California cabernet sauvignon has long been the most popular red wine in this country.
When most wine consumers think of California cabernet sauvignon, they most likely think of Napa Valley. No question prices are high but so is quality. And when compared to top Bordeaux, Napa cabs of similar quality start to seem like reasonable values. Napa Valley’s generally warmer climate yields cabs typically known for dark fruit (currant, cherry, berry, plum), herbal notes, noticeable oak, full body and lush tannin:
• Acumen. This organically farmed Atlas Peak estate has consistently improved over its first decade. Its 2019 vintage portfolio is the most impressive yet. The effusive Mountainside ($75), muscular PEAK ($115), ripe, intense PEAK Attelas Vineyard ($145) and expressive, bold PEAK Edcora Vineyard ($165) share a full-bodied, warm fruit character.
• Brandlin Estate. 2018 ThS Mount Veeder ($135). a selection of the best barrels, concentrated, earthy, tobacco, delineated.
• Cliff Lede. 2019 Round About Midnight Stags Leap District ($110), vibrant, juicy, rich, savory.
• Duckhorn. 2017 Howell Mountain ($105), ripe, broad, powerful, brooding.
• Faust. 2019 The Pact Coombsville ($125), fresh, roasted, earthy, structured.
2018 Pine Ridge Napa Valley ($65), lively, firm, compote, minty, sleek.
2017 c. Elizabeth Game Farm Vineyard Oakville ($150), intense, smooth, integrated, oak.
• 2017 Gamble Napa Valley ($60), preserves, mint, toasty, solid, plush.
With all the quality from Napa, it may surprise some to learn that cabernet sauvignon from Sonoma County can reach equal quality, usually at lower prices. Sonoma is generally cooler, typically with more day/night temperature variation than Napa, thus its cabs display a somewhat tighter structure and a juicy freshness that balances richness. This is especially true of wines from Alexander Valley, which are having a moment as more winemakers seek out prime fruit from the area.
•Medlock Ames. 2018 Bell Mountain Estate ($70), organic, ripe, lively, elegant, tobacco.
• Stonestreet. 2017 Estate Alexander Valley ($55), baked fruit, herbs, minerals, structured.
• 2019 Sosie Charlie Smith Vineyard Moon Mountain District ($75), organic, powerful, bright, supple, bold.
The 2018 Jordan Alexander Valley ($60) gets special mention here as the winery is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a series of events, including one in Denver early this month that was particularly special as Tom and Sally Jordan founded this estate in 1972 while living in Denver. Their son John, who has run the winery since 2007, and current winemaker Maggie Kruse were joined by several Denver Broncos and top chefs including Colorado Springs’ Brother Luck for a series of events benefiting Clayton Learning Center. But the real stars were the cabs.
In addition to some nicely developed older vintages, the current 2018 Alexander Valley ($60) reflects the signature style of approachable elegance with the ability to develop complexity.