If any of you have read my past wine articles, you’ll know how much I enjoy finding new wines from regions I’ve yet to discover, made by producers I’m unfamiliar with and, if possible, using grape varieties I’ve had little exposure to.
This article explores none of those themes. No, this is a trip down red wine’s Main Street, an evaluation of Napa Valley cabernet Sauvignon, considered by many to be the Rolls Royce of American cabernet sauvignons. From what I’ve just tasted, the reputation is well-deserved and still intact.
I’ll start with a name all wine drinkers, and even most non-wine drinkers, are familiar with — Mondavi. The Mondavis, both Robert at Mondavi Family Estates, and his older brother, Peter, at Krug, blazed the trail for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Since Robert’s passing, son Michael has followed in his father’s footsteps, starting Michael Mondavi Family Estates.
I had the chance to try two new cab releases from Mondavi: The 2012 Animo and the 2013 Emblem.
According to information from the winery, Mondavi made a concerted effort in these releases to make his cabs in a more fruit-forward style with softer tannins.
The goal is to produce wines that are more approachable at a younger age. My impression was that he was, for the most part, successful. I enjoyed both wines, but stylistically, the Animo was my favorite.
I generally enjoy mountain fruit, and this wine is all about that. Produced from grapes grown on Atlas Peak at 1,270 to 1,350 feet on stony, volcanic soils, this is a wine that’s nearly as solid as the soil from which it emanates.
There’s plenty of fruit in the nose and on the palate, but the wine’s structure balances things nicely. You can drink the Animo now, but I’d wait at least 10 years if you have the cash and the patience.
Another Napa mountain cab, this one from Mount Veeder, also resonated with me — the 2012 Brandlin Estate cabernet sauvignon.
Brimming with dark fruits —black cherries and plums most obvious to my palate — the Brandlin blends cab (77 percent) with smaller amounts of malbec (9 percent), cabernet Franc (9 percent) and petit verdot (5 percent).
The Bordeaux-style combination provides a lovely and balanced wine with tons of fruit along with hints of herbs and a touch of coffee and chocolate. With silky tannins, the Brandlin cab is approachable now, but I’d try to keep my hands off this beauty for five to eight years for maximum drinking pleasure.
Also located on Mount Veeder is a longtime favorite cabernet sauvignon producer of mine, the Hess Collection.
I’ve visited Hess Collection numerous times, and filmed with the winery at least twice during the production of my television show, “Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert.” The stunning winery with its world-class art collection is a must-see in Napa, and, in my opinion, the Hess wines are must drinks.
At the top of the list of those wines is the 2012 Hess Collection Mount Veeder cabernet sauvignon. This is a classic Mount Veeder cab, a product of small berries which produced an intensely-flavored wine.
The most overtly tannic of the cabs I’ve reviewed so far, the Hess Mount Veeder cab is a big, bold wine meant to be consumed with big, bold cuisine several years down the road.
Last, a cabernet sauvignon from the valley rather than the mountains of Napa, and what a beauty it is, is the 2013 Caymus Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.
This venerable winery produced its first Napa Valley cab in 1973, and it’s been a consistent winner ever since. To my palate, this cab is the most accessible of the wines featured in this article should you have a hankering to pop the cork tonight.
The ’13 Caymus is packed with fruit. I got blueberries, blackberries, dark cherries and cassis, but there was so much going on in the glass, I likely missed a flavor or two. The finish is long and the tannins relaxed, making the Caymus Napa Valley cabernet lovely to drink now, but easily capable of aging 10 years or more.
None of these wines are inexpensive, nor would they make anyone’s list of “value cabs.” But, if you are after wines with pedigree, structure, balance, ageability and lip-smacking flavor, you could do a lot worse than checking out the latest crop of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.