Napa’s best Cabs revealed by tasting panel
Napa Valley is not shying away from its reputation for making full-bodied, richly fruited and generously oaked wines.
At a recent tasting event 60 of Napa’s top priced cabernet sauvignon wines were reviewed by members of the St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintner Tasting Panel over two afternoons at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, California, The collective palates of the winemakers brought hundreds of years of experience in dissecting the region’s wines. But make no mistake about it: winemakers are no friend to wines that don’t meet their individual standards. Despite the temperate climate of the season or even the room, there are some very frosty moments at these panel tastings.
Lending their palates to the Cabernet Sauvignon review were Hugh Davies of Schramsberg, Kristen Belair with Honig, Todd Graff of Frank Family, Brooks Painter of V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa, Alison Crary with Sterling Vineyards, John Skupny of Lang & Reed, Christophe Smith from Titus Vineyards and dozens of other winemakers and others closely involved in the wine trade.
While the included wines are certainly not all-encompassing (get on that mailing list for Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Colgin), this tasting looked at some of Napa Valley’s more accessible super-premium wines. All samples were submitted to the Napa Valley Vintners.
The wines were current vintage – mostly 2010s- and their price tags had to be $50 or higher. Initial impressions by the panelist were surprising. In place of the usual barbs was an almost uniform appreciation for the current wines and style of Napa Valley’s top Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Wine note after wine note mentioned the concentrated red fruits and generous levels of alcohol and oak flavours. If the bigger style of wine has taken some hits over the last few years, there was no cause and effect sign from that backlash here.
These wines are as rich and generous as Napa Valley is famous for; a style that the winemakers present agreed was the one they were proud to present to the world.
Scroll through our slideshow to find out what the judges deemed to be Napa Valley’s top premium Cabernet Sauvignons.
Pine Ridge Vineyards 2010 Stags Leap District ($85).
Pine Ridge is one of those wineries that always seems to attract a crowd of visitors.
Whether you’re inside or out, the sound of laughter seems to hang in the air.
This is a grown-up House of Fun complete with deep caves, friendly people, and tasty wines like this top cab.
Castello di Amorosa Il Barone 2010 ($88)
Castello di Amoros’s wines have gained top place in our tastings numerous times no matter the price range, but why not go for the mother ship?
The il Barone is one of the winery’s super premium wines.
St. Supery Estate 2010 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard ($100)
The St. Supery tasting room went through an impressive redesign in the last few years and now guests can sip their wines on the outside patio while watching ongoing bocce games, or inside at the lively bar. Members can head upstairs and enjoy wine while looking down at activity in the barrel room through a set of large windows.
Trinchero Napa Valley 2010 Haystack Vineyard ($70)
The Haystack Vineyard sits at 1500 feet on Atlas Peak. Dynamite blasts made this area hospitable to grape vines in the late 1800s and a man named Mr. De Boom – you can’t make this stuff up –was the first to produce wine up there. A beautiful, long driveway leads you to a newer tasting room; a real treat even for Napa Valley locals.
CADE Estate Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
This Howell Mountain escape takes you away from the noise and traffic of the valley and brings you face to face with big, powerful wines like this top Cabernet Sauvignon. But don’t stop at this wine; try their Sauvignon Blanc and their Syrah too –a great line-up of wines.
D.R. Stephens Estate 2010 Moose Valley Vineyard ($135)
With a degree in philosophy, we assume winemaker Michael Hirby puts a lot of thought into his wines. He is known for devouring information and is an expert on flavour development of grapes in the vineyards. Drstephenswines.com
J. Davies Estate 2010 ($90)
This sister-winery of Napa’s famous sparkling house, Schramsberg, has a reputation of its own – for producing some of the valley’s top cabernet sauvignon wines. This 2010 is a biggie; it can lay down for 10 years or more.
Clif Family Winery 2010 Kit’s Killer Cab ($50)
Clif owners Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson each have extensive careers in the culinary field and now take their experience with flavour development to the wine vat. Add to that winemaker Bruce Regalia’s love of all things fermenting: beer, vinegar, wine–and you have a perfect storm for a killer cab. Cliffamilywinery.com
Louis M. Martini Winery 2010 Lot 1 ($145)
One of Napa’s historic wineries, it is good to see its famed heritage matched with acclaimed wines. The concept of special lots of wine started in 1968 and continues today with this Lot 1.
Ballentine Vineyards 2010 ($85)
Defying the odds, John Ballentine bought vineyard property, along with what was the original Sutter Home winery, during Prohibition. Following repeal, Ballentine’s Deer Park wine brand was born. Van Ballentine revived the brand with his wife, Betty, whose family also has an incredible wine history. Ballentinevineyards.com
Frank Family Vineyards 2010 Reserve ($85)
Following a midnight phone call about its sale, it took Rich Frank less than 24 hours to become owner of what was then the Kornell Champagne Cellars in Calistoga. He had been visiting the Napa Valley on weekend getaways from his Hollywood television career and would now jump into the wine business with both feet. Frankfamilyvineyards.com
Keenan Winery 2010 Reserve ($104)
To get to the Keenan Winery you travel a very windy, narrow road, all of which is now paved. Just ten years ago, you turned off onto a dirt road for the last part of the trip. This is a big structured wine, one to keep for a number of years and then spring it on your favourite wine buddies. Keenanwinery.com
Charles Krug 2010 Red Blend Generations ($50)
The ever resourceful Cesare Mondavi went from boarding house and saloon keeper to grape and fruit shipper before taking on wine production when his family purchased the Charles Krug winery for $75,000 in 1943. Red fruits meet vanilla and spices for a big sip of Napa Valley cab.
Oakville Ranch Vineyards 2010 ($82)
The label on Oakville Ranch wines introduces enthusiasts to the story behind the wine. The colour of the red O is the colour of the red soils on the hillside paths. The surrounding design speaks to owner Mary Miner’s love of contemporary and modern art. Her artistic background led her to Paris where she met Bob Miner and Bob brought her into the wine industry web. Oakvilleranch.com