Affordable Cabernets in the Napa Valley
I‘ve recently been tasting through recent Cabernet releases from the Napa Valley and have been struck by the appeal of many of the wines. This is due in small part to the string of vintages, cooler than typical, that winemakers have recently been working with. But there might be more to it than that.
I’ve written up my thoughts on the matter and will bring them to you in fully on Thursday, but for now I just wanted to kick off the discussion with some Napa Valley Cabernets that offer good value. These may not be really inexpensive wines—Napa Cabernets just do not come cheaply—but they are roughly in the under-$25-a-bottle category, making them affordable and probably pretty easy to find. These value priced wines offer a lot to like, and serve as a great introduction to both the style of recent vintages and (perhaps) a hint of winemaking trends in Napa Valley circa 2013.
Gentle on the nose with an early meaty note, followed by a nice blend of balanced tarragon, wet clay, Middle Eastern spice, eucalyptus and spiced cherry aromas. Rather precise and focused on the palate with attractively fresh blackcurrant and black cherry fruit early on that are joined by a little wood spice and gentle earth notes on the mid palate. The finish is bright and juicy with stiff if fine grained tannins and a nice rush of wild raspberry fruit accenting red plummy fruit. There's a nice edge of tension to this wine, with fruit that is pleasantly ripe. 89pts
Sweet and soft on the nose with early accents of mocha, sweet tobacco leaf, allspice and brown sugar joined by dried bay leaf and black currants. On entry this shows excellent integration and while there is plenty of acidity here, it is held nicely in check by the rich yet not weighty fruit. The oak is well-measured as well, yielding a rather seamless wine with attractive herb, toast and blackcurrant flavors; elegant and bright with refreshing acidity on the moderately long finish which ends with cinnamon dusted red berry fruits. This probably won't wow many, but it drinks quite well in a rather classic modern Napa Valley style. Snappy, clean and crisp. 89pts
A touch of dusty earth, perhaps even stemmy on the nose, which also shows red currant fruit, well-measured vanilla and lightly toasted spices and a touch of toasted almond and dry fruit. Medium bodied and fairly bright on entry, this blends some riper flavors of dried fruit and prune with light caramel edges and layers it all over red currant and cherry fruit. There are nice spice and vanilla accents showing on the mid palate that add complexity but don’t overpower the fruit, leading to a slightly tannic but palate-freshening finish thats pretty long with lingering, slightly spicy black cherry flavors and lightly chewy fruit tannins. With air, a subtle herbal note emerges on the palate as well. Love the way this feels in the mouth, though the flavors are just a touch riper than a very solid value. 88pts
Dark and sweet on the nose with plenty of chocolate and toasty oak notes over a base of herb-brushed, lightly roasted blackberry fruit. Light and dry on entry, this is rather poised in the mouth and not at all in the common soft style of Napa Valley today. The flavors are well anchored by good acidity and dry, earthy tannins, showing a suggestion of herb, a touch of tobacco and light cedar accents to the red and black currant fruit. The back end shows a little oak, nothing too obvious, and it drives the moderately long finish, which picks up a touch more herb and fruit character. This is relatively complex and elegant in a masculine way. 88pts
Vanilla, herbs, raw wood and jujube aromas greet the nose. Subtly complex with a light gaminess to the black fruit on the nose. Smooth and polished with nary an edge to be seen though the flavors here run towards the oakier, savory end of the spectrum with lots of mocha, cocoa, and dried spice flavors framing nice blueberry fruit. Well-balanced and interesting, this lacks some complexity and depth but should make for fine early drinking. The finish is fairly short with some drying wood tannins and toasty spice notes. 87pts
A touch sweet and toasty on the nose with a nice light licorice top not floating over moderately spicy and slightly leathery black fruit. Balanced and focused on entry with a nice integrated, decidedly medium-bodied mouth feel and layered flavors of toasty oak, leather, licorice, black plum skin, and a touch of green walnut. This turns a touch minty on the back end where the sweetness of wood picks up a bit, leading to a moderately long finish that shows a bit of oaky harshness and more licorice notes. 87pts
A nice minty, herbaceous edge greets the nose, adding freshness here to the slightly oaky and hard dark currant fruit. This smells unforgiving. Tight on entry, there's a good amount of fruit here, but this is not fleshy and plump but rather focused and crisp, medium weight with black cherry and currant fruit topped with a hint of mint and laid over a base of cedary oak. This seems to need some time in the bottle, not soft but neither oppressive for its a slightly fruit-driven classic Napa Valley Cabernet, though perhaps not representative of the typical warmth of Calistoga. The finish shows more of the oak, dry and nutty with lingering vanilla sweetness matched by the compressed cherry fruit and ending with a touch of smoke on the finale. Should benefit from 1-3 years in the cellar. 87pts
Smoky on the nose yet bright with fresh red currant and lightly jammy blackberry fruit, all cupped in a gently sweet vanilla note. A touch rough around the edges, this shows some noticeable wood tannin in the mouth with good acidity adding some freshness to the dark cherry/blackberry flavors. There's also noticeable oak sweetening the palate and adding vanilla and spice notes that persist on the moderately long finish, which also shows some cherry pit notes and a touch of heat. 87pts