Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley are increasingly synonymous for international wine lovers. Located 80 kilometres north of San Francisco and 56 kilometres east of the Pacific Ocean, Napa Valley is bordered by the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountains to the east.
In 1981, this area of California was officially recognised as the American Viticultural Area (Ava). Within it, 16 sub-areas were then identified as ‘Ava’. Only 4% of the grapes harvested in the western US state come from the Napa Valley.
This figure was achieved thanks to 182 square kilometres of vineyards, equivalent to 9% of the Napa County region. An area where the vast majority of wineries produce less than 120,000 bottles per year. And where 95% of the farms – around 500 – are family-run. Total production in the Napa Valley is around 110 million bottles.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON IN NAPA VALLEY
Among the area’s iconic varieties, promoted and celebrated by Napa Valley Vintners, is Cabernet Sauvignon. «Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king of red grapes in the Napa Valley – says the winemakers association – representing 50% of our total production and 68% of the value of our harvest»
«This variety is grown throughout the Napa Valley and achieves a range of different expressions depending on vineyard location. Its flavours show a wide variety of black fruits, including currant, cherry and plum, and often exhibit notes of spice due to oak ageing».
«On the palate – Napa Valley Vintners continue – these wines can be dense and powerful in their youth, but they age gracefully. When young, they are best paired with robust red meat dishes such as game and braised lamb. Older Cabernet Sauvignons are superb accompaniments to simple roasts and steaks, as well as aged cheeses».
NAPA VALLEY, WATCH OUT FOR STAGS LEAP DISTRICT AVA
All impressions confirmed by the winemag.it tasting. In particular, it is the sample from the Stags Leap District Ava, a sub-area of Napa Valley to be taken into account for the future, that surprises and convinces.
The area, located in the heart of the appellation, some ten kilometres north of the city of Napa, has been making headlines since the early 1960s. Nathan Fay, considered the pioneer of the Stags Leap District, planted the region’s first Cabernet Sauvignon vines here.
About 28 hectares, on volcanic soil (a peculiarity of the Stags Leap District) along the Silverado Trail. An enormous figure considering that, at that time, there were only 323 hectares of the variety in the entire United States (today there are 13,759 in California, 3,965 in Napa Valley).
Fay sold most of his grapes to a local grower, Joseph Heitz, who started the Valley’s first appellation Cabernet Sauvignon: the Heitz Cellar “Fay Vineyard”. Since then, the number of wineries producing Napa Valley’s iconic red in the Stags Leap District Ava has grown by leaps and bounds.
90% of the area is planted with Bordeaux varieties. A small Bordeaux, where 80% of the wines are based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Also present, but in much smaller numbers, are small productions of Petite Sirah (also known as Durif) and Sangiovese.
10 NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNONS: THE TASTING
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2019, Raymond Vineyards: 89/100
Medium-transparent ruby. Nose on dark cherry, plum and marked tertiaries reminiscent of dark chocolate, plus pipe smoke and coffee background. Elegant palate, with the fruit taking up space on the stage, in the middle of the mouth, before the tertiaries take over on the finish. Alcohol (14.5%) is well integrated into the framework of a wine that combines elegance and power.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2019, St Supéry Estates Vineyards & Winery: 92/100
Impenetrable ruby with violet hues. A colour that denotes the extreme youth of the nectar, despite the fact that 3 years have passed since the harvest. The nose is initially shy, delicate, with a prevalence of flowers over fruit. Clear notes of violet combine with hints of cherry, plum and blackcurrant, in an aroma that gradually opens up, layering up well beyond the initial impressions.
Oxygenation opens up the spectrum to gentle herbaceous memories (a distinct tea leaf), as well as to a fruit that becomes increasingly juicy and dense, shifting markedly from dark to red hues. The flower does the same, changing from violet to pink. Always in the background, though present, are the hints conferred by the ageing in wood: very pleasant memories of coffee grounds and peanut butter.
The palate is a concert: everything perceived on the nose is reverberated on the palate, in a perfect taste-olfactory correspondence. The wine is very elegant, yet powerful (14.5% full bodied) and still young. The tannins are soft, like melted chocolate. The persistence is excellent. A Cabernet Sauvignon of international standing.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Estate Grown, Silverado Vineyards: 87/100
The wine colours the glass purple. Here is a version of Cabernet Sauvignon that is anything but opulent, rather played on enjoyability and immediacy, despite the 14.3% may suggest the usual “Cab” to be accompanied obligatorily with structured dishes.
The nose and palate talk to each other, agreeing on the substantial balance between intense fruity notes and composed tertiary. The complexity is basic, as is the persistence. A light-hearted but not banal wine.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Chateau Buena Vista, Buena Vista Winery: 88/100
Intense, impenetrable red colour with purple highlights. First nose on toastiness and smoky memories that do not, however, cover the precise expression of the primaries. The fruit component is on cherry, perfectly ripe, as well as blackcurrant and plum. The taste is characterised by an appetising sweetness, as much for the fruit as for the tannins.
These are not minor details that make the wine irresistible to drink, without sacrificing its gastronomic qualities (15% vol. intact). A side note, linked to the occasion of consumption: we are in the presence of a wine that lends itself to being consumed cooler than the average Cabernet. An hour or so in the fridge will do it no harm, especially in summer.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Sky and Vine, S.R. Tonella Cellars: 87/100
14,3%. Nice purple with a violet edge. Nose between fruit and spice, even more so than on the tertiary. Clear floral notes, with particular reference to the violet flower, as well as black liquorice.
Sweet tannins on the palate, with freshness responding to the pulp of the dark cherry, plum and currant. Great drinkability and well-integrated alcohol for a linear Cabernet Sauvignon that combines modernity with typicity and power.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Louis M. Martini Winery: 93/100
Intense, impenetrable purple colour to the eye. Nose and mouth in perfect correspondence, on notes of dehydrated plum and black cherry. Precise contribution of the tertiary elements, between peppery veins and more marked notes of embers and roasted coffee.
A wine that is rewarded by prolonged contact with oxygen, which helps it to open up and reveal less obvious facets at first glance, such as the fine floral component, between violets and wet roses, not very evident at first glance.
The taste is taut, full and absolutely satisfying. The crunchy fruit is supported by fine tannins of great elegance. Alcohol that should not frighten the label: the 15% vol. is magnificently integrated. Persistence like a champion and a long life ahead. Absolutely outstanding Cabernet (and cellar).
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Darioush: 91/100
Medium purple on the eye. 14,8%. Nose and sip of juicy fruitiness, reminiscent of plum and cherry, with undertones of warm (cinnamon) and dark (pepper) spices and balsamic veins (mint, black liquorice). At the moment the alcohol is a little too exuberant in the aftertaste, but the drink is linear and fresh, not at all compromised.
Further ageing can only do good to this nectar that combines power and extreme elegance in an exemplary manner. It is a wine that calls to the table in a clear-cut manner, especially with equally opulent and structured food pairings. Highly recommended with furry game, less so with feathered game.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Stags Leap District, Pine Ridge Vineyards: 92/100
15,2%. Purplish-nailed portora, showing some youth and potential in the nectar, now in its fourth year. The wine is initially a little closed, but with time and oxygenation in the glass it becomes more relaxed. The first floral and violet nuances then appear, together with a nice array of warm spices (cinnamon, bourbon vanilla) and oriental ones (turmeric, curry).
It pushes and manages to reach the surface with a few strokes (read “further swirl in the glass”) the fruit: it is pulpy, greedy, rich, goliardic, material. It is plum, freshly picked from the tree, perfectly ripe, but also cherry and blackcurrant. There are also red hints of strawberry and raspberry, as well as Ferraiola and sanguinella cherries.
One would expect the taste to be just as complex. Instead, especially in the middle of the mouth, the nectar displays a linear juiciness that shifts the balance from the opulence and layering of the nose typical of Napa Valley Cabernets to absolute elegance, made even more intriguing by a unique and rare sapid-mineral vein not present in the other samples tasted.
This wine is emblematic of the particular expression of the grape variety in Stags Leap, which is confirmed as a sub-zone of equal dignity to an Italian DOCG, in its own right. An elegant wine, more enjoyable than ever today, as well as in the medium to long term.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Estate Grown, Long Meadow Ranch Winery: 90/100
Intense ruby, with very light garnet hues. A Cabernet with some years on its shoulders, also evident on the nose and palate. Another characteristic is the 13.5% vol. of alcohol that makes it unique in the panel of wines tasted. Juicy fruit and deep tertiary elements paint the picture of a wine that is fully vital, elegant and precise.
Less opulence and more crispness, for a style that brings this sample closer to the European style, in vogue in various wine territories that are overcoming, over the years, the concept that the tertiaries are the “figure” that defines the weight and value of a nectar (in favour of freshness and primaries).
Completing the picture (nose-palate) are gentle herbaceous memories (tea leaf, but also oregano and rosemary), together with a balsamic spiciness. The persistence is good, for a wine that calls for red meats.
Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Marston Family Vineyard: 92/100
Intense ruby with garnet highlights. Very elegant first nose, which then confirms itself as such, without becoming disconcerted by oxygenation. Fresh floral component (violet, rose) in full view, together with precise and juicy fruit, red (currant, cherry, raspberry, even light strawberry chimes) and black (blackberry, blackcurrant, dehydrated plum).
The taste is taut, fresh, with balsamicity and tertiary notes counterbalancing the opulence of the fruit in the centre of the mouth. On the finish there are coffee and dark chocolate, as well as a more pronounced spiciness than on the nose, which shifts the axis from balsamic to peppery.
The elegant, pulpy tannins and alcohol content recall the first impressions given by its still young colour. The nectar still has a long life ahead of it. It is also perfect today, with combinations of the same structure, from first courses to meat-based main courses.