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1997 Heitz "Martha's Vineyard" Cabernet , Napa

What's life without a little splurging? What's California without a little Cabernet? California cabs put us on the map when it came to wine in the 1980's and they continue to be the most popular and expensive wines made in the US. This wine may be a classic example of both (popular and expensive), and it is most certainly a classic example of the category.

Heitz Cellars is one of the original "cult" producers of wine in Napa. So consistent and revered are their wines, that their Cabernet is used by some collectors much like the Dow Jones Industrial Average to gauge the quality and value over time of a given California vintage.

Heitz has been around since 1961 when it was founded by Joe and Alice Heitz who purchased the homestead of an old Italian-Swiss family and its eight acres of vineyards which include the now famous Martha's Vineyard and Bella Oaks Vineyard. The winery has expanded more to more than 300 acres and now produces more than just the original Cabernet.

This particular wine, from the banner year of 1997 in California, is 100% Cabernet, aged for an astounding 42 months in first American Oak (1 year) and then French Oak (2.5 years) before bottling. It was released in February of last year, and every one of the 5600 cases was probably sold out before they even went on sale.

Tasting Notes:
A dark garnet in color, this wine has a remarkable nose filled with classic cherry aromas mixed with dark wet earth, flint, and even some floral notes which were elusive but reminiscent of lavender or sage. In the mouth it is perfection -- satin smooth with flavors of black cherry, cassis, black tea, and luxurious soft tannins that cushion the flavors and envelop them as they head towards a finish that seems to go on for minutes. Exquisitely balanced and complex. Truly extraordinary.

Food Pairing:
With a wine this good, one hardly needs much. Something simple with basic essential flavors and some sauces that can be mopped up with bread, like this veal roast with fresh figs.

Overall Score: 10

How Much?: $150

Who buys $150 wines anyway? Not a lot of people. Certainly not me with any regularity. However, some things are worth a splurge, and if you ask me, this is a deal compared to paying $350 for a Chateau Latour or some other major French wine that got 98 points from Parker. (This one only got 90). It is available at higher end wine stores like K&L or Plumpjack.

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