moderate acid keeps it from being sticky. The black currant, cassis and tart blueberry fruit is pure, crunchy and oozing with flavor. I get a complex mix of espresso, vanilla bean, black tea, anise and dark chocolate. Smooth, silky finish, the flavors are delicious but the overall mouthfeel of this wine makes it irresistible. Hedonistic, most definitely, but not lacking in depth or intrigue. This will benefit greatly from three to six years in the cellar and probably improve for quite some time. Cabernet, Merlot and Petite Verdot. (92 points)

2012 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $250
Rich purple color. Deep aromatics of blueberry, sweet black cherries and black currants, along with sweet pipe tobacco, rich coffee and toasted oak. Full-bodied and concentrated on the palate, but the tannins have some smoothness around the edges, and some acid helps it from being too weighed down. Juicy, tart yet gushing black cherries, blueberries and black currants. Laced with tobacco, cedar, coffee, root beer, vanilla, pencil shavings, sweet loam and mint. Complex, flashy and stylistic yet deep, verging on the profound. A blend from 8 vineyards across Napa, this includes 16% Merlot, aged 20 months in 93% new French oak. (94 points)

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Vibrant purple color. Smells of jammy blackberries, currant paste, cocoa powder, sweet violets and vanilla. Full-bodied with solid grip on the tannins, medium acid steers it toward freshness. The blackberry, tart blueberry and cassis fruit is rich and juicy. Notes of graphite, vanilla, cinnamon and clove are woven in with the rich fruit well. This is a bold and full wine but the mouthfeel is silky and smooth. Long finish with jammy fruit, roasted coffee and birch beer. Expressive but this could use a few years to unwind. Includes Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged 25 months in mostly French oak, some American. (88 points)

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $70
A juicy purple/deep ruby color. Sweeter aromatics, like brown sugar and candied pecans on top of blackberries, dark currants and juicy dark plums, notes of pencil lead, dried violets and mocha add complexity. Full and plush on the palate, the tannins are firm but velvety, medium-low acid. Juicy blackberry, dark currant and plum fruit, very forward and rich. The fruit is tossed with lots of candied nuts, cedar planks, sweet earth, sweet vanilla sauce, and I get some hints of graphite and fallen leaves as well. A very sumptuous and forward wine that comes right at you swinging, but it is damn delicious. 14.5% alcohol, Includes Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc and the wine is aged 24 months in mostly new French and American oak. (89 points)

2012 Revival Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $125
Deep, rich purple color. Saucy and bold aromatics, blackberries and black currants, some tart yet rich blueberries, and a blend of cocoa, vanilla, fallen leaves, violets. The aromas need time to open up fully, but they’re impressive. On the palate: full-bodied and powerful, but despite the structured grip from the tannins there’s a smooth, velvety mouthfeel that makes the wine feel effortless. Blackberry, dark cherry, black currant, the fruit is crunchy and compact and will evolve for a long time in the cellar. The fruit is blended together with delicious vanilla, cedar, loamy soil, some spearmint and chewing tobacco flavors as well. A real beauty of a wine, and while it has that mouthfeel, it’s still quite young and will probably show best after a few years of sleep. 100% Cabernet from Kairos Vineyard aged in all new French oak. (93 points)

2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $155
Light purple color. Smells of tart red and black currants and cherries, a bit dense at first, but seriously deep aromas are buried in here, and time coaxes out sweet pipe tobacco, loamy soil, asphalt, graphite and cigar box. Full and bold, very sturdy in terms of tannic structure, medium acidity, a big boy at 15% alcohol. Blackberry, cassis and gushing dark cherry fruit abound. Equally earthy and sweet with this interesting combination of cocoa powder, bitter chocolate, dark coffee and potting soil flavors. Nuances of coconut, charcoal, pencil shavings and tobacco leaf rise to the top with air. A beautiful wine with serious structure, this is clearly a bit hesitant in its youth, but there is plenty to unpack over the long term. I’d love to revisit this in eight to ten years, but undeniably awesome even at this age. Includes 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in all new French oak. (93 points)

2011 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $250
Dark purple color. Aromas of deep blackberry, blueberry, rich but tart black currants, rich earth, dark floral tones, smooth vanilla, clove, a sweet and seductive appeal that opens up more and more in time. Strong tannic structure, very full-bodied and chewy, some medium acid though, the wine is both compact but showing an underlying velvetiness. Rich blackberry fruits, tart blueberries, crunchy black cherries. Quite gripped with oak (lots of dark chocolate shavings, charcoal, vanilla and cedar), but complex notes of tobacco, loamy soil, crushed rocks, paved road. Despite the richness this has a real sense of refinement. An extraordinary effort in a difficult vintage. Very, very young, a long life ahead. 100% Cabernet aged 32 months in 100% new French oak. (94 points)

2013 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Olema - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $22
Light purple color. Aromatically kicking, a lovely blend and pepper, clove and eucalyptus, on top of some juicy blackberries, black cherries and raspberries, some oak and charcoal, underlying floral-earthy notes. Lightly dusty tannins, refreshing acid, a full-bodied wine with a smooth and snappy presence on the palate. Red and black cherries and plums, the fruit is juicy and topped with some pepper, eucalyptus, charcoal. Significant toasty-vanilla aspects, a bit distracting, but overall a solid wine. Includes dashes of Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged 16 months in 30% new French oak. (87 points) 

Wines to Avoid
2013 Mirassou Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California
SRP: $12
Juicy ruby color. Smells like lingonberry and currant jams, sweet mocha, some cola and fig cookie notes. The palate is goopy and sweet. The tannins provide little to no structure, while the acid is non-existent. The brown sugar, sweet fig cookies and cloyingly sweet coffee throw my palate off. Jammy, overdone, tastes manufactured and just plain bad. (69 points)

2013 Our Daily Red Cabernet Sauvignon Our Daily Cab - California
SRP: $12
Dark ruby color. Smells jammy, like raspberry and strawberry jam, mixed in with some sweeter baked cookie notes, sweet oak, vanilla, rose potpourri. On the palate, light tannins, medium-low acid, a lightly chewy and candied mouthfeel. Sweet cola, fig paste and strawberry jam mix with notes of sweet toffee and candied apple. Not much else going on besides sweet, candied, manufactured elements. Tastes cocktail-esque, not really reminiscent of any grape variety or place. (71 points)

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