When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist or an exploratory marine biologist. I had dreams of discovering lost civilizations or new species in the oceans or jungles. I never quite managed to fulfill that dream, but I have managed to channel some of that passion into the discovery of new wines.
In the past few years, there has been an explosion of new wineries in Napa. Other than the market forces that made making Napa wine pretty attractive, and therefore something people wanted to try, I’m not entirely sure what might be responsible for this serious uptick in new labels appearing. I suspect that it has something to do with more vineyard owners being willing to sell off small portions of their production to an increasingly hungry market for such grapes, as well as a cyclical turnover of vineyard ownership. There are a lot of people in Napa Valley that have owned vineyards for a long time, and they’re now getting ready to retire and want to turn their land holdings into a slightly more liquid form of capital if you’ll excuse the pun.
Regardless, there are lots of new wine labels in the valley, and I set out the other day to try a lot of their Cabernets. The results were both encouraging and disheartening. I found a number of fantastic wines that I was really excited about, and I also found some wines that were over-oaked and heavy-handed. While I think there is a general trend in the industry of dialing back towards slightly less exaggerated flavors and signatures of wood, the big oaked Cabernet continues to be alive and well in Napa, no doubt because it still sells like hotcakes (the current economic climate notwithstanding).
These new wines are mostly from brand new producers, though a couple of them represent brand new projects for existing brands, namely the wines from Hourglass, HALL, Outpost, and Meyer Family Vineyards. The rest are brand-spanking new (on their first or second vintage) and worthy of your patronage and attention.
Full disclosure: I received most of these wines as press samples.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2006 Outpost “True Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Dark, inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of black cherry, tobacco, and dark earth. In the mouth, it is a cocktail of liquified earth, cassis, and black cherry flavors, all deep, dark, and resonant and wrapped in leathery tannins. Good balance and a long finish make this wine a great pleasure to drink. Rockin. $80 Where to buy?
2006 Hourglass “Blueline” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a gorgeous nose of tobacco, sweet cherry, and hints of toasted oak. In the mouth, it is velvety soft and slippery on the tongue with full rich flavors of juicy cherry, candied violets, and cola. Great acidity seamlessly marries with light, smooth tannins as the wine finishes with a zingy, peppy quality that makes me smile. $140 Where to buy?
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2005 DANA “Helms Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis, graphite, and cherries. In the mouth, it is remarkably smooth and lighter on the tongue than the nose would anticipate. Good acid balance and a core of black cherry, plum, and soft leather flavors with a light bitterness of oak. The wine has powdery tannins that emerge with a pleasant finish. $275 Where to buy?
2003 Meyer Family Cellars “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
With dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of luxurious chocolate and cherry aromas. In the mouth, it is nothing short of gorgeous. Beautifully smooth and lithe on the tongue, the wine swirls with great acidity that carries flavors of cherry, mint, chocolate, cedar, and tobacco across the palate in several waves of pleasurable, layered flavors. The finish soars off the back of the palate effortlessly and endlessly. $135. Where to buy?
2006 Exzellenz “Sacrashe Vineyard” Proprietary Red, Rutherford
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherries, roasted figs, and dark chocolate. In the mouth, it is rich and juicy with a hint of sweetness and a dark core of black cherry and chocolate fruit. Mouth-coating, powdery tannins play footsie with the acidity and fruit, but the mouth feels like it’s been left under a blanket of dark cherry fleece. What’s not to love about that? $150
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2006 Fontanella Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of pipe tobacco and espresso, with hints of dark chocolate. In the mouth, it is juicy with bright cherry and black cherry flavors, bright acidity, nearly imperceptible tannins, and a tangy finish that isn’t unpleasant but makes it slightly awkward. Like an adolescent growing into its skin, the wine will surely smooth out with a little time in the bottle. $48 Where to buy?
2006 Jack Larkin Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, it is smooth and velvety with slightly grapey, cassis flavors wrapped around a core of cherry and chocolate. Light velvety tannins emerge as the wine finishes. This wine conveys a sense of being young but has the raw materials to likely blossom into something quite nice over the course of a year or two. $75 Where to buy?
2005 Lieff “Auberge Road Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
With medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry cola and cassis. In the mouth, it is juicy and lively, with great acidity that gives it an overall impression of enthusiasm. Medium-bodied with smooth cherry fruit and hints of tobacco and leather, the wine has soft, suede-like tannins emerge in the finish, though the memory preserved is one of fruit more than anything else. $50 Where to buy?
2005 Charnu Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black cherry and cola aromas. In the mouth it is juicy with cherry cola and chocolate flavors, and hints of vanilla. Smooth and light, with very little tannic structure, the wine is delicious but doesn’t resolve to its full potential. $75
2006 Oakville East “Exposure” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
With dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of cassis, candied fennel seeds, and wet dirt. In the mouth, it is round and a little tart with juicy cassis, black cherry, and plum fruit that stays pure through the moderate finish. $??
2006 HALL Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
With dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a smoky nose of cherry and cedar aromas. In the mouth, it is soft, big, and slightly sweet, with powdery, mouth-coating tannins that wrap around a core of black cherry, cocoa powder, and espresso flavors that are buoyed up by nice acidity. The tannins linger through the finish with a cocoa-like residue. $100
2005 Jaffe Estate “Metamorphosis” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of smoke, black cherry, and a hint of meatiness. In the mouth, it is a “cherry cola surprise,” with spicy coffee, vanilla, and hazelnut flavors that linger pleasingly through the finish. Somewhat confectionary, it is still tasty. $60 Where to buy?
2006 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of woodsmoke, vanilla, and sweet black cherry. On the palate, it is velvety, with juicy black cherry and toasted oak flavors that are wrapped in suede-like tannins that turn a little hard over time. Nice acidity makes it easy to drink, but it finishes with a little more wood than I would like. In a couple of years, this wine will be even better. $70 Where to buy?
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2006 Alpha Omega “Era” Proprietary Red, Napa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black cherry, cocoa powder, and vanilla aromas. In the mouth, it is smooth and round with black cherry fruit that has a dried quality and hints of roasted fig, powdery tannins, decent acidity, and hints of tobacco leaf and sawdust on the finish. $160 Where to buy?
2005 Hunter III Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
With dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and black licorice. In the mouth, it is well structured, with brawny tannins that have a hint of greenness to them. They wrap around a core of ripe black cherry fruit, with hints of vanilla and oak that linger in the moderate finish. $50
2004 The Gabrielle Collection “Juxtaposition” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and blackberries. In the mouth, it is smooth and juicy with black cherry and black plum fruit heavy oak, nice acidity, and light tannins that emerge to hold the fruit through a nice finish. $35
Where to buy?
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2004 Pietro Family Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis and plum aromas. In the mouth it is smooth, and cherry driven, with hints of chocolate and vanilla and a good dose of wood that lingers in the finish. $??
WINES SCORING BELOW 8.5
2005 Oberon “Hillside Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a nose of wet dirt and toasted oak. In the mouth, it is smooth and polished, with sandpapery tannins, decent acidity, and an oak-dominated core of cherry fruit. The oak imbalances the wine at this point, all the way through the finish.
2006 Emblem “Napa Valley Series” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of pine, cherry, and toasted oak. In the mouth, it is polished and glassy with cherry fruit and sandpapery tannins and not much sandwiched in between. Not much finish to speak of.
2004 The Gabrielle Collection “Equilateral” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
With dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry cough syrup. In the mouth, it tastes of dried black cherries, prunes, and dark chocolate with a hint of sweetness. Over-extracted and over-ripe, this is a style of Cabernet that is hopefully on its way out. Not recommended.
2004 Cross “Brix Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
With medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, it has a clean quality, with faint tannins that underscore a slightly meaty, cherry quality that has an unwanted bitter edge to it.