2012 White Oak Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve

There are several interesting nuances that I’m going to share with you on the White Oak Napa Reserve Blend—a wine that some consider a slight bump up from the winery’s highly rated Alexander Valley Reserve offering. First, it is somewhat of a rarity, as White Oak only produces this wine about three times each decade. The grapes are pulled from a side of Wooden Valley that “collects heat from the Palisades” and they only go to bat for this wine when conditions are ideal. Sounds like a labor but one of love for the growers.

2012 White Oak Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2012 White Oak Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve, Napa Valley, California, USA.

White Oak has about 750 acres around Alexander Valley and they focus on small-quantity releases. This one is a Bordeaux Blend, with a foundation in Cabernet Sauvignon (47%) and Merlot (15%) for sure, but also with a big Petit Verdot (23%) and Malbec (15%) presence as well. At your first sip the Malbec has the biggest bite and announces itself loud and clear; once the wine breathes a bit it takes more of a back seat to the Cab/Merlot blend. This mix is dark, deep purple in the glass and has the Malbec greet your nose. The 2012, crafted by winemaker Bill Parker, is aged 18 months in French Oak.

This is a Vivino purchase and they describe as a “very dark, structured, and aromatic wine that has the shoulders of Howell Mountain but the midsection of Stag’s Leap.

The 2012 White Oak Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve is a bold red that comes at you in waves. I have one more bottle of this same blend and may decant the next one so that it properly breathes; this one I rushed just a bit. The 2012 White Oak Napa Reserve accompanied chicken and pasta on one evening, and a flatbread pepperoni pizza on the next. The bottle was enjoyable with both, and with better care by me next time I have even higher expectations. Hope this helps you with the same.

 

2013 Nickel & Nickel – Branding Iron Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon

A group of friends, some new and some old, came together tonight for some great vino while a nor’easter raged outside. Although the winds gusted and trees toppled nearby, inside we were all smiles while enjoying great grapes like this 2013 Nickel & Nickel, Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a 100% Cab from the Oakville appellation in Napa Valley and a fantastic beverage–many thanks to Jorge and Denise for hosting and opening this gem.

2013 Nickel & Nickel - Branding Iron Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA

2013 Nickel & Nickel – Branding Iron Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The vineyard is close to the base of California’s Mayacamas Mountains and comprises “well-drained clay loam”, with vines vertically trellised to maximize their exposure to sunlight in morning and afternoon times. It was planted in 1998 on eight acres that have to be pretty valuable at this point, located north of Yountville and near the famed Stag’s Leap District. Its grapes were harvested in October 2013 and aged for 17 months in French oak (47% new; 53% once-used) before released to the public in September of 2015. The vineyard’s website contains excellent information to expand upon this snapshot if you are so inclined.

Rather than visit those notes, however, you might better spend your time ordering a bottle or tasting this big, mixed berry treat. It’s more purple than red in your glass, and wow does it have legs. This single-vineyard wine practically slouches down your glass and is so endearing on your palate…it’s fantastic. There is definite blackberry in the mix, and an earthiness too I think. Having said that, there was also some Johnny Walker Green Label on the counter and it may just be the idea of good whisky that influenced my brain on the deep peat moss notes that I was smelling.

This is the first time I’ve sampled a Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and, with a little luck, it will not be the last. Several friends have shared their praise for the vineyard too, and I can understand why. This wine commands your attention, with its big mouthfeel and easy finish–thanks again to our hosts for breaking out this showstopper.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Lede Vineyards

Yes this is the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stag’s Leap District of Napa Valley, California. Great juice, here, and no surprise that it resonated so powerfully with this aficionado of the region and the varietal.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Lede, Stag's Leap District, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Lede, Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley, California, USA.

This AVA is one of the best known in the world, and the small 60-acre lot that produces the fruit for Cliff Lede fuels a state-of-the-art processing operation set into the California hillside. The winery’s technology is well-described here if you’re curious for a deeper dive; more interesting to me was learning of the ‘rock blocks’ (My Generation, Dark Side of the Moon, etc.) used to name each segment of the vineyard. Love that kind of fandom…

…and speaking of fandom I loved this  2014 Cab. How could you not? Crafted by winemaker Christoper Tynan it is a real beauty of a wine, with grapes sourced from their Poetry Vineyard, Twin Peaks Vineyard, and a few gracious (and surely well-compensated) neighbors in the District. Given the terroir described for these areas there are some really interesting layers at work in the Cliff Lede Stag’s Leap District Cab. Of course there is plum and blackberry, and some things hinting at vanilla but not quite. It is crazy dark purple in your glass and amazing on your tongue, layers of something that reminds me of high-end soaps and their subtle fragrances.

Says the winemaker: “Interwoven into the floral notes are unctuous layers of plum, blackberry, and black currants.  Loads of smoked cardamom, cinnamon, and black licorice unwind onto the palate where the vibrant acidity carries the long finish to a state of balance and equilibrium.

Whoa. Said in short? Helluva wine. Yeah it’s got the mash up that I so enjoy in Bordeaux-style red. This one comprises a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 2% Merlot. They made 7,246 cases of this stuff, bottling it in July of 2016 after aging in French oak barrels for 21 months.

Do yourself a favor and read about the sorting, fermentation, and related production notes…and then get a bottle for the next big celebration you have. You can thank me later.

2012 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon

This Napa Valley red jumps immediately to my Top 5 all time, an amazing thank you gift from a long-time author friend. The 2012 Cardinale is flat-out spectacular and the best wine Notes has covered all year. Many thanks, Steve, and definitely raising a glass to our continued friendship.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cardinale, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cardinale, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The 2012 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot grapes, and truthfully is a whole lot more than that. It is a superfluous wine for which I entirely lack the vocabulary even after several hundreds of tastings covered here over the past decade. Upon initial tasting I could hit on dark cherry, on blackberry–even plum is a possibility–and some definite wisps of vanilla and peat (not sure that’s the right term for what I’m trying to describe in the latter) that I’m sure is driven by the terroir here.

A little online research shows that seven different AVAs (Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Stags’ Leap, Yountville, and St. Helena) were sourced by winemaker Chris Carpenter in developing this black cherry beauty. There are so many little subtleties in play that each time your brain seems to seize on one particular nuance it suddenly registers another flavor. Makes the 2012 very difficult to describe but spectacular to drink.

Just so I don’t leave you entirely bereft of actionable information, here’s a review from The Wine Advocate: “With enormous complexity and richness as well as full-bodied power and voluptuousness, it is a wine of exceptional purity, intensity, and well-integrated acidity, alcohol, tannin, and wood. This seamless, majestic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated 2012 should drink well for two decades.

Now, that’s a ton of technical jargon and very high praise to include on a website that’s declared purpose is to be the opposite of pretentious. Certainly not my intent, but the 2012 Cardinale Cabernet was really stunning and even thinking back I’m so amazed and privileged to try this. Many thanks Dr. G and looking forward to our next occasion!

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards

Few things in life are both cathartic and fulfilling all at once. That’s what you’ll find in the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from John William Vineyards, with a little dash of calm thrown in the mix too. We know 2014 was a great vintage in terms of Napa reds, and this one falls squarely into that category. I pulled the cork on Friday at the end of a long work week and finished it off with a smile just this evening.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Friday this red blend was the backdrop to a crazy late afternoon thunderstorm where the rain was driving down at an angle, bending plants and trees to its will. The John William I had intended to accompany some grilled pork chops but instead it went with a couple of leftover burgers that were the perfect antidote to standing outside in the rain getting drenched. And so it went yesterday, and the pork chops kept nicely for Saturday dinner and perfect temperatures–both outside and in the entrée.

I liked this wine right from the first pour, and my enjoyment only increased as I researched this vintage. Most of the grapes for the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon were sourced from John William reserve vineyards, terroir including Howell Mountain and St. Helena that comes together in a delicious blend of deep, dark red that is nearly purple in the glass. I drank from Cabernet Sauvignon stemware and could smell and taste a rich set of dark berries in the works here. Less cherry flavors and more like blackberry, with accents of spice (not pepper like a Syrah) and a long fruity finish that is really wonderful. I haven’t done its profile justice in previous bottles that I failed to record in Notes, and most importantly you should know I’d hit another one right now if given the opportunity but I obtained from an online offer and not sure how accessible it is in my local wine shop.

Some details from the Winemaker:

  • They deliberately kept the grapes separated by region throughout the fermentation and aging processes in order to keep their unique characteristics.
  • The separate lots were aged in 35% new French oak barrels for 15 months.
  • The final product is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon with 7.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.5% Merlot varietals.

Great grapes, discerning process, and a fantastic result. I originally purchased based on vintage and AVA–and out of deference to one of my favorite composers John Williams of Star Wars and Spielberg/Lucas fame. Whatever the reason strikes a chord with you, just get it and see for yourself. You can thank Notes later.

 

2014 Caymus Cabernet Blind Tasting

One of my favorite wine shops caught my attention with a special promotion–centered around the 2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a simple concept, one Winestore has run annually since 2010. The 2014 Caymus carries a sizable price tag, but is it justified? Does it outperform $25 competitors on reputation or actual taste?

Winestore lined up eight bottles, identical in size and shape, each masked with aluminum foil and numbered with a simple Sharpie. I was a rookie in that I’d never done a blind taste test, and never tried Caymus. Could I really pick it out against other worthy wines?

Masked bottles at Winestore, endeavoring us all to hunt for Caymus.

Masked bottles at Winestore, endeavoring all comers to hunt for the 2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sampling

I was interested to sample this highly regarded Wagner release, and interested to see if my modest tasting experiences over the past years would be of any value in differentiating it from the competition. I paid my fee and started with #8–you know why. Its color seemed slightly lighter than a typical Cabernet, and its easy finish I considered more Pinot- or Zin-like. Not too much in the way of earth tones or spices, and I considered it lower in price almost immediately. I jotted down tasting notes, swirled, and dialed up my next wine.

Number 7 was a shadow of #8. Almost immediately I was thinking neither of these was the Caymus, in part because neither was “blow you away” impressive and in part because there was less differentiation between them. That said, #7 carried a hint of smoke and slightly more raspberry than cherry or blackberry. All of this went onto my tasting sheet, and I started eyeing bottle #6.

Six was big flavor, an explosion of fruit. It was the right color. This wine’s big, jammy feel reminded me right away of the Petite Petit from Michael David that I love so much. Pretty cool, too, since it was Winestore that first opened my eyes to the Petite about two years ago. This is juice, this is big cherry, and the blackberry I thought missing from the previous samples.

The #5 wine was also a big contrast, very different from all three that came before it. The fifth was as dry as #6 was juicy. I’m not thinking Cabernet tannins here, and I’m catching a feel that is more Roija and Mediterranean than Californian. My notes say “Spanish? Grenache?” Was I right about that? We’ll get to that in a moment. Onward, true readers…

…to bottle #4. This one too was an easy disqualification. Very much not California, very much not a Cabernet. So not Caymus, but pretty damn good. I’m thinking Spanish Rioja here again. This sort of made another pairing. So far I’ve got #7 and #8 in proximity to one other, and #4 and #5 as semblances too.

By the time I hit #3 the wheels are turning, but I’m thrown out of the zone when the dispenser sputters and runs sort of empty as I fill my tasting glass. I sip, I swirl, I mull this one over. It’s got the right color, and my brain says “#3 always does right by you“. Wine #3 throws off the earthy notes that clearly signify Cabernet, and perhaps California at that. This smells special and tastes that way too. Is this my goal or just a windmill? I wonder how much of my game has been thrown by the sputtering dispenser.

There are fun people in the store, a few tackling this same Caymus challenge, and a couple others just enjoying time and each other’s company as they sample vino. I cracker up, I rinse my glass, and I make my way to #2.

It’s pretty damn good–is this the 2014 Caymus? It pours with the right color, has the right legs in the glass. I whiff and sip. I’ve never seen someone do the slurpy thing in real life, and I’ll be honest in telling you I swallowed every drop that I tasted today. This one in particular, because it is fine. Real fine! It is big fruit, it is layered, and it has a Cab-like finish.

Only #1 remains, and I hit it. It’s okay but doesn’t measure up to the last two bottles I’ve sampled. There’s a hint of something in this wine that I can’t quite place. It’s not vanilla, and it is not spice, leather, or licorice. Even now I’m not sure what it was, but it was closest to the licorice. Beautiful red color in bottle #1 yet no California Cabernet. (Look, if you read this column with any regularity, you know that an overwhelming percentage of all wine in Notes is Californian, so most times I know it when I taste it. This isn’t it.)

Making the Call

I think I’ve got my pick, and I’m wondering about the psychology of the order as I make my way over the employees managing the testing. Did they assign bottles to position at random? What does recency bias do to your taste buds? Do professional tasters wrestle over questions like this, and would they scoff at anyone who would confuse Caymus for these other wines? What’s the price of these other wines, which I have ordered by quality in my own brain in a way that’s independent from label, reputation, or cost?

2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA. AKA #6!

2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA. AKA #6!

Moment of confession–at this last minute, I hedge my bet. I ask the employee if the Petite Petit is among the samples. When he says no, I know right then and there that Caymus is Bottle #6 and I make my prediction. Yes, I get it right, but I still half-kick myself for not having the confidence to say so without wanting to first disqualify the David. The 2014 Caymus Cabernet is reminiscent of both Conundrum (which I have had on several prior occasions) and, obviously, the Petite Petit.

So what did I learn? Looking back, I recognize my palate has begun to tell me things about red wines and, to a growing extent, to differentiate between rich, nuanced reds and others that lack the subtleties that come in higher-regarded (and pricier) releases. I get the sense that I can discern California Cab from other varietals. And I also learn that I can find 90 to 95 percent of Caymus’ amazing taste in the Conundrum and Petite Petit bottles that cost 50 to 60 percent less. Fun occasion–thanks to the Winestore team for the compelling promotion.

The Wines

#8 was the 2014 Snowvale Cabernet ($12.99)

#7 was the 2011 Americano Petite Sirah ($14.99)

#6 was the 2014 Caymus Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($64.99)

#5 was the 2014 Waccamaw Proprietary Red ($14.99)

#4 was the 2013 Las Flors de le Peira ($34.99)

#3 was the 2014 Willowlake Napa Cabernet ($59.99)

#2 was the 2013 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz ($34.99)

#1 was the 2011 Marge Priorate ($19.99)