California Cabernet could be the subject of one of the most hotly debated wine arguments. Cali Cabs evoke many different things to many different people: often over-ripe, over-concentrated, over-oaked, over-produced, overly-alcoholic fruit bombs. Some wineries in Napa Valley feel like you’re visiting a Wal-Mart, not a place where wine is produced. While there’s no need to name the “bad” wineries here—we will celebrate the California producers (primary Cabernet today) who we 100% stand behind.
The Essence & Benchmark of Napa Valley: Mayacamas. At the top of the list of traditional wineries who brought California to fame in the first place, is Mayacamas in Mt. Veeder (Napa Valley). In our opinion, Mayacamas is one of the best made Cabernets in the world. Mayacamas is housed in an old stone winery, and the winery’s style has been consistent for decades upon decades.
They strive to retain acidity, always using neutral oak, to truly showcase the Cabernet fruit and not mar it with secondary flavors. Mayacamas is the essence of Napa Valley, Mountain Fruit. The wines can age for years and their earthiness and smokiness is transportive. We could smell this wine for an hour, getting another layer of complexity every time, before even taking our first sip.
Mayacamas has had a pretty intense last few years: with the sale of the property and new ownership moving in; the decision to replant most of the vines on the property (still a heated debate in the valley); and losing one of the historic buildings in the Napa Valley fires last year, which left wine geeks here in Ohio terrified the historic place would be gone. Yet, at the end of all these changes and our nails being slightly shorter, we believe the estate has kept its soul. Hopefully, another few generations can taste some of the most iconic wines in Napa Valley.
More Old-School Favorites We’re Drinking. Corison (Rutherford & St. Helena, Napa Valley), Dunn (Howell Mountain, Napa Valley) and Ridge (Santa Cruz Mountains) are more old-school favs we love. Matthiasson (Napa Valley) and Enfield Wine Co. (Napa Valley & Sonoma) are two “newer” producers that are making wine with respect to the grape, as well.
Matthiasson: Honest, Hard-Working Dreamers. Matthiasson is something very special to us. Steve and Jill, the husband and wife owners, are some of the most humble people in Napa. They are hard-working dreamers with a vision to produce wines they like to drink. They also want to showcase some of the incredible sites that Steve has worked with through his vineyard management career in California over the last twenty years.
The wines are honest and there is nothing show-boaty about what they are trying to do. As such, there is no fancy tasting room, just a picnic table under a tree in their backyard. The house itself is lucky to be standing, as it was nearly knocked down in the earthquake of 2014. On our last visit we ended up driving around checking out the vineyards with Steve in his VW: the family dog nearly sitting in our lap, head out the window, as every vineyard tour should be done.
The Finesse of Enfield Wine Co. John Lockwood from Enfield Wine Co. is high on the Cru’s list for California wine in general. He has visited us here in Cincinnati, and we had a great time tasting his line-up over some tasty pizzas at A Tavola in OTR. We also visited him last spring at Punchdown Cellars in Santa Rosa.
While John lives in St. Helena with his wife and daughter, he has vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma, then makes his wine at Punchdown. Punchdown Cellars is an awesome facility where winemakers who don’t have their own winery and/or facilities can crush their grapes and make wine. They’ve created a true wine community since they opened in 2001.
John’s Cabernets originate from the cool, Sonoma Coast. Coming from the Fort Ross-Seaview appellation (one of the most stunning places on this earth), the finished product tops out at around 13.5% alcohol; a far cry from some California table wines that are so overly-gross that they taste like a 17% bad port. John’s wines are made with finesse and elegance, and you can almost taste his humility in the wine. His highest priorities are soil, terroir and staying true to sense of place. He also likes to experiment with non-traditional California grapes. His Tempranillo is stunning!
Revered Master Sommelier Richard Betts. Cali Cabs carry some of the highest price tags for domestic wines, but there are values to be had, as well. My Essential is a label from Richard Betts, one of the most respected and revered sommeliers in the world. He is one of a handful of smarties that passed their Master Sommelier exam on the first go, known as the “Krug Cup.” He is the author of the My Essential Scratch and Sniff book series (one on wine, one on whiskey) and also happens to make some mighty fine Mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Certainly a bon vivant, he spent a large part of his formative years in Italy, realizing that “wine is a grocery, not a luxury.” Nothing rings truer to our hearts! His My Essential Cabernet is actually labeled a “California Red Wine.” Mostly coming from Santa Barbara, his goal for this wine is simply to showcase California’s brilliant terroir. It is a blend of (mostly) Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah.
We can almost smell Cabernet season in the air—it’s coming. Reach out to the Cru and we will help you find California gems that are made how they should be, the old-fashioned way.
- the CRU
Some of the Cali Cabernets we are drinking.
ENFIELD WINE CO. $75 btl
Fort Ross-Seaview Water Horse Ridge, Sonoma 2014
MATTHIASSON $75 btl
Napa Valley 2014
MAYACAMAS $130 btl
Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley 2013
CORISON $110 btl
Napa Valley 2014
DUNN VINEYARDS $110 btl
Napa Valley 2014
DUNN VINEYARDS $160 btl
Howell Mountain, Napa Valley 2014
MY ESSENTIAL $25 btl
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