Issue 26

The Great American Cab Review, 2016

The Great American Cab Review, 2016

Outside my window, a massive silver maple looms over our house, threatening to one day penetrate the attic in a storm, and serving as the bane of my existence during what I’ve come to think of as “helicopter season.”  But this mighty tree, far older than I am, also signals for me the change of seasons in a way so beautiful that any thought of cutting it down has long since vanished from my mind.  The autumnal turn of leaves from green to all shades of red, gold, and brown triggers in me a response one part neurological, one part nostalgic, that grows more insistent as each year passes.  Fall means raking, which I loathe, and football, which I adore. Fall is when I mourn the passing of summer’s warmth and freedom, and when I celebrate the birth of my firstborn son. Fall reminds me ever so subtly that winter is coming (rest in peace, Eddard Stark) and of the impending cold that awaits all of us here in Nebraska.  And all of this, of course, I can read in the leaves.

            But the looming period of cold is not without it’s purposes, not completely devoid of benefit.  For one thing, there’s sledding, and for another, the warmth of a fire. Most wonderfully, however, I have come to equate winter with Cabernet Sauvignon, that boldest of red wines that can warm the heart and soul even when the fierce elements outside have chilled you to the bone. Cabernet on a winter evening is a chance to reflect upon the day, perhaps even the year, to warm up and prepare for the coming of yet another winter’s day.

            Over the course of this past year, I’d guess I’ve tasted something like 400 Cabernet Sauvignons, give or take. Not all of them were any good, of course, but I’ve taken this opportunity to share with you what I found to be some of the best, the most interesting, and the ones that hold the fondest memories. Many of these wines were tasted in tasting rooms, and many were submitted as samples for this article. All of them I’ve tasted, and all of them I recommend.

            Some of these wines retail for as little as $10, while others will cost you more than $200.  Before we commence with the recommendations, I want to pass along one crucial piece of advice to anyone who drinks wine: treat a $100 bottle of Cab Sauv like a $100 bottle of Cab Sauv, storing it properly, decanting it for a while prior to serving, drinking from crystal when possible, and pairing it with good food and better company. And treat a $10 bottle the exact same way. It will bring out the best in the wine and help it to enhance the experience, I assure you. Ultimately, “good wine” is little more than a matter of personal preference.

            For each Cab listed, I offer the average price in order that you can look for those that fit your own budget. If the wine is not readily available in the Omaha market, I’ve given you the web page of the winery so you might order it directly. If the wine is available in Omaha, it should be relatively easy to track a bottle down. If you have trouble finding one, or have a recommendation for a killer Cab that I failed to include, please send me an email.

            So here we go, forty truly terrific Cabs that I recommend to help keep you warm this winter, and a few of my own memories to go along with them. I hope you enjoy these wines as much as I do, and that the stories they help you create will bring a smile to your face as you retell them for years and years to come.

 

Abeja 2013, Columbia Valley

$52.00 

Available at www.abeja.net

“Do you have any Pinot Noir glasses?” asked Jay.

“Nope,” I said, ever so slightly annoyed. Who has the capital for varietal glasses anyway? How pompous.

“No problem, I’ll just bring mine.”

Whatever.

Three weeks later, Jay showed up at my house with half a case of wine and a box of Riedel Pinot glasses.  This was a “blind date” for want of a more accurate way of putting it; Jay and I “knew” one another from Vivino, an app we both use to rate wine. When he’d mentioned coming to Nebraska in a post, I invited him over. He brought with him wine, glassware, and his lovely mother and wife. My own wife and parents were already present at my home, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable evenings I can recall, during which I learned two things: first, varietal glasses actually can make a significant difference in the aroma and flavor of wine (I now own Riedel Pinot Noir glasses), and second, when it comes to the wines of the Pacific Northwest, nobody knows more than Jay.

Recommended by my now dear friend Jay, the Abeja 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is an impressive gem of a wine. Pronounced “ah-BAY-ha” and Spanish for bee, this Cab offers a huge, dark nose of gushing purple and black fruits, hints of cinnamon spice and cracked white pepper.  Glassy smooth on the assault, with a collection of holiday baking spices, gingerbread, and faint nuttiness mingling amidst dark fruits that play second fiddle to the rich umami flavors. Long and dry on the finish, it drinks well now, but this is a wine I’d happily lay down for a decade if not two. Thanks, Jay.

 

Alpha Omega Era 2013, Napa Valley

$150

Jean Hoefliger, who makes this wine, is one of my new favorite people in all the world. Jean is one of those rare characters who can command an entire room with his personality, his demeanor, his charm. We spent an evening together in the Napa Valley this past summer, imbibing and dining and talking about life.  It was originally for an interview I was doing, but in the end, it ended up being the vehicle that introduced me to a new friend.  A Swiss-born immigrant to the United States, Jean makes wine all over the world, and is quite famous for doing so. Jean and I share the belief that wine brings people together, tears down walls and opens the doors to conversation, civility, and growth. Jean explained to me that he believes wine has a vital, social role to play in the world, especially in our currently contentious society, and I couldn’t help but to agree with him. For this reason, I recommend his wines always to be paired with conversation around a table.

Era is the Flagship wine of the Alpha Omega Winery, and that’s saying something. Dark, well structured, and perfectly in balance, it’s a terrific blend that offers the very best the old world colliding with the new. Bold and robust, black fruits mingle with baking spice and notes of graphite to create a wine that is sophisticated, complex, and perfect for a celebration or conversation. Decant this one, or cellar it in favor of drinking a slightly older vintage. Either way, you won’t go wrong.

 

Amigoni 2014, Missouri

$16

Available at www.Amigoni.com

My favorite weekend getaway has long been Kansas City. Between the Jazz scene, the ubiquitous mouthwatering barbecue, the sporting events, vibrant arts scene, active running culture, and several world-class museums, I find it almost impossible not to enjoy my time in KC. And recently, I’ve found yet another reason to enjoy the city: Amigoni Urban Winery, located near Kemper Arena. In an elegantly repurposed old building, Michael Amigoni produces many wines from classic European varietals, some of which he also grows locally in Missouri. My wife Sonja and I have met Michael on several visits, and always enjoy our time tasting the rare examples of vinifera (European grapes) he’s crafting in the heart of the American Midwest.

Light, bright, and vibrant, the color is that of a fresh red cherry. The body, medium and equally bright in flavor, is laced in under-ripe, tart cherry with some chalky notes, supported by only the mildest tannins.  The lightest Cab in this entire review, it’s a beautiful creation, and only 58 cases of this vintage were produced.  This is, in my opinion, a Cab for lovers of Pinot Noir – and I am a lover of Pinot Noir, so it totally works for me. I’d pair this with a number of things, not least a nice, saucy, KC-style rack of ribs.

 

Barnard Griffin 2014, Columbia Valley

$17

 One of the pioneers of the wine industry in Washington State, Rob Griffin made his way in the Columbia Valley as a winemaker when his UC David professors advised him against it. California was the place to make wine, they insisted, but Rob marched to the beat of his own drum, and he saw something special in the beautiful, rolling valleys of Washington State, a thousand miles from Napa. Disregarding their warnings, Rob struck out north to make wine.  It didn’t happen overnight, but Rob wasn’t alone, and soon people began to take note of what he and his contemporaries in the region were doing, and the quality of the wine they were making. And so, over the years, a movement blew in on the cool, salty breezes of the Pacific. Today, Columbia Valley is one of the best-known wine regions in the world, thanks in large part to bold men like Rob Griffin.

BG wines always offer a lot of bang for your buck. This Cab is no different. A terroir-driven representation of Washington, it’s relatively soft in the mouth yet tannic enough to hold up over time, and utterly dominated by dark purple fruits and subtle hints of vanilla. I tasted it just last week at a free tasting at Wohlner’s, and even out of a plastic fluoride shot glass I still think it’s one of the best Cabs on the market in this price range. A classic, dark-fruit laden Columbia Valley Cab, pair it with beef or charcuterie.

 

Buehler 2014, Napa Valley

$30

John Buehler is one of the funniest sons-of-bitches I’ve ever met in my life. In June, I spent an afternoon with him, two hours after landing in San Francisco.  We tasted wine, shared stories, and toured his facility, laughing the entire time. John’s not only one of the earlier pioneers of Napa Valley’s historic rebirth, but he’s a knowledgeable, candid, thoughtful man who can more than hold up his end of any conversation and will let you in on secrets if you’re willing to listen. It was one of the most enjoyable visits of the year for me, and John’s wine isn’t half bad either.

Of all the different Cabs made at Buehler, I chose the one that’s most readily available in the Omaha market for two reasons. First, I actually want you to be able to find it without organizing a search party, and second, in my opinion it has one of the best QPR’s (Quality to Price Ratios) of any Napa Cab on the market.  Young enough to drive a Porsche (pardon the inside joke), this wine is tight yet opens up nicely into a body of terrific fruits skillfully crafted into the sort of Cab I’m always looking for.  You could keep it around for as long as you want, but this wine was made to drink. Enjoy!

 

Burly 2012, Napa Valley

$70

Hank McCrorie was a college football player dubbed “Burly Bear” by the local papers. The nickname stuck. Today, you can regularly find Hank at trade shows in the area, sharing the wine whose label bears his nickname and an oak tree homage to the “burly” yet balanced flavors that oak barrels lend to his beautiful product.  Still burly, Hank is a kind, warm person who never seems to tire of discussing his passion for producing tremendous wine.

Winemaker Massimo Monticelli, in Hank’s employ, creates a tannic, balanced Cab that’s as big as any I’ve had, and has rapidly become one of my favorites.  A skillfully woven tapestry of flavors, tannins, and acidity, it’s a wine that easily lives up to its name. I could drink this every night (if I could afford it). I was recently talking to Hank, and admitted that if I had my way, I’d probably drink Cabernet most nights. He smiled warmly and replied “I do have my way, and that’s exactly what I do.” 

 

Calafia La Reina 2012, Napa Valley

$70

“What’s in a name?” asked Juliet, and though she unmistakably was making a profound point, in some instances there’s more to a name than one might realize at first blush. Such is the case with the wine that bears the name “Calafia,” Randle Johnson’s signature wines. Calafia is the mythical warrior queen who ruled the island of California and was featured in Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo’s acclaimed sixteenth century novel The Adventures of Esplandian (sorry if you knew all that already).

The winery that bears the name of the warrior queen is the pet project of Randle Johnson, the talented and renowned winemaker at The Hess Collection. Where he finds the time to do it I’ll never know, but we lucky few who know about this wine (production is limited to 125 cases, or around 5 barrels) are the beneficiaries of good fortune for having recognized a gem.  A complicated blend that includes Malbec and Petit Verdot, this is a robust yet balanced terroir-driven wine with beautiful hints of gingerbread and baking spice coexisting with lush, dark fruits that open up with time.  With his delightful wife, MaryLee, Randle finds himself in Omaha on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to seek them out, to learn from them, and to buy their terrific, small-production wines. You won’t regret it.

 

Chateau Montelena 2013, Napa Valley

Cost: $58

 Chateau Montelena has long been highly regarded for their Chardonnay, made infamous by the Judgment of Paris in 1976, and immortalized in the movie Bottleshock. Without question, CM produces an enjoyable, old-world Chardonnay, but what maybe isn’t quite as well known is that they also produce incredible, world-class Cabernets. The vision of Jim Barrett, the man largely responsible for reestablishing the winery in the early 1970’s, was to be a Cabernet producer; the Chardonnay was a placeholder to make some money while the Cab could age in barrel.  The results were, of course, legendary, though one could argue that it’s unfortunate if the Chardonnay may have, in some ways, distracted from the bigger picture.

This entry-level offering parts ways from most of the Cabernets being produced in the same region, and even in the same AVA. While Napa Cabs often take on an almost over-the-top robustness that makes them pronounced and formidable, Chateau Montelena produces old world style Cabernet through and through.  This is left bank Bordeaux being produced in the upper Napa Valley, laid back and refined with fruits and dry leaves, leather and other delicate, subtle flavors all comingling in perfect harmony. Whether you’ve seen Bottleshock or not, you need to try this wine.

 

Columbia Crest 2014, Columbia Valley

$10

This is my go-to budget bottle of Cabernet. There’s no cool story here, sorry. I just really like this wine, and when you can get it on sale for $8-$9, it’s pretty tough to beat.  It also ages fairly well – I found a dusty bottle of 2010 vintage in my mom’s pantry over the summer, and it was delicious. So if you’re on a budget but looking for Cab, this is my number one recommendation. It’s also utterly ubiquitous in the Omaha market. Enjoy!

 

DeLille Four Flags, 2013, Washington State

$68

Available from your buddy in Kansas or on your next visit to Washington state

 The people at DeLille, one of the premier producers in Washington State, are pretty cool. Jay told me I had to try their stuff for this article, so I solicited a sample. They couldn’t send me a sample, because they don’t currently distribute in Nebraska, and in addition to being great winemakers they’re also law-abiding citizens. So I had a buddy of mine in Kansas order their Cab, and then he dropped it off on a recent visit to Nebraska. I’d say it was worth the effort, but since I didn’t make any of the effort, well, of course it was.

DeLille Cab is renowned for a reason. Robert Parker gave this wine 95 points – for a reason, and while I may not be quite as well known, I like it too. Exceptionally complex in its flavor profile and as balanced as your yoga instructor, the blend of fruit from four vineyards makes for something special that you don’t find everyday. Dark with an inky-yet-elegant appearance and an aromatic nose, even at this cost it drinks well above its price point. Graphite abounds on a profile of gorgeous dark fruits, while gentle tannins lend enough structure to suggest that this wine will be terrific for decades to come.

 

Dunn Howell Mountain 1998, Napa Valley

$200 (ish)

Available at… I dunno, good luck. Try filling out the contact form at www.dunnvineyards.com. Or you could always buy a more recent vintage and age it yourself.

I got to visit Randy Dunn, the legendary winemaker of Howell Mountain, along with my wife Sonja back in March of this year. It was, for me, a bit like meeting the Pope… if the Pope made really incredible Cab. Sonja and Randy both obliged me, and my loving wife took a picture of Randy and I in his dining room/tasting room before Randy struck off on his mountain bike for the afternoon.  I spent the rest of the day deciding whether or not I would ever again wash the hand the I used to shake his. (I eventually decided I would.)  In all seriousness, though, I admire Randy as much for his tremendous efforts in conservation, protecting the sacred land of the Napa Valley, as I do for his ability to create amazing Cab. Randy and his wife, Lori, have donated more than $5,000,000 towards protecting over 4,000 acres of land in the Napa Valley.

Randy is a consistent vintner, though his methods have evolved over time. Some of his older vintages, such as the 1998 I tried, have a pronounced “barnyard” flavor, the product of Brettanomyces or simply “brett” for short. While some consider brett a flaw, others of us, myself included, tend to enjoy it.  On this wine, nearly twenty years old, the fruit begins to give way, but the structure remains in tact and the subtle flavors are elegant and delicate, not unlike an aged Bordeaux. Randy generously gave us the bottle after the tasting, and we polished it off in our Napa hotel room that night. This is not only a terrific wine, but also a favorite memory of mine. Not easy to locate, this wine would be worth making the effort to track down.

 

Euclid 2012, Napa Valley

$100

Available at: www.euclidwines.com

“We can have tacos at my place.” That was the last email Mike Farmer sent to me as we arranged for me to visit the famous vintner in his Napa home. My friend Laura had recommended I try Euclid wines, and I had reached out to Mike, who in turn offered to make dinner while we tasted. What ensued felt more to me like a family gathering than a wine tasting, as Mike, his lovely wife, their dogs, my friend Zach, and I spent a wonderful evening together, eating tacos, discussing life as we understood it, and sharing some of Mike and his son Lucas’s truly phenomenal wines. After just one evening, I’d consider Mike and his wife friends, and I look forward to introducing them to my family the next time we’re out in Napa together.

Mike made wine for Robert Mondavi for three decades, first at the Robert Mondavi winery, and later at Opus One for twenty-two years. Today, along with Lucas, Mike produces small batches of cult Napa reds. This Cab, limited to 222 cases, is one of the very best I had all year. When Zach, who traveled with me to Napa this summer, touched it to his lips, he reflexively blurted out “Holy shit!” in the middle of an otherwise civilized conversation. “That’s perfect,” he muttered to himself, staring into the glass, and I had to agree.  Mike just smiled.  At a Benjamin a bottle, it may not be a daily drinker for most of us, but when you can have this at that price, there’s surely no reason to purchase another bottle of Opus One in your lifetime.  Seek out Euclid wines. You won’t regret it.

 

G.B. Crane MMXIII Cabernet 2013, Napa Valley

$225

Available at www.thecraneassembly.com

The news hit me harder than I might have expected. Dave Phinney had sold Orin Swift. Of course he did, I reasoned. How could he not? It was worth so much money. I tried to understand, but deep down part of me still struggled with the news that the wines of one of my favorite vintners would henceforth be produced by, well, by someone else. I emailed his assistant to confirm the news, and she did, adding that he would stay on with the E&J Gallo company to consult on the wines that bear his label. Then, almost as an afterthought, she mentioned that he did have one other project he was working on, and that I ought to reach out to the person in charge of it.

I emailed Ryan and simply said that I had heard he and Dave were working together, and that I’d like to know more. We corresponded for a bit, and Ryan eventually sent me a bottle of this wine, a Cabernet being produced with fruit from the historic G.B. Crane Vineyard by none other than Dave Phinney. Upon its arrival, I turned the bottle over in my hands several times, as if I had just picked up a treasured antique and was inspecting it for damage. Satisfied, delighted even, I tasted this with a sommelier friend and we agreed that it may very well be some of Dave’s best work ever. I took a page and a half of notes while sampling this wine, jotting down every new spice and fruit as it appeared upon my palate. That said, this is one of the best wines I’ve ever had, and I want to leave the pleasure of discover for you to experience, so just this once I’ll keep my mouth shut about what flavors I got and leave you with just one piece of advice: Pair this with good company, and be ready to have your mind blown.

 

Grgich Hills 2013, Napa Valley

$69

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to interview legendary winemaker Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich for a piece I wrote for Vivino.  Perhaps most famous for his Chardonnay, Grgich is actually just a heck of a winemaker, and a heck of a guy. Now 93 years old, he has lived an amazing life, both in his native Croatia as well as in California where he made a name for himself as the maker of the infamous 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Shortly after the Paris tasting, Grgich formed a winery with the Hills of Hills Brothers Coffee, and today their Highway 29 tasting room is staffed almost entirely by people who bear their last names. 

The deep coloration and nose chalk full of lush, ripe black and purple fruits were but hints at a wine that I had to revisit several times.  On the palate, I get dark blackberry and currants laced in hints of creamy vanilla and delicate leathers along with notes of clove and other spices.  Ultra-fine, ubiquitous tannins dust off the long, dry finish. I paired it with seasoned pork chops, though this is a wine that will pair diversely or stand on it’s own. Having tasted about a dozen vintages of Grgich Hills Cab, I can attest that this wine is as good as any, and will undeniably lay down well for decades. 

 

Honig 2014, Napa Valley

$50

I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Michael Honig this summer at his winery. The fact that the road in front was under construction to the extent that it was all but impossible to access his facility didn’t seem to bother Michael, who is so casual and relaxed that he puts everyone around him immediately at ease. A family operation, Honig focuses almost exclusively on two varietals, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In spite of this laser focus and precision, they sell their entry-level wines at consumer friendly prices, so that everyone can enjoy them.  My time at Honig indicated that it was the sort of place you’d be lucky to work; the staff seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal, and the Christmas cards of the staff acting silly were but one indication that in this cutthroat industry, a sense of humor was highly valued.

The 2014 Honig Cab, is dense and dark with beautiful aromas of black fruit and a palate of earthy and smoky notes mingling with the dark fruits. Still young, it opens up nicely and will surely age well. After decanting, I got more fruit and a rich array of subtle flavors that paired beautifully with soft cheese and vacation planning with my wife.  I enjoy Honig wines in part because they consistently drink well above their price point, and in part now for the memories of my visit to their facility.

 

Hourglass Blueline Estate 2014, Napa Valley

$130

As much as I adore Cabernet Sauvignon, I’m also a huge fan of Merlot, just in case we haven’t met. And of all the terrific Merlots I’ve had, Hourglass Blueline Estate is my absolute favorite, full stop. When Sonja and I visited their tasting room this past year, we marveled at its natural beauty – set deep inside a cave with sparse yet tasteful decoration. We also marveled at the diversity of the Hourglass portfolio, as the Merlot we both love became but one of many wines in their unfolding collection that we found we were enamored with. My memory of the time spent with my wife in that tasting room remains a favorite to this day.

Sonja and I first tasted this wine out of the barrel, and it was fantastic. A rich, fragrant nose gives way to an oaky, full body laced in big rich leather flavors, dark purple and black fruits, and potent smoky notes.  As the wine opens up, the fruits begin to pop, and the ripeness is pronounced. A dry finish built on tannins that hesitate to linger, it currently comes off as cleaner than most. This wine tastes great now, but is definitely age-worthy. I served it most recently with grass-fed Nebraska sirloins, and I’d highly recommend the pairing

 

Davies Vineyards “J. Davies Estate” 2013, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley

$100

Available at shop.schramsberg.com

“Founders, keepers, institutions: that was Jack and Jamie Davies. They made at Schramsberg a unique substance…and they had beaten their own path, starting in 1964, one that had led through a tangle of manzanita and California bay on an eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains, under towering trees, to a reclaimed Victorian with a high, broad porch. There they had reared three sons and in a broad-and-batten winery proved that wine can support a family…” (excerpted from The Far Side of Eden by James Conaway).

Jack Davies was undeniably a pioneer, and while he and his family are most famous for the world-class sparkling wines produced at Schramsberg, it’s more than fitting that this phenomenal Cabernet also bears the name of the man who resurrected Schramsberg, the second oldest winery in the Napa Valley. Sonja and I visited the place last March, and fell deeply in love with their caves, wines, and their history. On the way out, we grabbed a bottle of Cab on a lark, and for acting on impulse we were rewarded.

A young wine, it starts out a little tight, a little hot, then opens up after half an hour or so to reveal layers upon layers of beautiful flavors. Deep, rich purple in color, strong yet delicate, it boasts a fragrant and inviting nose. On the palate, a slightly chalky texture that brings out notes of dark purple fruits – currant and blackberry, juicy overripe plum, along with noticeable leather flavors, hints of mineral, and some brighter red fruits toward the tail end. Fine tannins linger on a medium length dry finish. Mr. Davies was a lucky man – this is exactly the sort of wine I’d like to have named after me!

 

John Anthony 2013, Napa Valley

$75

I had just finished taking my WSET I exam at the Napa Valley Wine Academy after a daylong course, and had stepped out into the warm summer breeze of early evening in the town of Napa. My pocket buzzed; it was my friend and traveling companion, Zach.

“Hey man, what’s up?”

“I’m running a little late. I’m afraid we’re not going to make it to dinner. Can I call you an Uber?”

Zach had our car. He had made a pilgrimage to SLO that day, while I had taken my class in Napa, not far from where we were staying.

“No, that’s fine. That would cost a ton of money. How long do you think you’ll be?” I inquired.

“Hard to say. Traffic isn’t moving and I’m at least an hour drive from Napa still.”

I told him not to worry about it, and that I would contact the people we were planning to have dinner with. Then I struck out on foot to make the short walk to Napa’s downtown.  I hadn’t even made the river yet when I saw my favorite Mediterranean place, which I knew from Sonja and my previous trip had good wine and affordable entrees. I was just about to step in for a bite when the building next door caught my eye. “John Anthony.”

I’m a huge fan of John Anthony Truchard’s painstakingly crafted wines, and with fellow Husker football enthusiast Rick working the bar that night, I had the best time waiting for someone to get unstuck from traffic I have ever had.  This Cabernet is a gorgeous hue of dark purple surrounded in a ruby rim. The youth of the vintage takes on the persona of an excited raspberry, exploding out of tight French oak notes of nut and saddle leather.  The finish dusts my mouth the same way that a walnut might, dry, leaving me wanting more.   A terrific wine, it’s certainly age-worthy, though it’s clearly eager to be imbibed right now. Drink it while you wait for a friend.

 

Kenefick Ranch 2012, Napa Valley

$65

Available at Omaha Wine Company

It was actually sort of a blessing that my Coravin gave out on this bottle, somehow misfiring and blowing the cork up and out about a quarter of an inch, the way a hot car might if you had thoughtlessly left a bottle in your backseat. I had just cooked two cuts of steak on the grill: one for me, the other to be shared by my wife and son, Titus, who turned one that fine fall afternoon. The lifted cork was nothing less than an omen: “You need to drink wine by the glass tonight, Mark, and not by the sample.” Who can resist an omen?

The 2012 Kennefick Ranch Chris’s Cuvee is killer stuff. Beautiful color, terrific aromatic nose, and delicately balanced red and purple fruits laced in familiar flavors of  leather, oak, and spice, it offers everything I want in a Cab. Over the course of the evening, it opened up more and more to reveal further layers of inviting fruit and earthy flavors.  Best of all, it paired perfectly with steak, even better with celebration, and went down easily by the glass. This is a brilliant wine.

 

Keswick Vineyards 2013, Virginia

$75

Available at www.keswickvineyards.com

In May, I graduated with my final degree from a school in Virginia where I had done summer residencies paired with online courses since before I met my wife, and long before my son was born. That said, I rarely had time while in graduate school to stop and smell the rose’s, so my return to Virginia this spring with time to relax and my wife and son in tow felt, for the first time, more like a vacation than work. We enjoyed the ceremony, spent some time on the beach, and ate a lot. During our stay, we also made it a point to visit several wineries.

Virginia is producing some truly top-notch wines, and is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the finest regions for domestic production. Among the leaders of this movement is Keswick, who in my estimation are making perhaps the most consistently excellent Cabernet in or out of the state. Limited to 316 cases in production, the 2013 Cab Sauv from Keswick held it’s own in a tasting I did that boasted several excellent Napa, Sonoma, and Columbia Valley offerings of the same varietal. Young and slightly tight yet totally willing to open up, dark fruits, graphite, baking spices, and other diverse flavors drive forward a wine that, while beautiful, has clearly not yet reached its full potential. Winemaker Stephen Barnard deserves a lot of credit for producing this extraordinary wine in a place better known for, well, universities.  If you haven’t tried Virginia wines yet, start with this one.

 

Meadowcroft Mt. Veeder 2012, Napa Valley

$85

Available at www.meadowcroftwines.com

From where I sit, Tom Meadowcroft seems to do just about everything right. He produces small quantities of extremely high quality wine, sourcing his fruit from the best locations, artfully blending varietals until he achieves perfection, and packaging it in a way that insists upon its own quality – thick, heavy bottles, elegant branding, dense foil. This may seem superfluous, but I take it instead as a suggestion that Tom is a man who pays great attention to detail, and the proof of that is in his wines. From Grenache to Zinfandel to this mind-blowing Mt. Veeder Cabernet, I’ve never had a wine from Meadowcroft I didn’t absolutely love.

Tom’s Mt. Veeder Cab is renowned; the ’05 vintage was just named in the top 100 cellar selections by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and while I’ve never had that particular vintage, the 2012 seems on par with those high marks. Inviting dark fruits, elegant balance, and subtle notes of cedar and spice abound on a wine that begs to be laid down in the cellar for a while. In fact, I’ve got a bottle of it in the mail as I write this now, and I have absolutely no intention of drinking it in the next decade.  I highly recommend this wine, both for now, and for future enjoyment.

 

Messina Hof 2015 Barrel Cuvee, Texas

$22

Available at www.store.messinahof.com

A friend of Sonja and mine, a professor of geology at Texas A&M University and a transplant from Omaha, sometimes brings wine when she comes back to visit for the holidays. Last Christmas, she brought a bottle of Messina Hof Zinfandel. At first, I quietly scoffed at the idea of wine from Texas, but that was admittedly out of my own ignorance. Texas is actually producing a wide array of solid wines, and Messina Hof is playing a major role in putting the Lone Star State on America’s wine map. 

Super bright on the nose, lighter in color, I get rare hints of hops or other green flora. Medium in body, subtle notes of sweet red fruits such as strawberry abound, followed by a touch of light vanilla or maybe gentle white flower on the finish.  Not your robust California style of Cabernet, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable wine, more mellow, more relaxed. I’d be inclined to pair it with barbecue on a hot day, personally, and there are plenty of chances to do that both in Nebraska, and in Texas. 

 

 

Miner Family 2013 Emily’s Cuvee, Napa Valley

$50

What a gorgeous nose! My son Titus and I sat and smelled this wine from the broad rim of a glass for several minutes, allowing the aromas to waft into our nostrils from a distance and admiring the beautiful ruby color in the light of our kitchen as the grill warmed up outside.  I spent the evening smelling this wine, holding it under my one-year-old’s nose so he, too, could smell it, and sharing giggles as he opened his mouth to place his lips upon the rim of my Riedel glass. I don’t let him taste yet, of course (if I did I sure as hell wouldn’t put it in writing), but I love to share the experience with him, and he seems to like it, too. He enjoyed the grill just fine, and seemed to accept my saying that the wine went well with it, even though he was drinking water.

Notes of black fruits and raspberry from nose tp palate, this wine reminds me of a great left bank Bordeaux.  On the nose, more graphite, replaced by saddle leather upon the tongue and a nice array of young, red and purple fruits. Dry with refined yet undeniable tannins, the finish is long and lingering.  I’m not as familiar with the Miner Family portfolio as I am with many others, but this excellent wine makes me want to seek out more of their wines in a hurry.

 

 

Obsidian Ridge 2013, Sonoma Valley

$30

Available at www.tricyclewine.com

Sometimes you get lucky. On a recent trip to Sonoma, Sonja and I had made a pilgrimage to Meadowcroft to taste Tom’s wines (see above), and in the same little market area we found the tasting room for Tricycle Wine Partners. The cork bears the inscription “Elevation 2,640”, a tip of the hat to the high altitudes at which the grapes in this wine are grown.  Sonja and I tasted there for an hour that afternoon, speaking at length with the knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, and enjoying ourselves immensely. Upon concluding our tasting and purchasing a bottle of this wine, we were offered a piece of obsidian from the high mountain vineyard in which the volcanic remnant is still ubiquitous. Today that stone sits in our china hutch, alongside other treasured mementos from vacations past.

A beautiful dark fruit profile on the nose laced with trace amounts of green pepper and fatty meats, this immediately presents itself as a wine to be reckoned with.  With tannins like a Barollo, it shows dark fruits and smoked meaty flavors on a bed of coarse tannins that lend it formidable structure. A very potent, in-your-face wine, robust and beefy, it lingers with real staying power upon the palate, and benefits from decanting to mellow it a bit.  Very nice wine, and a solid QPR.

 

Optima 2013, Sonoma Valley

$40

I met Nicol Duffy years ago at Corkscrew out in Rockbrook, and immediately took a liking to her. Intelligent, amiable, kind, Nicol and I sat at the high stools at the counter and talked wine, life, and Nebraska for a good hour, and we’ve remained in touch ever since. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the winery that she and her husband Mike run yet, but I plan to. The wide array of beautiful, artisan wines that they produce, ranging from late harvest to Gewurztraminer to this incredible Cab are all evidence of why my interest in this winery only continues to grow with time.

This Cab exhibits a gorgeous nose of dark fruits and pipe tobacco. It’s beautiful upon the palate, with bursting red and purple fruit flavors. Medium tannins, some smokiness on the finish, it’s a terrific example of Sonoma Cab, in my opinion.  Mike and Nicol spend significant time in Omaha, which Nicol confessed to me in a recent email is like “a second home” to her. I suggest that the next time they’re here, be it for Vin Nebraska, a tasting, or another reason, you seek them out.

 

Oliver 2010, Indiana

$22

Available at www.oliverwinery.com

One of our neighbors across the street did his Ph.D. at Indiana University.  We regularly get together to watch our mutual favorite shows, typically “Nashville” and, more recently,  “This is Us,” and often we pair our shows with wine.  On one of our get togethers earlier this year, they brought over a bottle of wine from the Hoosier State. At first I eyed the bottle with polite skepticism (they can’t make Cab in Indiana, can they?) but when I put it to my lips I quickly tasted the error of my ways.

Bill Oliver, proprietor of Oliver Winery in Indiana, produces a lot of terrific wines that I’ve since had the pleasure of trying, though this Cab remains among my favorites.  The bouquet smacks of mocha, coffee, and cocoa, all over a delicate, dry fruit profile that rivals many of the Cabs I’ve had lately from better-known regions. The body, full yet far from overpowering, is perfectly balanced, with dry cherry, hints of leather, and medium-fine tannins supporting the flavors of the bouquet in admirable and enjoyable fashion.  I’m indebted to my neighbors, and to Bill, for reminding me to stop being so judgmental.   

 

Orin Swift Mercury Head 2014, Napa Valley

$120

As I mentioned previously, this label was bought out, but when this wine was made it was still fully under the ownership of Dave Phinney.  Dave is an artist, and it comes out in everything he does. Naming his brand after a combination of his father’s middle name, Orin, and his mother’s maiden name, Swift, the attention to detail quickly made Phinney into one of the world’s best-known winemakers. This spring, before the buy-out, Sonja and I visited the Orin Swift tasting room on St. Helena’s quaint Main Street, and I marveled at the incredible tasting room, a small and elegant tribute to the world in which we live. Walls made of repurposed ship steel, rugged wood, and exposed stone I was told were built by Phinney himself. And his wines? Well, you knew his name before I brought it up, and his wines are the reason for that.

The 2014 Mercury Head, the bottle of which bears an actual Mercury Head dime and nothing more upon the front, is a terrific, off-balance Cab that’s more like jazz than a symphony. Notes of vanilla, bright red fruits, gentle leather, and delicate far eastern spices make this non-trad offering something truly special. It’s an exaggeration of a wine, a tall tale waiting to be imbibed.  Don’t hesitate to oblige.

 

Pahlmeyer “Jayson” 2014, Napa Valley

$75

Jayson Pahlmeyer is another name I first encountered through the literature of James Conaway. Though much of Jayson’s story is that of struggle, it’s the sort of struggle that one might say makes grapevines stronger, and gives their fruit more character. I don’t know Jayson, so I’ll reserve my judgments, but one line from Conaway’s The Far Side of Eden made it clear to me that I needed to try his wine: “He [Jayson] wasn’t sure just when he made the decision to produce a wine that would drop you to your knees, but it was back when he… encountered a substance – Bordeaux – that engendered a passion uncommon in an Oakland boy.” I was sold. I wanted to be dropped to my knees.

An undeniable spice, the kind you might note on a Zinfandel, comingles beautifully with an otherwise traditional, bold Napa Cab profile to make this wine distinctly enjoyable. Still quite young, the tart fruits in the profile blend with darker notes, while mild leather, graphite, and white pepper complicate the entire experience beautifully. It opens up after a while, offering still more, but personally I’d lay it down for quite some time. This wine drinks well now, but will surely age beautifully, helping it reach its full knee-dropping potential.  

 

Pellet Estate 2013, Napa Valley

$95

On a sunny Friday morning, with a gentle breeze drifting in lazily off of the Mayacamas to our west, I arrived at the Pellet Estate and, along with Lucy and Eric Risch, took a long stroll through the vineyards with a glass of Cab Rose’ in hand. Eric, himself one of the most knowledgeable and personable folks I’ve met, tutored me at length about the history of the Napa Valley, a history that Pellet Estate is indeed a significant part of, while Lucy, named for Lucille Ball, trotted happily along next to us, just as enamored with the pleasant morning stroll.  Zach from Corkscrew was again along, and it was on this visit that Pellet Estate became one of our mutual favorites. Shortly after our return, Corkscrew started carrying their Cabernet, and Zach began making plans to include the terrific Cab Rose’ in their bi-annual Rose’ Week festivities.

Tom Rinaldi, himself a storied, multi-decade veteran of the wine industry, crafts this and the other wines from the estate in small-bordering-on-tiny lots. This Cab, still young, is full in body and laced in massive dark fruits, graphite, spices, and other flavors traditional of California Cabernet. This is easily a thirty-year wine. You can certainly drink it now, but the patient will be rewarded. Incidentally, this wine will be officially released at The Omaha Wine Company tasting coming up in November, an event that is always very worth attending. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

 

Pine & Brown 2013

$65

Winemaker Tom Rees, a native to Nebraska, is an extremely talented winemaker and a truly laid-back man.  His winery in the town of Napa, on the corner of Pine Street and Brown Street, is actually just a repurposed, well-insulated two-car garage with a double-stack of French oak barrels, various chemicals and supplies, and a classic jukebox in it. This makes for a terrific experience if you’re tasting wine with Tom, as you stand around pulling the dark purple nectar from the barrels with a thief and chatting about whatever comes to mind. If you are visiting the Napa Valley (and aren’t one of those terrible people who has to be surrounded by leather and granite to be happy) then I highly recommend you reach out to Tom for a chance to visit him at his facility, and to try his terrific wines.

Tom produced a mere 200 cases of this wine, a wine that earlier this year I ranked first out of a field of around 70 Napa Cabs.  This is a bold, rich, deep purple wine that’s just about as good as they get in my opinion. In 2013, Tom made 8 barrels of wine, around 200 cases, aging it in 55% new French oak for 22 months. The result is an outstanding Cabernet, with a great fruit profile and that unmistakable “Rutherford dust” of Napa Valley lore. Still young and tight, it drinks great now, and will probably continue to do so for at least a few more decades.

 

Pride 2013, Napa and Sonoma Valleys

$74

High on Diamond Mountain, on the border of Napa and Sonoma, sits Pride, an impressive winery that is architecturally well suited to the high mountain views. On a recent tour, I marveled at the crush equipment on wheels that rolls back and forth over the Napa and Sonoma county lines in order to operate within the complex laws that govern the industry, their special labels proclaiming “XX% Napa County, XX% Sonoma County” with the percentage of each varying widely from wine to wine based upon the preferences of winemaker Sally Johnson.

Great wine isn’t uncommon in Napa, even wine as great as that being made at Pride.  What will stay with me about my visit forever, however, was the flag flying at half staff. More than a week had gone by since the shootings in Orlando, so much time in fact that I inquired about why the flag as positioned as it was, hoping to God that I hadn’t missed another horrible event because I was traveling. “It will be like that for 49 days,” explained our guide, herself a member of the Pride family, “one day for every victim in Orlando.”  My eyes filled with tears. On the far side of the country, a beautiful tribute, by beautiful people.

Pride’s Cab remains among my very favorites. Dark, almost inky in appearance, it has a beautiful nose of deep purple fruits and vanilla, with subtle notes of pepper and rosemary in the background. Juicy, ripe, and vibrant red and purple fruits dominate the profile – a beautiful medley of gorgeous flavors. The finish, too, has staying power.  A blend of Napa and Sonoma, this may be the perfect example of what California Cab is all about. 

 

Robledo Family Winery “The Seven Brothers” 2011, Sonoma Valley

$35

Available at www.robledofamilywinery.com

Sonja and I visited Robledo on our honeymoon back in 2013, and have been fans ever since.  Touring Sonoma County in the one limousine trip we’ve taken together in our lives, we hopped from place to place, tasting and enjoying our time as newlyweds on our first of many visits we would make to Sonoma over the years.

The memory of this wine, however, occurred when Sonja and I took a bottle to Kansas City with us back in July.  We were staying with our friends Tony and Melissa, and it was an absolute showstopper. Paired with one of Melissa’s signature steaks and great conversation around a warm family’s dinner table, this wine, from a vintage people like to beat up on, is simply one of the best I had all year. The layers upon layers of beautiful dark fruits and waves of baking spice, cinnamon, mild black licorice and other notes make this a complicated wine that opens up nicely over the course of the experience.  At $35/bottle, this Sonoma beauty drinks far above its price point. I highly recommend it.

 

Rooster Hill 2015, Finger Lakes

$20

Available at www.roosterhill.com

I really don’t like to admit this, but I’ve never been to the Finger Lakes. As you’ve probably gathered, I spent a fair amount of time in various other wine regions this year, most notably Napa and Sonoma, yet I’ve never made it to the Finger Lakes. Despite this and other shortcomings of my own, however, I was at least smart enough to reach out to a well-known producer in the region, a region better known for colder climate varietals than Cabernet Sauvignon, and get my hands on a few noteworthy examples of what the Finger Lakes can do with Cab Sauv.

A musky, red fruit nose and a medium body, this wine is consistent with what I’ve had from the region in the past, but perhaps better than many. Quite young, it’s light, with tart red fruits and dry, gentle tannins, heading towards a clean finish. Distinctly Finger Lakes in that it is distinctly cold climate, yet undeniably well crafted and high quality, it makes me want to try more wines from this region.

 

Sineann 2013, Columbia Valley

$30

Available at www.sineann.com

When I told Jay that Sineann had submitted a sample for this review, he went out and picked up the same bottle and insisted we “share” it. Then one night we got together on Facetime, he on his back deck and me at my dining room table, and we imbibed this wonderful Cabernet and compared notes.  Jay informed me that this wine is sourced from two vineyards, Champoux Vineyard and Phinney Hill Vineyard, both in the famous Horse Heaven Hills of Washington State. We each decanted it for an hour, and both of us were impressed with the way the wine performed.

The 2013 Sineann CS opens up beautifully, the deep dark purple hue almost visibly expanding as time goes by.  Beautiful lush fruits abound – black cherry, black currant, then hints of cedar, a touch of spice, and hints of black olive and black licorice, later cocoa and leather toward the end.  This is a complex and beautiful wine. Fuzzy, dusty tannins Jay informed me are the product of volcanic ash from past eruptions of Mt. St. Helens; they make for a long and enjoyable finish. Spending an hour with Jay catching up and enjoying this wine (from a varietal glass, of course) reminded me to stop and smell the bouquet of life. 

 

Smith-Madrone 2013, Napa Valley

$50

I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun tasting wine than I did with Sam and Charlie Smith when I visited them at their winery back in July.  We toured their vineyards high above the valley floor on a side-by-side, tasted their phenomenal wines, and talked about everything from Game of Thrones (rest in peace, Ned Stark) to Shakespearean literature. Afterward, we grabbed tacos and beers down in the valley, not quite ready for the evening to pass. I love to make new friends, and it was quite an enjoyable evening. Memories like that can certainly add a nostalgia-factor to wine, and I know that I’ll always specially enjoy Smith-Madrone wines because of the memories they will conjure in my mind. That being said, you don’t need to have spent time with the Smiths or in California at all to recognize that they make one hell of a Cabernet.

The 2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon is young, of course, but excited and ready to get going with life. Smith-Madrone Cabs have some of the greatest longevity I’ve seen in any Napa Cab; I was recently fortunate enough to try some dating back to the late 1990’s, and while the fruit was by then playing second fiddle to tannins and spices as you might expect, they were truly a treat to imbibe and nowhere near the end of the road. Such is the case with the 2013; right now the deep purple fruits are chomping at the cork, though still in balance, but in time they’ll be replaced with gentle notes of leather, cedar, dry leaves, and other old world flavors that right now exist quietly in the background. In this way, the Smiths produced a timeless wine. Masterfully crafted, I suggest you drink it when it suits your palate or, better yet, buy a case and move your way through it one bottle every other year or so. It’s the closest thing to a time machine you’ll ever experience. Whatever you decide to do with this wine, just be sure you eventually drink it. You’re in for a treat when you do.

 

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis 2013, Napa Valley

$60

It’s appropriate, in many ways, to include this wine in a 2016 review of Cabernet from the United States, given that forty years ago it was this winery’s Cabernet that helped put the Napa Valley, and thus America at large, on the wine map of the world. Previously, the French and others considered it laughable that Americans would attempt to make our own wine, but all of that changed when, in 1976, the infamous “Judgment of Paris” took place, during which Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon beat out several French powerhouse producers in a blind tasting that would make the Napa Valley an overnight success and throw open the doors for lesser known wine regions all over the world.

This historic and well-timed wine is a genuinely beautiful Cabernet, boasting a damp, mossy nose of lush dark fruits, with the heat of subtle alcohol hiding in the background, but on the palate one experiences an outburst of flavors ranging widely from bright red fruits to vanilla, and leather to dark black currants. Hints of subtle black tea or bitter fruits linger in the finish. The layering of flavors offers great complexity, while the tannins, fruit and acids are in near perfect balance on this arguably very young wine. Cheers to American history and the role wine plays in it!

 

Tamber Bey 2013, Napa Valley

$50

As Nebraskans, I think we often think of wine country as this sort of lofty, fancy place where rich people drink rocket juice. If that’s the image in your head, I want you to visit Tamber Bey. The long-term project of equine enthusiasts Jennifer and Barry Waitte, Tamber Bey is named for Barry’s first two Arabian horses, Tamborina and Bayamo. Once known as the “Sundance Ranch” and frequented by Robert Redford, today the 22-acre horse ranch in the up-Valley district of Calistoga serves as a place for Barry and Jennifer to keep the horses they race, as well as housing a horse-rescue operation, all while producing some truly fantastic wines as well.   I visited Jennifer late this past June, and couldn’t have had a better stay.  We chatted for some time, and I got to pat a horse on its long soft muzzle with my right hand while holding a glass of wine in my left. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Tamber Bey’s Cabs are excellent… all of their wines are excellent. In particular, the 2013 is fast becoming a favorite of mine for its character and potential. I’ve tasted back through a library of older Tamber Bey wines and been impressed with how they age. This Cab, sturdy and bold, is sure to age as well as any. Bold fruits such as blueberry mellow as it opens up, giving way to flavors of gentle wood smoke, cassis, mild spices, and more. An excellent wine, I’d be sure to seek it out.

 

Tomasello Palmaris Reserve 2013, New Jersey

$40

Available at www.tomasellowinery.com

In my humble (yet admittedly well-traveled) opinion, the best-kept secret of New York City is, actually, New Jersey. For $400 a night you can get a room in NYC with a gorgeous view of the side of whatever massive concrete structure was erected immediately next to your hotel. But, as my wife and I discovered when we were rendezvousing in New York for a quick visit while I was living in London, for half as much money you can get a top floor room in Hoboken that has a panoramic view of the NYC skyline and probably sits on top of a bus stop that will put you at Port Authority in ten minutes. In short, you should definitely visit New York, no question, but stay in New Jersey. You’ll save enough money to go to Broadway shows every night if you want to, or you can spend the money on overpriced cab fare and fine dining if you like. Then again, you could also spend it on some excellent local wine.

New Jersey has another cool secret, and one I only recently learned about. Tomasello Winery, which has a number of elegant tasting rooms located around the Garden State, is producing some really terrific Cabernet. Perhaps more nuanced than some of the massive Napa Cabs I’m always raving about, it’s no less enjoyable for its subtlety. The wine is medium plus to full minus in body, with a nose that’s rich and dense, offering hints of blackberry and strawberry perhaps in a candied form. On the palate I got strong notes of tobacco, rich red fruits, and some leather, all graced by moderate but balanced tannins.  I would describe the finish as dry, tight, and lingering. This is a terrific wine, and a must-try for Cab lovers who want to step outside the box a little bit. Hoboken hotels may be New Jersey’s best-kept secret, but Tomasello Cabernet is in close contention.

 

Trefethen Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

$60

The taste of a gorgeous Trefethen wine takes me back… to my stay in the emergency room in San Francisco this past spring. Skipping over the gory details, the next morning I was about as tired, achy, and bedraggled as a man can be, and I was also starved for wine. Striking out toward Napa in our rented Mazda 3, my wife and I agreed to stop at the first winery we saw. Fortunately for us, Trefethen, located in Napa’s southern Oak Knoll District, was the first to catch our eye, and it didn’t take long sipping at their beautiful collection before the harrowing night before began to fade into memory, and Sonja and I were able, at last, to relax and begin our vacation. After that experience, the wines of the Trefethen family will always hold a special place in my heart, being one part medicine, and one part memory.

The nose on the 2013 Trefethen Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a huge, rich, dark fruit explosion.  Gorgeous color, the nose leads into a body of dark fruits, leather (it reminds me of the smell of the leathers that my father, once a well-driller, would use to cushion the pump rods in a windmill) hints of balsamic and traces of wood smoke. Very fine tannins offer ample structure and balance against a reasonable acidity. A long, lingering finish completes the experience.  

 

 

Volker Eisele Family Estate 2012, Napa Valley

$50

I first learned about Volker Eisele from James Conaway’s books on the Napa Valley, in which Volker appears on several occasions. A German immigrant who resurrected an ancient winery, Volker was a passionate conservationist who farmed organically because he knew it was the right thing to do, and who worked hard to protect the Napa Valley from predatory forces that would parse it out into quarter acre lots if given the opportunity.  Though Volker passed away a few years back, his legacy lives on, both in the work he did to protect the beautiful Napa Valley, and in the incredible wines that bear his name.

Sonja and I had the chance to taste these wines with Volker’s son, Alexander, at the historic winery Volker made his own back in the 1970’s.  Set high in the mountains that run along the eastern side of the Napa Valley, the peaceful environs, coupled with Alexander’s intelligent, reserved demeanor put as at ease and ensured that we had a terrific experience. Together we walked the grounds and spoke at length about whatever came to mind. It was one of the best experiences that Sonja and I have ever shared in wine country, and that’s truly saying something.  This Cab, quite reasonably priced for a wine of its quality, boasts a powerful, aromatic nose that you can smell from a distance.  Subtle spice appears on the palate before mellowing into the fruit, as well as notes of refined leather, more like a ladies gloves than a cowboy’s saddle.  Delicate, elegant, balanced – I tell anyone who will listen that this is among the very best $50 Cabernets available on the market today.

 

~*~

So there you have it: the forty-or-so best Cabernets I tasted during yet another year devoted in large part to tasting Cabernets.  I hope you find, drink, and enjoy as many of these as possible, and that you do it safely and with close friends. So much of wine is personal preference, and I hope that my suggestions are of use as you continue to try new wines, making your own memories along the way. As always, I would value the feedback of my readers.  Oh, and if you visit any of these places in the process of making your memories, be sure to tell them I sent you, and please be equally sure to let me know what you thought of your visit.  In that way, we’ll share these things together.  Cheers!

Mark Gudgel

Mark Gudgel

Dr. Mark Gudgel is a wine writer and educator who holds credentials through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is working towards becoming a Master of Wine. His interest in wine was sparked on his honeymoon to Napa and Sonoma. Gudgel and his wife, Sonja, have co-authored several articles as well as a book on the wineries of Nebraska, to be released in the spring of 2017. Gudgel is a regular contributor to Food & Spirits Magazine and American Winery Guide, as well as the blog he maintains with his wife, www.itheewine.com. Mark and Sonja live in Omaha with their children and their dog.


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