Cabernet Sauvignon

Blank Family, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Speaking of herbs, my favorite wine of the night was the 2006 Blank Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon made by Grace Family Vineyards – but when my score was added to the others it finished in third place with a rating of 11. I love it for its fascinating nose; unique aromas that keep evolving in the glass, shifting from ripe black plum to subtle flowery perfume and finishing with scents of a minty herb that I eventually pinned down as wintergreen. When first poured the wine has a musty scent but as the wine opens up these aromas retreat into a dusty, dried sage quality (10 year-old Rutherford dust perhaps?). On the palate a big soft attack develops into lush flavors of black plum accentuated by the faint wintergreen and dried herb characteristics redolent in the nose. This fluid Cab finishes like a river of soft black cherry pudding. 08/23/16 Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Buccella, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

This wine stole the show with its intense concentration. It didn’t smell like cherries, it smelled like Kirsch liqueur. It didn’t remind me of raspberry but of raspberry compote. Everything about this wine is big and showy, from its concentrated core of cherry/raspberry syrup flavors, to its rich, viscous texture and flowery lavender finish. It’s massively endowed with oak, fruit and weighty glycerin, yet keeps it all in brawny proportion. 12/31/13 Rating: 5 Stars (5 / 5)

Dancing Hares, 2005 Red Wine, Napa Valley

I thought I’d recognize Dancing Hares in this blind tasting since it’s a staple of my diet, right up there with Cheerios and Prilosec, however the nose threw me as it revealed little fruit and had a dusty minerality that I didn’t recognize. The full-bodied palate is big and lush with ripe black fruit flavors plopped right down in the center of an earthy, clay-like minerality. The amazing team behind this wine consists of winemaker Andy Erickson, vineyard manager David Abreu, and consulting winemaker Michel Rolland. 12/31/13 Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Darms Lane, Fortune 1621, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

This is a great value in Napa Cab and is crafted by winemaker Brian Mox who has also made wine at Laird, Etude, and Lewis Cellars. This complex Cab reveals brooding scents of purple flowers and sweet spices, with deep-seated flavors of cassis, black cherry and dark cocoa surrounded by dusty tannins. It’s as full-bodied as a one of those Walmart shoppers you see driving the electric shopping cart. $35 03/09/15

Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Harris Estate Vineyards, 2005 Treva’s Vineyard, Napa Valley

This is another wine that has graced my table several times lately so I was surprised when I noted herbal, tobacco leaf nuances in the nose that I had never previously noticed. The pronounced fruit aromas were bold to the point of over ripeness. Like Vladimir Putin this is a firm, intense red. One minute it appears spicy, the next earthy, the next faintly herbal. Spoiler alert; eventually the brawny tannins grant asylum to the rich core of dark cherry and blackberry fruit. 12/31/13

Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Hestan Vineyards, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

When all the votes were tallied Hestan Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was the winner with the low score of 9 points. Like Mohammed Ali entering the arena, Hestan’s flamboyant silk robe peels off to reveal chiseled muscle and bone. The aromas, both youthful and seasoned after 10 years, are a fruity/savory combination of ripe blackberry (almost jam-like), surrounded by leather, sage, threadbare minerals and an unexpected sweet cinnamon spiciness. The silky ’06 Hestan Cab possesses graceful power, a talcum-smooth texture and full-bodied flavors of blackberry and dark plum that hang around longer than a pole dancer with sticky thighs. There was some alcohol apparent in the nose that moved it out of first and into second place on my scorecard. 08/23/16

Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Hoopes, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

 This Napa Cab hails from some of the oldest vines in Oakville, which isn’t all that old when you consider I’ve got liver spots that are older. It features a smoky, cedary, cigar box nose. The palate is full and dark, with great intensity and a healthy dollop of spicy oak coating a reclusive core of cassis. $60 – $65

Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Pahlmeyer, 1990 Proprietary Red, Napa Valley

 The 1990 Proprietary Red has all of the elegance of the Dowager Countess of Grantham but without the piercing after bite (that’s Maggie Smith’s role for you guys who think “public television” is any TV found in a bar). Aromas of clay, earth and dark cocoa combine with ripe strawberry scents that seem remarkably fresh for a 24 year-old wine. This medium-bodied red displays flashes of spicy ripe fruit but there’s a firm club of tannin that beats the crap out of the mellow, aged flavors of dried cherry and subtle leather. With its strawberry nose, cherry-pit mid-palate, and leather nuances, it reminded me of an aged Sangiovese. 12/31/14

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Pahlmeyer, 1994 Proprietary Red, Napa Valley

If the 1990 is the Dowager Countess of Grantham, then the ’94 Proprietary Red is downstairs cook Mrs. Patmore – lovable for its buxomous full-body and soft, fleshy texture. Even the nose seemed fleshy, with scents of sweet saddle-leather, ultra-ripe cherry and Christmas spices. Silky tannins add support and maintain balance with the lush cherry and strawberry flavors that dominate the fruit profile. There’s also something riper and slightly raisony in the mid palate that hinted at bar-b-que sauce. With its lush fruit, tannins, and leather all wrapped in a fat, fleshy texture, this wine is like a big chubby jelly-hug from your favorite aunt. 12/31/14

Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Pahlmeyer, 1996 Proprietary Red, Napa Valley

The ’96 Proprietary Red lacked the sensual fleshiness of the ‘94 but I rated them equally. What really impressed me about the ‘96 Pahlmeyer was the lengthy finish that hangs on longer than the Earl of Grantham clings to a collapsing caste system (I know this wine description has become so common that it’s now a cliché). The sweet leather and ripe black cherry aromas are pronounced and concentrated, while the attack is rich and smooth. This is a medium to full-bodied blend with abundant black cherry fruit followed by a unique cinnamon stick spiciness. 12/31/14

Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Pahlmeyer, 2005 Red Wine, Napa Valley

The nose featured a unique (but faint) yeasty, dough-like characteristic that was echoed in the finish. After the wine had a few hours to breathe it developed pleasing herbal scents of oregano and hemp, but that might have emanated from the glassy-eyed taster to my left. This is a full-bodied fruit bomb of a wine with loads of ripe cherry and bold berry flavors wrapped in a velvet thong. 12/31/13

Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Pahlmeyer, 2005 Red Wine, Napa Valley

Here finally, is the moment I’ve all been waiting for. My highest rated Pahlmeyer of the night was the ’05 Proprietary Red. It’s chock full of deep, inviting aromas of plums, dark cocoa, and mint. It’s very full and soft with spicy black cherry cobbler and plum pudding flavors. This wine made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like when Matthew and Lady Mary finally got together. But at least the Pahlmeyer doesn’t end in a fiery death; it does however end with a touch of chocolate and silky nuances of bergamot. 12/31/14

Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Philip Togni Vineyard, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

When tasted in a competition of ’05 California Cabernets 8 years after the harvest, this seemed lean and austere next to the highly extracted competition. I had my doubts about how well this bottle had been stored, as the wine had already developed a brickish rim and a faintly musty nose. Togni wines are notoriously long lived and the ‘05 may simply need more time to flesh out. It displayed interesting scents of charcoal and earth, while subtle leather and spice flavors dominated the palate. 12/31/13

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Philip Togni Vineyard, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

When first opened the 2006 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon was harder than a Viagra focus group but it softened up after 4 hours. (Well maybe it was more like an hour and a half). It garnered the highest score which means it finished last with 28 points, but keep in mind the competition was pretty stiff. This historic Spring Mountain Cabernet has a funky edge to the aromas of ripe plum, dark cherry and coffee. Full, tacky tannins overpower the core of dark fruits, leaving a tarry aftertaste. The good news is the unpleasant finish is shorter than Chris Christie’s run for president. 08/23/16

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Revana Family Vineyard, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

Speaking of earth, the dust and clay-scented 2006 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon finished in fifth place with 25 points. This St. Helena Cabernet, made by the talented Heidi Peterson-Barrett, fared poorly because it needed the most time to open up and by luck of the draw was the first wine we tasted. In reading over my notes I couldn’t find any real faults other than its reticence in revealing its flavors and an astringent texture that seemed to soften over dinner. The earthy mineral aromas were joined by scents of licorice and the taster sitting next to the sopressata claimed it smelled like smoked meat. Go figure. This is another big wine with full-bodied flavors of spicy cherry and concentrated blackberry supported by firm tannins that meld with a finish of minerals and cedary oak spice. 08/23/16

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Ridge, 2005 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains

Tasted 8 years after the harvest, this historic wine presented pleasing aromas of sweet baking spices and sugar cookie batter. The spicy Christmas cookie aromas were also apparent in the palate but they couldn’t compensate for the lack of substance in the middle. In a lineup of ’05 California heavyweights, Monte Bello seemed light and devoid of fruit, kind of like the Christmas fruitcake that has been re-gifted by your family for so many years that the fruit flavors have faded and only the spiciness remains. 12/31/13

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Robert Foley, 2005 Claret, Napa Valley

The nose was closed, revealing only hints of dark fruits, clay and dust. The palate however was as fat and fleshy as Kim Kardashian’s tookus but showed none of the barnyard qualities. Spicy oak flavors surround ultra-ripe dark cherry and blackberry, while underneath a vein of clay-like minerality adds depth and persistence. 12/31/13

Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Rombauer Vineyards, 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

In this difficult vintage Rombauer benefitted from the rigid fruit selection that eliminated nearly half the production. The nose reveals subtle berry fruit aromas, a touch of earthy minerality, and some tobacco nuances that John said came from the barrel tannins. It’s a medium to full-bodied Cab with silky tannins surrounding black raspberry flavors and a stony mineral quality in the finish. While many reviewers are singling out 2011 Napa Cabernets for debasement, the 2011 Rombauer is a good, ready to drink wine; but it’s not meant for de basement. $45 05/2014

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Rombauer Vineyards, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Selection, Napa Valley, CA

This single vineyard offering from St. Helena displays very ripe black cherry scents complemented by spicy clove and cinnamon aromas. This cab is elegant and smooth with a core of black cherry and blackberry fruit intertwined with very faint leather nuances and some sweet spice notes that play out on the long finish. $65. 05/2014

Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Rombauer Vineyards, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, CA

Unfortunately my favorite wine in the lineup is only available at the winery. The good news is that if you mention WineSnark when you purchase a bottle at the winery they won’t charge you a penny more than the full-blown retail price. Aromas of subtle sweet vanilla mix with forest berry scents reminding me of Christmas cookies – I guess that would be cookies baked in a forest. This elegant red features sweet, ripe cherry flavors surrounded by silky tannins. Echoes of faint cedar and oak spice linger on the finish. $80. 05/2014

Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Sherwin Family Vineyards, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, CA

Do you remember the Robert Parker review that gave an outstanding score to the wine that smelled of fresh horse dung? (read about it here) I was reminded of that review by our fourth place finisher which was a very tasty wine that smelled like a skunk, but you know, in a good way. (One taster commented, “It’s very good when you hold your nose.”) The 2006 Sherwin Family Cabernet Sauvignon has a distinctive skunky aroma that isn’t pungent like fresh skunk spray. It’s more like that faded, not so offensive funkiness that comes from a skunk that’s been dead for a month – you know, a skunk that has stopped making scents. This is another Spring Mountain Cabernet that has long been a favorite of mine and the wine showed better at dinner than it did in the tasting. We found an objectionable greenness in both the aromas and flavors that didn’t sit well with any of us. This is a firmly textured wine with black cherry fruit flavors supported by strong tea-like tannins that left a lingering green aftertaste. 08/23/16

Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Staglin Family Vineyards, 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

The Staglin 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those big, teeth-staining reds that keep dental hygienists in Louis Vuitton shoes. Saturated dark, sweet cassis permeates the nose followed by transient floral scents that bubble to the surface and blossom into a purple floral perfume. There’s an undercurrent of silky mineral and oak that melds beautifully with ultra-ripe black cherry, plum and cassis flavors, all delivered on a texture that’s voluptuous, luscious and rich, which sounds like a pretty good bottle of wine but is actually everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman. Staglin ’06 Cab finished in second place, just one point behind our first place wine. 08/23/16

Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)