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Does Napa's Best Cabernet Live in Oakville?: A Recent Tasting

While often referred to as a single "place" when it comes to wine, Napa is hardly a single monolithic growing region. Each of its 14 established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) lays claim to a separate identity, characterized by geology, microclimate, and different histories of production.

The Oakville AVA has one of the most storied of such histories. It is home to the famed To Kalon Vineyard, purchased by H.W. Crabb in 1868, shortly after the installation of a railroad stop made the tiny village of Oakville spring to life. In 1876 Crabb's neighbor John Benson bottled his inaugural vintage of Far Niente wine just down the road.

By the year 1880 the Oakville area had 430 acres under production, and these would nearly triple to more than 1000 acres in the next 10 years and continue to grow until Prohibition turned off the spigot in the 1920's.

In 1965 Heitz Vineyards made the first vintage of Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, a wine that Robert Mondavi probably tasted around about the time he established his own winery a year later. Over the next thirty years, Oakville would gradually become home to some of the best wines on the planet. Acre for acre, the Oakville appellation may be the oakville.jpgheaviest hitting single wine region in the western hemisphere. It is home to many of the highest scoring and highest priced wines in America, including Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, and Dalla Valle, to name just a few.

Oakville is ground zero for Napa Cabernet, and with good reason. Year over year it produces some of the most tremendous wines in the valley. It's hard to say that one particular area of Napa truly produces the best Cabernet, but it's also hard to find someplace that has more claim to that title than the Oakville AVA.

Last week the Oakville Winegrowers Association put on its annual Taste of Oakville event, which gives members of the wine trade and the press an opportunity to sample wines from its members. This meant an opportunity to taste through a lot of excellent 2004 and 2005 Cabernets (as well as a few other reds and a few random whites), most of which I enjoyed greatly. There were a few wines at the tasting which I didn't get a chance to taste, as they had run out of wine by the time I got there, but the list below represents all but a few of the wines poured. The tasting took place on the upper level catwalks of the Robert Mondavi Winery surrounding their large oak fermentation tanks, which you can see in the photo.

2006 Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards Soliloquy White Blend. Score: 9. Cost: $25
2006 Cosentino Signature Winery Oakville Chardonnay. Score: 9. Cost: $30
2005 Kelham Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. Score: 9. Cost: $30
2006 Oakville Ranch Chardonnay. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48
2007 Swanson Rosato. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18
2004 Teaderman Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28
2007 Saddleback Cellars Pinot Blanc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc Reserve, "To Kalon Vineyard." Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost:$20

Now that we've gotten those out of the way, let's move on to the main event, shall we?

2005 FUTO Red Blend. $250
2004 Harlan Estate Red Wine. $450?

2004 BOND "Vecina". $400?
2004 BOND "St. Eden". $400?
2004 Dalla Valle Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $150
2004 Sophie's Rows Bordeaux Blend. $75
2005 Rudd Winery Oakville Estate Proprietary Red. $105

2004 Enzo Wines "Saunders Vineyard" Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon . $75
2002 Atalon "Beckstoffer Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. $80
2006 Casa Nuestra Winery & Vineyards Tinto Classico - Old Vines Red Blend. $40
2005 Detert Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. $75
2004 Emilio's Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon. $50
2005 Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards "Holy Smoke" Cabernet Sauvignon. $85
2005 Gargiulo Vineyards 575 OVX Cabernet Sauvignon . $??
2005 Gargiulo Vineyards 575 OVX G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. $??
2005 Nickel & Nickel "Martin Stelling Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. $135
2004 Opus One Red Blend. $165
2005 Showket Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $85
2005 Swanson Merlot. $38
2005 Tierra Roja Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $110

2005 Enzo Wines "Tierra Roja" Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. $85
2005 Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon. $125
2005 Gargiulo Vineyards "Money Road Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon. $54
2004 Kelleher Family Vineyard "Brix Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. $65
2005 Kelleher Family Vineyard "Brix Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. $75
2005 Nickel & Nickel "John C. Sullenger" Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. $90
2005 Nickel & Nickel "Branding Iron Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. $90
2005 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. $65
2004 Paradigm Merlot. $44
2005 Showket Vineyards "Asante Sana" Red Wine. $50
2005 Showket Vineyards Sangiovese. $35
2005 Stanton Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $75
2005 Swanson Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon. $75
2002 Teaderman Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $80

2005 Cosentino Signature Winery Oakville Estate Cabernet. $75
2005 Ghost Block Cabernet. $55
2004 Oakville Ranch Robert's Blend, Cabernet Franc. $90
2005 Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon. $62
2005 PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. $74
2005 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve . $125
2005 Venge Vineyards, Family Reserve, Merlot. $45

2005 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville. $57
2005 Hoopes Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. $65
2002 Kelham Vineyards Merlot. $45
2005 Oakville East "Exposure" Cabernet Sauvignon. $100
2005 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville. $45
2005 Tamber Bey Vineyard Estate Cabernet . $65

2002 Kelham Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. $100

2002 Kelham Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $45

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise 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 Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud