Text Size:-+
04.02.2009

New Cabernets from Napa

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist or an exploratory marine biologist. I had dreams of discovering lost civilizations or new species in the oceans or jungles. I never quite managed to fulfill that dream, but I have managed to channel some of that passion into the discovery of new wines.

In the past few years, there has been an explosion of new wineries in Napa. Other than the market forces that made making Napa wine pretty attractive, and therefore something people wanted to try, I'm not entirely sure what might be responsible for this serious uptick in new labels appearing. I suspect that it has something to do with more vineyard owners being willing to sell off small portions of their production to an increasingly hungry market for such grapes, as well as a cyclical turnover of vineyard ownership. There are a lot of people in Napa Valley that have owned vineyards for a long time, and they're now getting ready to retire and want to turn their land holdings to a slightly more liquid form of capital, if you'll excuse the pun.

Regardless, there are lots of new wine labels in the valley, and I set out the other day to try a lot of their Cabernets. The results were both encouraging and disheartening. I found a number of fantastic wines that I was really excited about, and I also found some wines that were over-oaked and heavy handed. While I think there is a general trend in the industry of dialing back towards slightly less exaggerated flavors and signatures of wood, the big oaked Cabernet continues to be alive and well in Napa, no doubt because it still sells like hotcakes (the current economic climate notwithstanding).

These new wines are mostly from brand new producers, though a couple of them represent brand new projects for existing brands, namely the wines from Hourglass, HALL, Outpost, and Meyer Family Vineyards. The rest are brand spanking new (on their first or second vintage) and worthy of your patronage and attention.

Full disclosure: I received most of these wines as press samples.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2006 Outpost "True Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Dark, inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of black cherry, tobacco, and dark earth. In the mouth it is a cocktail of liquified earth, cassis, and black cherry flavors, all deep, dark and resonant and wrapped in leathery tannins. Good balance and a long finish make this wine a great pleasure to drink. Rockin. $80 Where to buy?

2006 Hourglass "Blueline" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a gorgeous nose of tobacco, sweet cherry, and hints of toasted oak. In the mouth it is velvety soft and slippery on the tongue with full rich flavors of juicy cherry, candied violets, and cola. Great acidity seamlessly marries with light, smooth tannins as the wine finishes with a zingy, peppy quality that makes me smile. $140 Where to buy?


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2005 DANA "Helms Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis, graphite, and cherries. In the mouth it is remarkably smooth and lighter on the tongue than the nose would anticipate. Good acid balance and a core of black cherry, plum, and soft leather flavors with a light bitterness of oak. The wine has powdery tannins that emerge on a pleasant finish. $275 Where to buy?

2003 Meyer Family Cellars "Bonny's Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of luxurious chocolate and cherry aromas. In the mouth it is nothing short of gorgeous. Beautifully smooth and lithe on the tongue, the wine swirls with great acidity that carries flavors of cherry, mint, chocolate, cedar and tobacco across the palate in several waves of pleasurable, layered flavors. The finish soars off the back of the palate effortlessly and endlessly. $135. Where to buy?

2005 Maybach Family "Materium" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Dark ruby in color with a haze of cloudiness, this wine has an intense nose of tobacco, sweet oak, and dark plum aromas. In the mouth it is bright and juicy with cherry, cola, and sweet pipe tobacco flavors that linger in a very nice finish. $180. Where to buy?

2006 Exzellenz "Sacrashe Vineyard" Proprietary Red, Rutherford
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherries, roasted fig, and dark chocolate. In the mouth it is rich and juicy with a hint of sweetness and a dark core of black cherry and chocolate fruit. Mouth-coating, powdery tannins play footsie with the acidity and fruit, but the mouth feels like it's been left under a blanket of dark cherry fleece. What's not to love about that? $150


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2006 Fontanella Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of pipe tobacco and espresso, with hints of dark chocolate. In the mouth it is juicy with bright cherry and black cherry flavors, bright acidity, and nearly imperceptible tannins and a tangy finish that isn't unpleasant but makes it slightly awkward. Like an adolescent growing into its skin, the wine will surely smooth out with a little time in the bottle. $48 Where to buy?

2006 Jack Larkin Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth it is smooth and velvety with slightly grapey, cassis flavors wrapped around a core of cherry and chocolate. Light velvety tannins emerge as the wine finishes. This wine conveys a sense of being young, but has the raw materials to likely blossom into something quiet nice over the course of a year or two. $75 Where to buy?

2005 Lieff "Auberge Road Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry cola and cassis. In the mouth it is juicy and lively, with great acidity that gives it an overall impression of enthusiasm. Medium bodied with smooth cherry fruit and hints of tobacco and leather, the wine has soft, suede-like tannins emerge in the finish, though the memory preserved is one of fruit more than anything else. $50 Where to buy?

2004 Erba Mountainside Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Inky garnet in color, this wine has a rich nose of cherry and floral aromas. In the mouth it is a lovely, balanced concoction of earth and plum flavors wrapped around a core of solid cherry fruit. Nice acids and sandpapery tannins lift the wine into a very pleasant finish. $50. Where to buy?

2005 Charnu Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black cherry and cola aromas. In the mouth it is juicy with cherry cola and chocolate flavors, and hints of vanilla. Smooth and light, with very little tannic structure, the wine is delicious but doesn't resolve to its full potential. $75

2006 Oakville East "Exposure" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of cassis, candied fennel seeds, and wet dirt. In the mouth it is round and a little tart with juicy cassis, black cherry, and plum fruit that stays pure through the moderate finish. $??

2006 HALL Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a smoky nose of cherry and cedar aromas. In the mouth it is soft, big, and slightly sweet, with powdery, mouth-coating tannins that wrap around a core of black cherry, cocoa powder, and espresso flavors that are buoyed up by nice acidity. The tannins linger through the finish with a cocoa-like residue. $100

2005 Jaffe Estate "Metamorphosis" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of smoke, black cherry, and a hint of meatiness. In the mouth it is "cherry cola surprise," with spicy coffee, vanilla and hazelnut flavors that linger pleasingly through the finish. Somewhat confectionary, it is still tasty. $60 Where to buy?

2006 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of woodsmoke, vanilla, and sweet black cherry. On the palate it is velvety, with juicy black cherry and toasted oak flavors that are wrapped in suede-like tannins that turn a little hard over time. Nice acidity makes it easy to drink, but it finishes with a little more wood than I would like. With a couple of years this wine will be even better. $70 Where to buy?


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2006 Alpha Omega "Era" Proprietary Red, Napa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black cherry, cocoa powder, and vanilla aromas. In the mouth it is smooth and round with black cherry fruit that has a dried quality and hints of roasted fig, powdery tannins, decent acidity and hints of tobacco leaf and sawdust on the finish. $160 Where to buy?

2005 Hunter III Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and black licorice. In the mouth it is well structured, with brawny tannins that have a hint of greenness to them. They wrap around a core of ripe black cherry fruit, with hints of vanilla and oak that linger in the moderate finish. $50

2004 The Gabrielle Collection "Juxtaposition" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and blackberries. In the mouth it is smooth, and juicy with black cherry and black plum fruit heavy oak, nice acidity and light tannins that emerge to hold the fruit through a nice finish. $35
Where to buy?


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2004 Pietro Family Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis, and plum aromas. In the mouth it is smooth, and cherry driven, with hints of chocolate and vanilla and a good dose of wood that lingers in the finish. $??


WINES SCORING BELOW 8.5

2005 Oberon "Hillside Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a nose of wet dirt and toasted oak. In the mouth it is smooth and polished, with sandpapery tannins, decent acidity and an oak dominated core of cherry fruit. The oak imbalances the wine at this point, all the way through the finish.

2006 Emblem "Napa Valley Series" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of pine, cherry, and toasted oak. In the mouth it is polished and glassy with cherry fruit and sandpapery tannins and not much sandwiched in between. Not much finish to speak of.

2004 The Gabrielle Collection "Equilateral" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry cough syrup. In the mouth it tastes of dried black cherries, prunes, and dark chocolate with a hint of sweetness. Over-extracted and over-ripe, this is a style of Cabernet that is hopefully on its way out. Not recommended.

2004 Cross "Brix Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco. In the mouth it has a clean quality, with faint tannins that underscore a slightly meaty, cherry quality that has an unwanted bitter edge to it.

Comments (16)

Michael wrote:
04.03.09 at 5:56 AM

Seriously? Someone's still pricing a new wine at almost three hundred dollars? I mean I am sure that this was thought up and got going during less dire economic times, but still. I remember when, for a second, the cult napa wines seemed interesting to me, but that was a novice excitement, and I now find that to be such a turn off. I hope that others feel the same way.

By the way, I also know that this wasn't the point of your tasting, and I am also happy to see that you tasted a number of more reasonably priced wines. Thanks for the notes, didn't mean to get off topic, but a couple of those numbers just jumped at me.

Randy Watson wrote:
04.03.09 at 6:22 AM

Love the description on the Outpost Cabernet... any wine that can be classified as 'Rockin' must be good! :)

Dylan wrote:
04.03.09 at 7:22 AM

Hey Alder, how would you describe the difference between powdery, sandpapery, and smooth tannins. I'm figuring that "smooth" means there is a balance with little pucker or bitterness. I also figure that sandpapery would be your way of saying it leaves the tongue feeling dried out. But, I can't figure out a way to relate to powdery. Please, correct me if I am wrong and expand my knowledge on this front of tannic variation.

Kevin wrote:
04.03.09 at 10:14 AM

Alder,

Could you write an entry on how the pricing decisions are made on these new wines? I am interested to hear the thinking that leads (to pick an example from your list) the Alpha Omega people to decide that their first wine should be released at a price above Pichon Lalande, Cos d'Estournel and Ridge Monte Bello. This doesn't seem like the soundest strategy given the economy.

Michelle wrote:
04.03.09 at 11:26 AM

What about Napa Cabs under $50? Most of the wines you mention cost a fortune so they better be damn good. Most of us can't afford a fortune these days.

Mark wrote:
04.03.09 at 11:49 AM

More overwrought and overpriced Napa Cabernet - thank goodness.... just what the wine world needs right now!

Mark wrote:
04.03.09 at 11:53 AM

Kevin - I think what leads these people to price new wines like this is that they know their wines (based on a profile that aligns to what some critics appreciate) will score well, and too many people buy wines on scores. Just check out James Laube's blog and see the commentary about Napa Cabs. I am probably over-simplifying but that is what it seems like to me.

Just my 2 cents.

scott wrote:
04.04.09 at 8:16 AM

Thanks Alder for a survey of some new wines out there. As a new producer myself(we have not yet released our first Napa cab) I thought I would chime in on the cost questions. Napa cab is expensive to make. Land prices and cult status force those of us making wine from this (often amazing) fruit to pay all time record prices for it. The often cited rule of thumb is that if you pay $8000 a ton for grapes you better be making an $80.00 retail wine, and the best Napa cab is $5-10K+ per ton. Factor in the rising cost of barrels, especially in the last couple years when the euro caused French oak prices to soar, and you have a cost no one expected. There is also time: working capital has a cost to it and because of the aging required, the money invested in quality cab (less glamorously known as "inventory") is tied up for years before you start selling. When we release our 2006 cab we will get our first revenue from cab, yet we have already paid for the costs to make and age that wine as well as the 2007, 2008 and (partly) 2009. And then there is the sales channel: a winery prices retail knowing that distributors, retailers and restaurants will get a big chunk of that number - about half in three-tier distribution states. On top of that, wineries are expected to pour and provide lots of samples: free wine to reviewers and distributors to show off the wares. A necessary marketing cost that is very real, especially for a new brand that is relatively unknown. So you add all this up and you have the answer to why these new producers making $40-$100 Napa cabs are not getting rich. In fact if you think they (we) are, why don't you give it a try yourself? Many of us do it because we are hopelessly infatuated with the resulting wines and like any craftsman or artist, are curious to see what expression we can produce. Egotistical maybe, but money-grubbing not so often.

Alder wrote:
04.04.09 at 10:39 AM

Dylan,

Regarding your question on tannins. I use those words to describe the physical sensations of tannins in the mouth. Sandpapery tannins have a little bit of a grainy grip, like rubbing a piece of fine grained sandpaper across your skin - it "catches" in places and pulls. Powdery tannins leave a sensation like inhaling chalk dust or some liquid medicines that are really chalky - they go into every nook and cranny of your mouth and leave a little residue. Smooth tannins have less friction than sandpapery tannins or leathery tannins, but still give a sensation on the sides of the mouth and the back of the mouth that is sort of like sucking on a tea bag, but for me there are two kinds of smooth tannins -- those that are "drying" and those that are polished and more wet.

Hope that helps. I'm not trained in sensory analysis, so this is just a vocabulary I've built on my own.

jib wrote:
04.05.09 at 10:20 AM

wondering if you got to try Dancing Hares, Futo, or Coho?

wmae wrote:
04.05.09 at 10:20 AM

While I appreciate the work and love that goes into the making of a bottle of wine isn't it about time these prices come way down? They're actually starting to NOT make sense. This next yr will show a glut of '05's-06's reds that will not be sold and that will be a problem. Let people buy your wines for heaven's sake! It's really not that prestigious anymore to buy high priced wines. What's good is good...whether they're $25 or $325....

Jeff wrote:
04.05.09 at 11:14 AM

Probably entertaining to taste, but just goes to show that California isn't really the place to go looking for value. Seriously...I'm sure that there are hundreds of wines that are less than 40$ that I would be just as satisfied with. Chile, Argentina, Spain, Languedoc, or Washington anyone?

Alder wrote:
04.05.09 at 11:51 AM

Jib,

I've tasted both Futo (fantastic) and Coho (very good) before, but didn't have the chance to taste them alongside these others. Dancing Hare is new to me.

wmae wrote:
04.05.09 at 1:56 PM

Jeff, i agree....i hear there are some really good valued Cabs coming out of Wash. And lately i've been tasting some good Malbec's...Argentine.

Rob wrote:
04.07.09 at 8:30 PM

Alder,

Its encouraging to see new wineries popping up in Napa as one would think that area has minimal room to grow. The disheartening side is the concern I see from many of us in the price points on these "new" wines. Scott's note is valuable to understand what most of us are unaware of...the costs to produce their product and the multi-year investment they make. Great insight but I'm still not in agreement with the pricing these wineries, distributors, restaurants, etc. are attempting to get in today's economy. I'm sure they believe someone out there will pay the price...just not as many "someones" any more. I do wish them good luck in their sales and marketing efforts and hope to taste these in the near future.

Don wrote:
06.30.09 at 10:54 AM

Nice reviews and a good list. I'm a huge fan of the Maybach. Cool family history too. Some missing names I also order direct I'd like to see your thoughts: Merus, Keever, Barbour, Meander, Karl Lawrence... just a few.

I am glad a wine maker chimed-in (Scott) on the matter of costs. My wife and I were in Napa in early June and visited many of the wine makers from whom we have ordered for years, all in the $65 - 180 range. From the very smallest operations (Meander) to those with impressive resources (Merus, Keever and others) the cost of production for a quality wine is far greater than the average Joe can appreciate. And IMO the value of a Meander Morisoli (Reserve) is far greater than a bottle of Opus One or Caymus Special Select given how expensive those wines are and how big the production is for them.

And look at Keever: great owners and the same wine maker as at Scarecrow, but available for a fraction of the price.

Enjoy in moderation.

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)
Yes
 

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Pre-Order My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

Vinography Images: The Blue Berry 2014 Family Winemakers Tasting: August 17, San Mateo Will Climate Change be the Death of Cork? The King of Zweigelt: The Wines of Umathum, Burgenland Vinography Unboxed: Week of July 14, 2014 Vinography Images: Solar Powered Dot Wine and the Fear of Change Annual Napa Wine Library Tasting: August 10, Napa Vinography Unboxed: Week of July 7, 2014 Vinography Images: The Berry

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month

 

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.