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1999 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Every once in a while it's nice to be reminded why Napa Cabs have the mystique of being, well, Napa Cabs. Dalla Valle is certainly one of the progenitors and continued beneficiaries of the cult status accorded to many of the valley's best small producers.

Dalla Valle started in 1982 with the purchase of 25 acres of hilltop vineyards and land on the hillsides above Oakville by Gustav Dalla Valle and his wife Naoko. Dalla Valle, an Italian born heir to 175 years of winemaking and winegrowing history in his family as well as the founder of the highly successful brand ScubaPro, decided to move to Napa with his wife to open a restaurant or a spa.

As with many others before them, though, they were shortly struck by the wine bug, and decided instead to focus on turning their estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc into a great wine. I'm sure they've succeeded beyond their wildest initial dreams. Whether it's the extra hour of sunlight that their 400 foot elevation gain on the valley floor gets them, their red clay hard-pack soil, or any of a hundred possible other variables, Dalla Valle churns out consistently epic wines that have helped set the standard for Napa Cabernet. Says Robert Parker in the wine Advocate: "When you ask the Dalla Valles how they do it, it's the same old answer -- 'it's the vineyard.' The yields are not the lowest, and there does not appear to be any magical formula in the winery, but for whatever reason, these wines turn out to be the stuff of legends. Life is too short not to drink a few bottles of Dalla Valle!"

Under the strict control of first Heidi Barrett, and now winemaker Mia Klein, this estate Cabernet is aged for just under 2 years in 50-60% new French oak and is bottled into approximately 2000 cases of wine each year. In addition to this wine, Dalla Valle also produces less than 500 cases of a second wine called Maya (after their daughter) which is from a select single acre of vineyard which grows what the Dalla Valles believe are their finest grapes. Maya is usually more than 40% Cab Franc.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is an intense dark ruby color and its nose is filled with aromas of black cherries, smoke, chocolate truffles and cedar. In the mouth it gushes with flavors of black cherries, dark plums and dark chocolate. The tannins in this wine are big, but they are incredibly well integrated and very smooth. The has an outrageously long finish which integrates some flavors of incense as it keeps rolling and rolling in your mouth.

Food Pairing:
This is a great candidate for one of the best possible wines to pair with grilled Kobe beef or any other really high-end steak you could attach it to. Got fresh sautéed morels to add? Even better.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

How Much?: $100 - $200

If you're looking for this wine, which I recommend for a special occasion that cries out for a great Cab, try finding it at a store that buys wines at auction or buys entire collections. This will help ensure that you pay on the lower end of the price scale than the upper. In the Bay Area, my choice would be Premier Cru, which looks like it's got the 1998 and the 2000 in stock.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.