Harvest 2018 is nearly completed. While some producers are still waiting to bring in Cabernet Sauvignon, many are reporting that most of their fruit will be hitting crush pads shortly. The crisp fall mornings and sunny days are allowing for optimal ripening, and the winemaking community couldn’t be happier. It appears yields are higher than anticipated and the quality of the 2018 vintage has been exceptional thus far, according to the Napa Valley Vintners.
Despite all the work that remains to be done, some winemakers and members of the wine trade didn’t want to miss the recent tasting of 2014 and 2015 Cabernet Sauvignons from five mountain appellations: Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain District, Diamond Mountain, Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. The wines ranged in price from $62 to $175 a bottle. The tasting was coordinated by the St. Helena Star and the Napa Valley Vintners and held in the Rudd Center at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.
Some common themes within the panel were the balanced ripeness and concentration of fruit, however, more red fruit aromas were noted than expected. There were several comments highlighting the well-integrated tannins and potential for aging in the wines tasted. One panelist found the first flight (Mount Veeder) the most challenging due to similarities within the wines.
Christie Dufault (CIA Wine Faculty) appreciated that the flights were organized by AVA. She experienced with her students that they sometimes become frustrated trying to pinpoint the subtle differences of terroir in the valley. She was most surprised by the well-integrated tannins and noted that some wines appeared ready for earlier drinking and that others would benefit from additional aging for many years.
Winemaker Todd Graff of Frank Family Vineyards said, “I was expecting bigger and more monstrous wines, and I am impressed with the quality on the first flight (Mount Veeder), surprised to find more red than black fruits flavors.”
Julie Lumgair of J Moss Wines added, “Mountain fruit is showing more consistency and typicity of the place.”
Panelists included a list of Napa Valley’s top winemakers including Laura Barrett (Clif Family Wine), Kristin Belair (Honig), Bill Dyer (Dyer Wines), Thomas Foster (Essere Franco), Janet Myers (Cbrands), Chris Phelps (Ad Vivum/Inglenook) Angela Sterms (Acme Wines), Sean Thompson (J.Davies & Schramsberg) and Josh Widaman (Lewis Cellars), joined by Christie Dufault and Master Sommelier Bob Bath from the CIA, and Peter Stoneberg from the St. Francis Yacht Club.
About Cabernet Sauvignon
It is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. From its origins in Bordeaux, Cabernet has successfully spread to almost every winegrowing country in the world. It is now the key grape variety in many first-rate New World wine regions, most notably Napa Valley.
Used as frequently in blends as in varietal wines, Cabernet Sauvignon has many common blending partners including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Cabernet Sauvignon is highly adaptable to different soil types and climates. It is grown at latitudes as disparate as 50 degrees N (Okanagan in Canada) and 20 degrees S (northern Argentina), and in soils as different as the Pessac-Leognan gravels and the iron-rich terra rossa of Coonawarra. Despite the diversity of terroirs in which the vine is grown, Cabernet Sauvignon wines retain an inimitable “Cab” character, nuanced with hints of provenance in the best-made examples.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the acknowledged king of red grapes in the Napa Valley, accounting for 40 percent of our total production and 55 percent of our crop value. This vine is grown throughout the Napa Valley and achieves a variety of expression depending on its vineyard site. Its flavors display a wide variety of black fruits, including currant, cherry and plum, and often show notes of spice from oak aging.
On the palate these wines can be dense and powerful in youth but age gracefully. When young they are best matched with robust red meat dishes such as game and braised lamb, while older Cabs are superb accompaniments to simply prepared roasts, steaks and aged cheeses.
Following the discussion, the wine scores were revealed. Panelists selected the following first-place wines:
Anthem Winery and Vineyards 2014, Mount Veeder ($110)
- 14.7 percent abv, located at 400 feet in Napa Valley’s western hillside. An ultra-premium powerhouse mountain Cab with flavors of blackberry, currant and licorice with hints of spice.
Juslyn Vineyards 2015, Spring Mountain District ($175)
- 15.3 percent abv, aged 1.5 years in 75 percent new French oak. A beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon, with a pleasant balance of acidity and tannin with flavors of blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry and well-integrated spices from the oak aging.
Wallis Family Estate Seraphim 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain
- ($175) 14.7 percent abv. A powerful and deep wine, super-ripe dark cherry, chocolate, mocha and exotic spice are just some of the many notes that run through this super-expressive Diamond Mountain Cabernet.
Dos Lagos 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak ($125)
- 15.5 percent abv, with luscious red and black cherries, cassis, currants, finishing with coffee, cedar and almonds. The soils are ancient and volcanic, and the tuff is white at Dos Lagos. Soils tend to be shallow and easily drained. Vine growth is limited, yielding small berries with thick skins. Structure, stony minerality and complexity are the result. Dos Lagos Vineyards sits on some of the most sought-after soils in all of Cabernet-land.
Summit Lake Vineyards Emily Kestrel 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain ($75)
- 14.5 percent abv. A savory wine with delicious rich blackberry, plum and red and black fruit flavors. The wine is nicely balanced, with a long finish.
Pine Ridge Vineyards 2015, Howell Mountain ($150)
- 14.5 percent abv. A sweet, ripe fruit entry of cherry, plum, and blackberry fruit combines with notes of vanilla cream and cedar spice. Expansive, mouth filling and weighty, this wine finishes long and firm with toasted oak. The Alta Vineyard sits at an elevation of 1,800 feet and features southeast-facing plantings. The rocky, well-drained volcanic soils force the vines to dig deep for water and nutrients, and to produce small, intensely flavored berries. Despite strong afternoon sun, the climate tends to be cool because of the altitude, and acidity is maintained throughout ripening.