I can’t imagine the colossal task of selecting 11 of California’s Cabernet Sauvignons. After all, California is one of the top producers of the world’s best-selling wine (Canada is ranked #1 in California wine imports).
So here we sit, in a sold-out room at the Vancouver International Wine Festival, as wine personality Anthony Gismondi moderates a panel of Cali Cab producers from three back-to-back “dream vintages” of 2012, 2013 and 2014.
With just 90 minutes to cover 11 wines, introductions of each winery turn into lively conversations and a whole lotta great sipping at the end of a busy week.
Wente Vineyards The Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Only 30 barrels of this limited-edition cab were produced, with the wine sourced from select blocks that produce consistently exceptional fruit. Nth Degree is composed of 80% Cab Sauvignon with 10% each Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot, spending 24 months in barrel. Wente believes in farming for flavours and textures, delivering a rich, beautifully-textured and spirited wine.
Justin Vineyards & Winery Isosceles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
The sunshine, varying elevation and rockiness of Paso Robles have created challenges over the years, however Justin Vineyards’ Isosceles, a concept wine, carries a lot of energy, created from 75% Cab Sauvignon, 16% Cab Franc and 9% Merlot grapes. The first Isosceles vintage was produced in 1989. The 2013 edition’s got a rich jammy quality that’s a signature of most Paso Robles cabernets.
Geyser Peak Winery Devils Inkstand 2012
Due to a spring containing steep sides and depth that caused the water within to appear black as ink, settlers to Sonoma Valley thought they’d discovered the Gates of Hell. The evolution of minerals and geological heritage helped to name this cab, containing 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 to 3% Malbec grapes that add a violet character to the wine. This area contains iron-rich soils, good sun exposure and microclimates, combining with a bit of fog followed by lots of sunshine. This prevents Geyser Peak’s vines from warming up too quickly.
William Hill Estate Winery Bench Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
2013 marks this Cab’s 19th vintage. Founder Bill Hill was one of the first to develop in the Napa Valley mountains back in the 1970’s. This 100% single-vineyard cab is aged in all-French oak, showcasing what Cabernet can do in a cooler climate. Bench Land includes the three most-concentrated blocks of vines to produce a wine containing dark, rich, ripe fruit.
Fuse Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
This was my favourite of the bunch; even after sampling all 11 wines, I returned to enjoy another glass. With only 2,000 cases produced, this Cab’s created with 86% Cabernet, plus 8% Cab Franc and 6% Petit Verdot grapes. It’s rich, delightful and full-bodied and will easily cellar for 5 to 15 years. It’s tough to make an affordable Cabernet due to increasing costs (this one retails for CDN $72 and led to a discussion about wines being priced out of the market). The new ‘affordable’ high-end Cabernets appear to retail in this price range, something to keep in mind at your next fancy party or occasion for opening a bottle of Cab.
Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
This wine has a long history, rolling out a vintage (using the first single vineyard) for every year since 1975 (except for 2011, a bad vintage for Napa wines across the board). Winemaker Pat Henderson still picks wines from his favourite vineyards (primarily from Carriger and Lone Pine Estate Vineyards in Southern Sonoma Valley), revising the blend somewhat from year to year. He tries to keep the oak subtle at 20% new oak barrel aging, then filters the wine for about a year and a half to allow it to develop smoothness.
Stags’ Leap The Leap 2013
The Leap’s produced with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown from estate, then aged in 30% new French oak for 20 months. Volcanic soils and sun exposure make for an expressive, if somewhat slightly softer version of what’s typically produced in Napa Valley. A popular Indian legend has it that stags would leap to escape capture, giving the winery its name. Gismondi adds that this is a very terroir-based wine.
Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
R Mondavi’s proud to make its 40th appearance at the festival, bringing us a wine with a concentrated intensity derived from the vineyard’s “sweet spot”. The temperatures are warm enough during the day to ripen the fruit before the coolness and shade take over on the east side of the valley. This reserve spends 18 to 20 months in 100% new French oak barrels. The Cabernet Franc grapes fight the middle of the palate, with Petit Verdot there to turn up the cassis a bit. Mondavi vineyards were planted in the 1860’s and have received medals since 1890’s when they presented in Paris and Bordeaux. And as they say, the rest is history.
Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Founded by two German visionaries in 1856, Beringer Vineyards own 1,700 acres planted on some of Napa’s most coveted sites. This private reserve contains 98% Cabernet plus 1% each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot grapes, the latter adding a bit of spice and tannin to the mix. Spending 24 months in barrel then another year prior to its release, Beringer’s 2012 will age well too.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Former professional dancer Rodney Strong is one of Alexander Valley’s wine pioneers (first vintage in 1974). Strong was instrumental in transforming Sonoma County from rustic farmland to prime wine-growing region. Rockaway was purchased in 2003, with a first vintage two years later. The winery had to remove the “rocks away”, plus the winemaker was born in Rockaway, NY, which is how the wine got its name. The well-drained hillsides and low-pH soil produces primarily small-berried clusters.
Mt. Brave Vineyard Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Mt. Brave is the only California winery that gets barrels for $400 to $600 less than its competitors, allowing them to offer wines at a better price. They own about 45,000 acres in the best part of Napa too. A relatively new wine, the Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon spends 19 months in 18% French oak barrels. Have a look at your watch: Brand Ambassador Craig Ellick believes in checking this way to see how long a wine’s finish lasts.
And with that, I’m just about ready for another glass of Cab. Here’s to 2017!