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What to Drink Now: Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends

A slight chill in the evening air and the pending official start of Fall sends me in to the cellar with the desire to sip big, bold Napa Valley Cabs and Blends.  Many wineries are releasing their 2008 vintages right now, some their 2009, some their 2007, depending on how they aged their wines.  Here are a few favorites recently enjoyed, some were sent for editorial consideration, all are delicious.

I attended a wine dinner recently at Sevy’s Grill with Robin Lail. A Napa Valley icon, founder of Dominus with her sister, Merryvale with Bill Harlan, and of course, Lail Vineyards.  Employing another icon, winemaker Philippe Melka, Lail makes two incredible Sauvignon Blancs and two stunning Cabernet Sauvignons.  Her 2007 J. Daniel Cuvee blends 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from four different sites in Napa – Howell Mountain, Calistoga, Rutherford and Coombsville.  A great food wine, especially with Strube Ranch Kobe Short Ribs from Chef Severson, filled with black cherry, black plums, licorice and leather with layers of spice and dried herbs.  96 points from Robert Parker, a vibrant wine to be enjoyed now or will age nicely for years to come.

When Delia Viader started her winery in the mid 1980’s she had a goal to own her own business, to make great wine featuring one of her favorite varietals, Cabernet Franc, and raise her kids in a comfortable, rural setting. She found her pristine estate on Howell Mountain and got to work moving the mostly rocky terrain out and making room for vines, a tough job especially as much of the work was done at a 32 degree slope going downhill. But the determined single mom knew she had faced more difficult challenges in her life and proved it could be done, and done well. Today Viader, and its strong willed leader, are making some of the most consistent and impressive red wines coming out of Napa Valley at their Howell Mountain estate. I recently visited the estate and tasted through the portfolio of Viader wines. Cabernet Franc remains a significant varietal among all of the blends, usually the second highest percentage used in most blends.  However, the 2008 Viader Black Label changes this up a bit with this limited production red combining Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, a touch of Malbec and only 1% Cabernet Franc. Created from fruit grown throughout the estate this powerful wine wraps structure around elegance creating a distinctly Howell Mountain Viader wine with earthy, smoky and spiced notes combining with ripe blackberry, black cherry and licorice. Intense and interesting, and very small production, only 367 cases made in 2008.

Howell Mountain in Napa Valley from the Viader Winery tasting room.

While up at Howell Mountain I also visited Ladera Vineyards, Spanish for “hillside.” The 2007 Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon brings fruit from two distinctly different vineyards together in one bottle, fruit from Howell Mountain, with its iron-rich, dense, red-clay loam soils, high temperatures and elevations up to 1800 feet above sea level and Mount Veeder, with slightly more moderate slopes and an elevation up to 1100 feet above sea level, with clay soils that have good drainage and cool temperatures. The resulting wine is complex and filled with layers of coffee, chocolate, red licorice, a hint of floral notes and bold red fruit.

Terraced vineyards at Vine Cliff

Vine Cliff Vineyard is nestled into the heart of the Oakville district where they produce their award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  Vine Cliff traces its roots back to the 1870’s when the winery produced a good deal of bulk wine for the area and to be shipped abroad.  In the 1890’s Colonel Stephan Fry took the winery over with the goal to make Vine Cliff a premium wine estate which would set the standard for quality in wine making.  And he was successful, until 1900 when phylloxera destroyed the vineyards, with the Colonel passing away just a year later.  The winery ceased operations and pretty much disappeared until 1985 when Charles and Nell Sweeney found the run down property and knew they could make something special out of it.  With the help of their son, Rob, who joined his parents as Vineyard Manager and now General Manager the Sweeney family has restored this historic property and are once again carrying out the Colonel’s vision of creating high quality, hand-crafted, small production wine.  The 2008 Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is filled with cassis and black cherry liqueur with spice notes of nutmeg and clove with chocolate and black licorice on the palate and a long finish.

Trinchero Napa Valley prides itself on creating special, small production, single vineyard wine from their key vineyards sites throughout Napa Valley, like St. Helena, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak. Their 2008 Chicken Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon has become a favorite, as it just tastes like a classic Napa Valley Cabernet. Created from grapes grown at the Trinchero Chicken Ranch vineyard in the Rutherford district, known for imparting herbal and mineral notes in wine and creating big red fruit flavors. This valley floor vineyard gets full sun exposure, creating grapes with “Rutherford Dust” earthy, Old World characteristics like leather and cigar box. Red cherry, juicy raspberry and cranberry flavors marry with tobacco, mocha and coffee. A great wine to be enjoyed now with hearty braised meat and game.

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