This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.
This crew of wines included some real beauties. As is usually the case, I find that the best wines aren’t cheap. However, I also find the most expensive aren’t always the ones I like the most.
Of course, it all comes down to personal preference and — when talking about California Bordeaux varietal wines — a lot of it comes down to your tolerance for oak. The Shafer is a massive and oaky steel-toed boot to the palate, but I love it because, somehow, it all comes together. However, I found some other wines with far less new oak tasted overdone and charred.
This report includes wines from four recently available vintages (2010-2013), which reflects tremendous variation in style and aging ability.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.
2010 Fields Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Dr. Konrad’s Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
Light purple color. The aromas are bright and vibrant, although there’s plenty of dark currant and plum fruit. The wine smells fresh, with elements of potting soil, violets, eucalyptus, sweet pipe tobacco, cherry wood and slight vanilla — I can’t stop smelling this wine. Medium-to-full-bodied, this wine has a firm but dusty tannic structure, refreshing acidity and bright but dark fruit (black cherry, blueberry, blackberry). The fruit is pure and vibrant and laced with elements of soil, graphite, violets, coffee and cola. I get an underlying sense of minerality that lingers long on the finish. Aged about two years in barrel and two in bottle before release. This is showing very well right out of the bottle, but it could use two more years in the cellar and will improve for long after that. (91 points)
Review: 2011 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
Dark ruby/earthy purple color. Aromas of black currant, roasted fig, plum cake, topped with cocoa powder, tobacco pipe and potting soil notes. Full-bodied but not too chewy or opulent – fine-grained tannins provide structure and some vibrant acidity keeps things smooth and precise. Dark currant, blueberry, roasted fig, the fruit is rich but showing nuance. Elements of tobacco, fallen leaves, and coffee grounds add play off of mocha and toast elements, which are woven in well and don’t dominate the other flavors. Not the deepest, most complex or age-worthy wine, but it is put together well and offers a lot of deliciousness and is ready to drink. (87 points)
2012 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
Juicy purple color. Smells of dark currants, some roasted plums and figs, and a blend of sweet eucalyptus and mint, dark chocolate and charred toast. Full, dark and bold but the tannins have a smooth edge, medium acidity helps keep it moving forward. Blueberry, black currant, roasted fig, the fruit’s topped in vanilla coffee, dark chocolate, toasted coconut and loamy soil. A bit tight at first, this could use some time to open up but very tasty, quite well-structured and a lot of fun. Aged 18 months in mostly French oak, about 1/3 new. (88 points)
2013 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
Rich purple color. Deep aromas, a bit tight at first, this takes quite a bit of time to open up, but it eventually shows black currant and blackberry jam with iron, charcoal, tobacco and eucalyptus. Full-bodied and quite tannic, this is a seriously structured wine but the acidity is refreshing, and the balance is impressive. Blackberry and tart currant fruit, bold but it maintains a crunchy mystique. Lots of complex flavors packed in here: lavender, cedar, dark roast coffee, clove and a deep sense of minerality. Finishes long and balanced. A beautiful wine that will improve drastically as it ages over the next five to eight years. Aged 21 months in 60% new French oak. (93 points)
2012 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
Dark ruby color. Deep but vibrant black cherry, black currant and roasted fig aromas, I also get wet earth, charcoal, violets and eucalyptus, all of which combine to make the nose incredibly inviting. A velvety feel on the palate, solid structure to the tannins but fresness from the moderate-plus acidity. Saucy, smooth black fruit, plenty ripe but it maintains a nuanced appeal. Complex elements of loam, eucalyptus, gravelly soil, potted flowers. Hints of sweet cola and vanilla round out the finish. Open for business but stuffing to improve in the cellar. Includes 16% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec, aged in new and used French and American oak. (91 points)
2013 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Such a dark purple color. On the nose, I get dense blackberry and cassis, along with chocolate, coffee, a hint of mint and this unique element of concrete, paved road and graphite, which I really like. Rich and chewy, this has serious tannic structure but it’s suave. Some medium-low acidity helps tame the wine just a bit. Deep black currant and blackberry fruit topped with dark chocolate, charred earth, graphite, pencil shavings, dark roast coffee. Big and bold but undeniably delicious and quite complex. A bit toasty, but the other elements show through. Dense now, opens up significantly, but this is one to bury and forget about until at least the next Presidential election cycle. 15.3% alcohol, this is aged 20 months in all new French oak. (93 points)
2013 Purple Heart Wines - California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
Vibrant ruby color. Smells candied and sweet with strawberry jam and black cherries topped with cinnamon, licorice and milk chocolate. Smooth tannins, low acidity, juicy and slightly candied fruit. I get raspberry, strawberry and blackberry jams with flavors of coffee, chocolate and vanilla. Simple but pleasant. 84% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. (85 points)
2013 KITÁ Kalas Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Vibrant ruby color. Smells wonderfully smoky and earthy, with savory spices, mushroom, fallen leaves and campfire on top of a rich blend of tart black and red berry fruit. Full-bodied with a solid and dry tannic structure, some moderate acid for freshness. Tart red currants, black cherries, dark plums, all of the fruit is crunchy but full of ripe juice. If you enjoy savory aspects, seek this out because they are firing: pepper, rich earth, mushroom, wet leaves, pencil shavings, just hints of toast but well-integrated. Needs time or at least a lot of air, but this stuff is enjoyable and leaves a lot to contemplate as well. 54% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points)
2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot - California, Sonoma County
Deep purple color. Tart blackberries, blueberries and richer black cherry fruit, some rich iron, potting soil, espresso and vanilla. Medium-to-full-bodied, dusty tannins, some tang from the acid, a velvety but crunchy feel to the wine. Tart blackberries and blueberries, mixed in with toasted oak, vanilla, dark roast coffee and sweet violets. Hints of earth and pencil shavings, a tart currant jam on the finish. A solid, perhaps it will get a bit more expressive with age. (86 points)
2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Jackson Park - California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
Vibrant purple color. Smells fruit-forward with a mix of blueberry, raspberry and strawberry jams, along with some sweet cedar, vanilla and coffee notes. Medium-full-bodied, a chewy texture against some sturdy tannins, medium-low acid. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is jammy and rich, slathered with oak and vanilla, throw in some sweet cola, coffee, eucalyptus, mint, some rich earthy elements as well. Good stuff now, but I’d want to cellar this for a year or two and see how it opens up. A dash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this is aged in 40% new French and American oak. (88 points)
2012 Grgich Hills Merlot - California, Napa Valley
Medium ruby color. Smells of tart black cherries, rich dark plums, mixed in with tons of smoke, tobacco, black olive, earthy complexity, wonderful aromas but they need time to open up. Full-bodied yet some zip from the acid, this has great structure with firm tannins but they’re fined down around the edges. Lovely crunchy and tart aspects to fruit (some red berries mixed in with the blackberry and dark plums). Full of earthy, floral and spicy complexity. Nice and toasty (but not too much), with notes of roasted chestnut coffee. Very well-made stuff, it’ll have a lot more to show in four or five years. (91 points)