Cabernet Sauvignon: It’s one of the big daddies of the wine world, and the wines from California, in particular Napa Valley, can compete with the best, and have the price tags to prove it. We can lament the change that has occurred with the vast majority of Napa Cabernets over the past decade or two, or we can simply continue to look for quality and  -- dare I say it? -- value.

This group of wines was made up of some real heavy hitters, not the priced-to-the-stratosphere cult wines, but some of the more expensive, widely distributed, and established wines from California. The question is, of course, are they worth the money they command? Well, yes and no. The value question is always a touchy one. What is affordable to one may be a splurge to another, so let me just say that this was, as a group, an impressive set of wines. Let me also say that I would not exactly say that price and quality were particularly well aligned in this tasting. Some less expensive wines did very well and would be the wines I’d be buying.

2007 Chappellet Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill 14.9%, $130
Tight on the nose with dusty mineral tones, spiced sugar oak notes and gentle floral and herbal edges to the cool, dense black fruits. With air this gains some additional complexity and freshness. Cool and focused on entry with an initial rush of dense fruit. The tannins are a bit stiff but still dominated by the opulent fruit. There’s plenty of acid to keep things fresh and the fruit really takes on a nice blackberry tone in the mouth, with gentle notes of backing spices and confectioners’ sugar adding detail. The finish sees the tannins emerge: they are well measured but nice and crunchy, adding to the very mineral-toned long finish. This is deep and delicious with great length and lovely tension in the mouth. The balance here is phenomenal and this large wine manages to seem quite agile. Wow. 96pts

2007 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 14.6%, $100
Just lovely right out of the gate with balanced notes of dried chilies, background notes of toasty oak spice, plum, cherry and currant fruits all topped by hints of pipe tobacco and sandalwood. In the mouth this is large-scaled but very well balanced with wonderfully fresh fruit in the palate. It’s young, so the tannins are obvious, but they manage to cruise under the surprisingly delicate layer of fruit. This is elegant and pure, with really enveloping inner-mouth perfumes. It falls a bit short on the finish, for now, but this has all the pieces to turn into a classic. 94pts

2007 Chappellet Donn Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon 14.9%, $50
Superbly focused on the nose with gentle edges of mint, herb, ink, spice and rocky earth surrounding pure black currant fruit with a cedary top note. Absolutely seamless on entry with a glassy smoothness that belies the wine’s muscular structure. This is so fresh and pure in the mouth yet with no fat, all muscle. The fruit really pops in the mid-palate, revealing layers of dark wild berry tones framed judiciously with oak spice and a hint of licorice adding black cherry fruit, pipe tobacco and peppery spice on the long, minerally finish. Thick yet not sticky, this is focused, fresh and seamless. 93pts

2007 Trivium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Les Ivrettes Vineyard St. Helena 14.5%, $65
A bit oaky on the nose though with some nice lurking tobacco and pepper tones. There’s some nice, slow-to-emerge red currant fruit here, but it’s tight with slow-to-emerge floral and cocoa nuances.  This enters with a nice slightly stiff tannic edge that is quickly joined by dense, wild berry fruit that helps to add some cover to the stiff little tannins. The fruit is vivid and slightly spicy on the plate with great red fruit notes accented by slight herb tones and a hint of orange rind. Very well behaved and balanced wine that finishes with real energy on the palate and a lingering chocolate-covered cherry finale. Delicious. 93pts

2007 Sbragia Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Rancho del Oso Howell Mountain 14.8%, $75
Earthy and loamy on the nose with fine underbrush tones, a hint of thyme, then pipe tobacco and cedar roll in over light vanilla and wood spice tones. The black currant fruit is tight, focused and in harmony with the savory elements of the nose.  Pin-point balance in the mouth with rich black fruits, blackberry and black cherry spreading across the palate, accented by some very fine soil and subtle herb tones. This is really lovely in the mouth, firm yet filled with fruit, supple yet taut with some coffee bean and spice tones emerging on the backend. The finish is a bit short at the moment with the wood tones extending beyond the fruit, but that works itself out with some air. 93pts

2006 Rocca Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 14.7%, $75
Big and fruity on the nose with crème di cassis, wood spice, mesquite smoke, dried beef and light black olive tones backed up with mocha highlights. This is super-smooth and polished in the mouth, though you can feel the wood tannins floating just beneath the blanket of dark fruit. Tone of fruit in the mouth, boysenberry, blackberry, and black cherry, all spiced with wood tones and a gentle vanilla bean streak.  This is very good and will find a broad audience, even if it has some offbeat olive and beef moments, the intense black cherry fruit really persists on the long finish. 93pts

2007 Pali Wine Co. Highlands Napa Valley Highlands 14.2%, $30
This is fresh and lightly floral on the nose with crisp red and black berry fruit over lightly toasty, lightly spiced oak notes, with a touch of anise seed and candied blackberry lurking in the background. Light and fresh on entry, with a nice tense feel and wonderfully transparent blackberry and black raspberry fruit wrapped up in subtle earth, tobacco, wood spice, and forest floor nuances. The tannins are fine, supportive and yet supple with bright, juicy acidity. This is a wine for now and over the near term, a medium-bodied wine that reveals a lovely flush of herbs on the backend, though the finish is a bit pinched at the moment.  A lovely restrained Cabernet, blended with a little Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, that shows real style -- not just more is better. 92pts

2007 Ehlers Estate 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Napa Valley 14.5%, $95
Sweet, toasty wood and crème de cassis pop on the nose, followed by distinctive notes of caramel, carob and licorice, with a very light grassy top note. Big and rich up front, with some rustic tannins and juicy acidity supporting blackberry and red cassis flavors. There’s a nice hit of wood spice on the backend with a hint of licorice adding an accent to the decidedly fruity flavors here. The finish turns a bit firmer with a nice mineral note on the finale. This is well balanced and has a nice honest feel to it; not a blockbuster but a nice, ripe Napa Cabernet. 92pts

2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 15.5%, $125
Sweet blue and black fruit on the nose is accented with a streak of vanilla and subtle nose of poblano chili, grass and smoke. Quite silky on entry with both the acid and tannins well concealed by ripe but still fresh fruit. The wood tannins make their presence known with time as does that rather dry, spicy wood tone. The fruit is very crème de cassis-driven on the mid-palate and picks up a big candied black cherry tone on the backend. Still a pup, this is pretty tight on the finish and deserving of some time in the cellar. The finish picks up lots of peppery cinnamon tones with air and the fruit gains freshness in the mouth. Shocked to see this listed as 15.5%, as there is a mere touch of heat on the finish. 92pts

2007 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 14.5%, $30
Dark on the nose with initial aromas of underbrush, ink and spicy mushrooms. This gains complexity quickly, adding cedary pencil shavings, salted plums and anise seed notes. Smooth and compact on entry, this exhibits excellent balance with lovely fresh crisp blackberry fruit on the palate that is backed up by firm tannins and minerally earthy tones. There are light vanilla top notes on the palate and that spicy, almost porcini, note reappears on the backend. The finish is tight and focused with nice, fresh black currant notes and a gentle pencil-lead finale. Solid Cabernet: balanced, fresh and long, if a touch rugged. 92pts

2006 Penche Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 14.8%, $75
This smells inky and yet violet-filled with spicy notes of wood toast accenting the floral and crystallized fruit tones. There are tea and tobacco notes that accent this brooding nose. Nice and bright on entry with soft tannins buried in the rich black fruit. This is broad and sweet if still tight with impressive freshness to the black fruit and the subsumed oak spice, though there’s not tremendous complexity here. The finish gains a minty edge and the tannins really clamp down, clipping the finish and adding powdery spice notes. This is a very large-scaled wine that is well balanced and tight today but with air, or time, this will really fill out. 92pts

2006 Palmeri Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard 14.6%, $47
Lightly aromatic with mineral and ash notes framing slow-to-emerge sweet, slightly dried fruit tones. There’s a hint of wood here, but it’s really unobtrusive.  This is fairly subtle and yet subtly complex as well. Rich in the mouth with a muscular, tight feel to it. There’s plenty of freshness to the red, almost pomegranate-toned fruit up front and stiff tannins on the backend that lead to a focused, long finish with cherry fruit tones winning out over the tannins on the finale. This is fresh and really well balanced, though obviously meant for the cellar. With everything in balance I can see this really blossoming over the medium term, say 2-5 years. 92pts

2005 P M Staiger Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains 13.4%, $27
Now this smells like Cabernet. There are weeds in here and light green pepper notes, but they are adding complexity to a mineral-laden sweetly red-fruited nose that smells fresh, crisp and bright with some briarwood accents. Gorgeous nose.  Sneaky entry as this seems all soft and resolved with good juicy acidity up front, but the wine really builds on the mid-palate with light licorice tones, a nice edge of beefiness, some subtle insinuations of vanilla and a lovely, polished core of plummy fruit. The finish is bright and clean with good length. This is lean and chiseled with a lovely mineral edge to it, ready but not at peak. 92pts

2005 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 13.5%, $75

Dill, wood and milky tones greet the nose, though with air this takes on a more spiced note with hints of juniper accenting the rather complex, savory black olive accented, dark fruit. A bit blocky on entry with really juicy acids and nicely judged tannins supporting bright black currant and mulberry fruit. This has a really nice cigar wrapper edge to it and gains a light spice note on the cherry-fruited finish. The tannins are a bit stiff on the finish, cutting it a bit short but this has all the balance, freshness, and complexity to really blossom with time. Although it’s an elegant and slightly understated style, which may not appeal to some people. 92pts

2007 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%, $40

Low and soft on the nose, with gentle suggestions of tobacco, eucalyptus and a touch of grassiness with toasty wood spice embedded in red and blue fruits. This is opulent on entry and right across the mid-palate with wonderful, slightly sour notes of cherry, blueberry and red currant fruits accented by notes of mocha. The tannins emerge on the backend but are well measured, if slightly drying and lead to the rich, well-fruited and moderately long finish with juicy acidity helping to keep the richness in check. There are lovely grace notes of mineral and tobacco on the finish, but that bright sour red fruit tone emerges again on the finale. A fairly classic Napa Cab that is drinking well today but will benefit from another year or two of ageing. 90pts

2007 V Sattui Winery Vittorio’s Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.8%
Low-key on the nose with notes of herbs accenting the spicy black fruit. There are complicating notes of tobacco and tar here, as well a sweet floral accent. Lean and restrained on entry yet with nice weight and ripe flavors. Powdery tannins across the palate add some detail to the very pure currant fruit that is gently edged in wood spice. Restrained and elegant in the mouth, this tightens up nicely on the rather long finish. This will benefit from some time in the cellar and should be decanted at this stage. 90pts

2006 Vergari Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 14.1%, $30
Very restrained on the nose with an earthy, high toned, red-fruited complexity. Nice weight and balance on entry with good acids and soft tannins adding some detail to the soft, slightly loosely knit core of fruit. This is earthy and a touch dry with nice herb-tinged red fruit that pops on the finish. Definitely not your typical Napa Cab. The finish turns rather dark and spicy with air. It exhibits good length though is never particularly fruity. Old world-styled and intriguingly complex in its way. 90pts

2006 Luna Vineyards Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 14.1%, $55
Deep and sweet on the nose with slightly smoky confiture of blackberry notes framed by smoke, vanilla and oak spice. Fresh on the entry with really vivid fruit tones supported by the bright acids. The tannins are very well managed and while the wine comes off as a bit sweetly fruited, it’s well balanced and not sticky or massive. This is richly fruited but it lacks some varietal charter for me, being all about the fruit and wood spice. The finish is moderately long, with nice spice components over black currant and black plum skin fruit. 90pts

2007 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 14.2%, $30
Smoky and a bit tarry at first with rich black fruits accented by a touch of leafy greens and a hint of gamy meatiness. With air this gains a distinct coffee/mocha tone. Rather compact on entry and then quite restrained in the mouth with good freshness to the ripe, if slightly jammy, black cherry and currant fruit. This really is bright and fresh in the mouth -- with some youthful tannins adding mouth grab today -- but the slightly cinnamon-tinged fruit on the mid-palate is pure and persistent, so with some time I expect this will blossom in the bottle. The finish shows more oak character but it’s likely to be well absorbed as the wine ages. 89pts

2007 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 15.5%, $20
Lots of baking spice on the nose with a sweet vanillin underlay to the nicely green pepper-accented black fruit. This turns a bit peppery with air. Smooth on entry with good structure hidden in masses of fruit. The wood gives this a bit of a caramel note on entry then the rather intense black currant fruit with hints of mint and pepper rushes across the palate. This is a big wine, perhaps a touch simple but full of bold fruit. The finish is moderately long with nice black currant tones over some rather well integrated wood spice tones that peak out on the lightly tarry, slightly drying finale. Unabashed Napa Valley Cabernet that combines excellent varietal character with lots of power and richness.  89pts

2006 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 14.6%
Light and gently smoky, with floral and gentle green chili notes. Light and fresh in the mouth with good acidity and soft tannins. There’s some nice black and blue fruit here with some nice sweet baking spices and a touch of vanilla. A bit simple and one-dimensional if fresh and easy to drink. Drying on the finish. 87pts

2006 B Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 14.8%
This shows distinct bell pepper and eucalyptus on the nose, along with some very ripe dried fruit tones and rich black currant fruit over some soil tones. Cool and compact on entry, with classic black currant fruit with some slight herbal overtones and vegetal hints.  Moderately large in the mouth with good balance in a slightly rough and rustic style that highlights soil and mineral tones. The fruit is intense and complex, never shaking the herbaceousness in the mouth, though the modest finish is decidedly more fruit-driven with some subtle vanilla overtones. 89pts

2006 William Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
Lightly jammy with a touch of pepper and herb accenting the faint black fruit topped with notes of smoke and vanilla.  A little lean and ungenerous up front with a soft texture and modest black currant fruit accented by vanilla and some chary oak that turns bitter on the modest finish. 85pts

To view the photos and extended tasting notes on the top 13 wines tasted, go to Top Napa Cabs.