Putting together a list of Napa's top Cabernet Sauvignon is a daunting task. Failure – on some level, according to some readers, or perhaps, at some future date, even according to myself – is almost guaranteed.
And yet… there’s a joy to compiling a list like this. The initial draft of several dozen wines had to be whittled down, with each crossed-off item causing a little stab of regret. While it’s by no means comprehensive, this list does aim to include offerings at every price point, with a focus on general quality versus vintage-to-vintage aberrations. Read, ponder, and then return the favor by offering up your opinion on the must-try wines we so egregiously missed.
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Edge is a budget wine created by high-end producer Signorello. The wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, each contributing their best qualities to a smooth, complex, full-bodied wine with classic notes like cassis, tobacco, and cola, with some herb and cocoa undertones evident through the persistent finish.
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This award-winning wine is made using a blend of Oakville and Rutherford grapes. The legendary Rutherford dust is present, as are wild blackberries and blueberries, black cherries, and chocolate. Full of body and plenty of finesse, it’s ready to drink now but will also age beautifully.
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A blend of grapes from Terra Valentine’s Wurele and Yverdon vineyards, this Estate Cabernet brings together the best of each vineyard’s elevations and a total of four different types of soil. The luscious backbone of blackberries and cassis is sharpened by the penetrating aroma of menthol. Grippy tannins cling to the palate, only letting go after this beautifully supple wine finally fades to a soft, balanced finish.
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“Myriad” roughly translates from the original Greek as “innumerable,” a term that aptly describes this wine’s plethora of flavors. Like a Cabernet parfait, each glass is full of layers: blackberry interlaced with black cherry, cassis, the slightly bitter edge of dark chocolate, and just enough barrel aging to infuse the whole thing with the faint scent of baking spice.
Cool, calm, and collected. Like the James Bond of Cabernets, this offering from winemaker Dave Phinney (known widely for his work at Orin Swift) is initially so smooth it’s nearly slippery, but beneath that almost austere exterior is an expressive wine full of complexity and balance. Concentrated but practically begging for a chance to open up, this bottle just needs a little room to breathe before your patience will be handsomely rewarded.The requested photo source cannot be loaded at this time. Error: OAuthAccessTokenException Code: 400, The access_token provided is invalid.
This wine from Dunn demonstrates what Howell Mountain aficionados have known for years: Mountain grapes produce some truly killer juice. There is a coolness to this wine that mimics the crisp, mountain air, with plenty of juicy blackberries, blueberries, and cassis for oomph. Briary green notes add interest without astringency, and the balance is superb. Don’t look for oak; there’s very little if any to be found. Instead, complexity comes in the form of graphite and stone, with chewy tannins that make this Cab intriguingly sexy and admirably strong.
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As the name would suggest, Volcanic Hill is full of fluffy, gray, ash-like soil that is leftover from the eruption of Mt. Konocti some 8 million years ago. Some of that energy and mineral load makes its way into this Diamond Creek Cabernet, where tinges of smoke, graphite, cedar, and soil support lighter lashings of licorice, ripe berries, crème de cassis, and violet. It takes a strong palate to enjoy this wine young, so this may be more of a long-sighted investment, but have patience, and a few decades down the line the tightly wound tannins will loosen into something majestic. Doubtful? Some older bottlings are garnering stellar ratings after as much as 35+ years in the cellar.
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Ratings hounds will love Materium’s pile of mid-90s scores, but no grading system could possibly do justice to this single-block beauty. The wine is a vibrant, rich purple, and while the notes of blueberry, graphite, charcoal, spring flowers, and oak might not seem extraordinary in and of themselves, it’s the precision and purity that make this bottle special. Elegance personified, Materium will age with grace, only getting more opulent by the year.
*Crops subject to the uneven 2011 growing season were ruled subpar, and Maybach abandoned that year’s Materium. The 2012 vintage is set to be released in 2015.
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The wine is a present that never stops giving, as each sip peels back another nuanced layer, revealing another aroma, another flavor, another way to tease and please the senses. Pastel-colored potpourri, smashed blackberries, cassis, chamomile tea, baking spices, hazelnuts, espresso, chocolate, graphite, black licorice, wet rock… at some point, the laundry list of notes should start warring with one another, but everything is so fresh, so light, so vibrant – even the weightier elements seem lively – each sip is a skip where other wines might trudge.
*Note: Wine prices are an average of recent vintages.
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