Three great 2012 Napa Valley Cabernets


The king is alive and well. In this case, I’m talking about Cabernet Sauvignon, and in particular, examples from Napa Valley. While a broad array of other varietals thrive there, it’s not even debatable that Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that grabs the lion’s share of the spotlight. When grown in the right spots, tended with care in the vineyards and the cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley can be as compelling as examples from anywhere in the world. And of course, the great offerings from Napa, which have a sense of place, are also unique in style and not replicable elsewhere. On a recent trip out there, I had occasion to sample many fine Cabernets, often from the 2012 vintage. There are some absolutely stunning specimens from 2012, and in general, it’s a vintage to keep your eye out for. Here are three that I really loved which will be perfect as gifts this holiday season, or on your table to commemorate special events, as well as alongside fabulous family meals.

Stag’s Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($53)

This selection is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent), with smaller amounts of Merlot (8 percent), Malbec (5 percent) and Petit Verdot (2 percent) blended in. Winemaker Christophe Paubert sourced fruit for this wine from several areas around Napa Valley. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in entirely French oak; 37 percent of them were new. Violets and plum aromas lead the intense nose. Red fruits and savory herbs are laced throughout. Blackberry, sweet dark chocolate and peppercorn flavors are interspersed throughout the long, persistent and balanced finish. The flavors here are very fresh and focused with excellent proportion. This is a bit of a steal in its category. Most Napa Cabernets of this quality are twice the price.


Etude 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)

Winemaker Jon Priest sources fruit (100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) from several benchland vineyards to craft this wine. The vineyards are in a variety of Napa’s sub-appellations, each which bring unique qualities to the party. The goal is to create a Cabernet that reflects many of the elements found in Napa. It was aged entirely in French oak for 20 months. Black raspberry, earth and hints of toast light up the nose here. Tons of black and red fruit flavors fill the long and substantial palate, which is both powerful and elegant in nature. Espresso, minerals and dusty baker’s chocolate notes emerge on the long, pleasing finish. Firm tannins and racy acid are both part of the terrific structure.

Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($165)

This offering is almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon (98 percent), with splashes of Cabernet Franc (1 percent) and Petit Verdot (1 percent) blended in. More than half of the fruit is from Howell Mountain, with smaller contributions from St. Helena, Rutherford, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder. It was aged more than 19 months in French oak (95 percent) new, and one year in bottle prior to release. Toasty oak leads the nose, followed by copious black fruit aromas. The palate is stuffed with black cherry, raspberry, spices galore and bits of mineral. Sweet dark chocolate, earth and additional bits of toast emerge on the long, somewhat lusty finish. The 2012 vintage is a great example of what is a classic and somewhat legendary Napa Valley Cabernet.

These wines are a stellar trio. Tasting them side by side would be a fascinating window into a few of the various styles of Napa Valley Cabernet. However, even if you just taste a single one, you can’t go wrong regardless. They’re all excellent in their own way. The Beringer is the one most attuned to long term cellaring; it’ll go 15 to 20 years at a minimum. The Etude will drink well for 6 to 8 years, and the Stag’s Leap falls somewhere in the middle with a likely useful drinking window of about 12 years. They’re all delicious, and they’re all well made. Choose one or more of them based on your taste buds and budget.

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Australia’s Wakefield Estate delivers a diverse collection of wines

Wakefield Wines is one of 12 members of Australia’s First Family of Wines. This group of families owned wineries can each boast three or more generations in Australian wine. They hail from regions representing four different states, and collectively, they have more than 5,550 hectares under vine. After tasting some offerings from each family at an event a few months back, I decided to take a deeper dive and look at the wines from Wakefield. Here are my thoughts about six excellent, well-priced current releases from them.


Wakefield Estate 2014 Riesling ($17)

All of the fruit for this wine (100 percent Riesling) was sourced in the Clare Valley. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel with a range of select yeasts. Lychee fruit and hints of linseed oil emerge on the vibrant but even-keeled nose. The palate shows off orange peel, lemon zest and apricot flavors. Tart yellow melon, hints of Granny Smith apple and spices such as cardamom and white pepper are present on the finish. This gloriously dry wine is an excellent example of Riesling. It’ll pair as well with Indian dishes as it will with pork loin roasted alongside apples.

Wakefield Estate 2014 Chardonnay ($17)

Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills is the source for the fruit. Most of it was fermented in a combination of new and used French oak. A small amount was fermented in stainless steel with wild yeasts. Stone fruit and Golden Delicious apple aromas dominate the nose here. Anjou pear and continued apple rule the day on the palate. Yellow peach, bits of spice, and gentle hints of crème fraiche are all in play on the substantial finish. There’s simply an avalanche of fresh fruit characteristics in play in each component of this wine. For $17, you’re getting a lot of Chardonnay character here.

Wakefield Estate 2014 Pinot Noir ($17)

All of the fruit for this wine, which is entirely Pinot Noir of course, came from the Adelaide Hills. After cold soaking, the wine was fermented at warm to hot temperatures in stainless steel, utilizing yeast strains intended specifically for Pinot. Aging in one- and two-year-old French oak followed. Wild strawberry, black cherry and wisps of toast are all apparent on the nose. Red and black cherry characteristics dominate the palate along with a nice spice component. A hint of cherry Jolly Rancher, as well as pomegranate, are in play on the finish, along with substantial bits of earth. Firm acid and good tannins mark the structure. At under $20, this is a steal in the Pinot world.


Wakefield Estate 2014 Shiraz ($17)

The Taylor Estate in the Clare Valley was the source of the fruit for this Shiraz. After fermentation, it was aged in American oak for 12 months. Big, red and black fruit characteristics emerge on the boisterous nose here. The palate is studded with similar characteristics, as well as bits of espresso and dark bitter chocolate. The long finish is spice-driven and loaded with additional fruit elements such as blackberry and raspberry. This is a fruit-driven Shiraz that is also proportionate and even keeled.

Wakefield Estate 2014 “Jaraman” Chardonnay ($25)

As is the process with the Jarman line of wines, the fruit comes from two distinct growing regions: Clare Valley (55 percent) and Margaret River (45 percent). Fermentation and aging took place in tight-grained French oak. Yellow fruit aromas are joined by bits of linseed oil and a hint of toast on a slightly austere nose. Classic apple and pear characteristics light up the palate, which is stuffed with tons of fresh, eager fruit flavors. The notably long finish shows off continued orchard fruits as well as bits of pineapple and papaya. The oak in play here adds nice complexity without being obtrusive. This is an extremely complex Chardonnay for the money.

Wakefield Estate 2013 “Jaraman” Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)

The fruit for this entry in the Jaraman line comes from Clare Valley (55 percent) and Coonawarra (45 percent). After fermentation, it was aged in a combination of new and previously used French oak. Dark fruit and savory herb aromas abound on the nose of this Cabernet. The palate is lush and loaded with dark fruit, copious spices and bits of mineral. Toast, earth, hints of vanilla and lots more fruit flavors are all in play on the above-average finish. Firm acid and tannins mark the structure here. What I like most about this Cabernet is how fresh and refreshing it is.

If your mind and taste buds think of Australia only in terms of overripe fruit bombs, think again. There are a lot of really nice wines loaded with character and made in a balanced manner coming from Australia. Each wine noted above is not only true to the grape in question and the area or areas it’s grown in, but theya lso each represent better than average values. We’re at a point in time where many wine drinkers don’t realize the bounty Australia has to offer. Get a jump on them and drink these tasty, well made, wonderfully priced wines. If you have yet to reconsider Australia, the time is now.

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Yorkville Cellars offers a delicious look at Mendocino County

California’s Mendocino County is roughly 100 miles north of San Francisco and just above Sonoma County. Its climate and terrain make it a perfect place to grow distinct wines. Yorkville Cellars is focused on Bordeaux varietals. In fact one of their claims to fame is that they’re the only winery known to grow all eight of the main Bordeaux cultivars. I recently tasted through some of their current wines and there is a lot to like. Yorkville Cellars estate vineyards have been certified by the Certified Organic Farmers dating back to 1986, making them leaders in organics. Here are my thoughts on the wines you should seek out.


Yorkville Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($19)

This offering is predominately Sauvignon Blanc (91 percent), with some Semillon (9 percent) blended in. Some of the vines are more than 30 years old. Just fewer than 1,200 cases were produced. Bits of citrus and yellow melon aromas leap from the nose. The palate is stuffed with round, fleshy yellow fruit. Peach, apricot and mango all play a role. An undercurrent of lemon curd is present as well. The long, crisp finish is marked by firm acidity. This Sauvignon Blanc has a really lovely mouthfeel.

Yorkville Cellars 2013 Vin D’une Nuit Rosé ($22)

This vintage of Rosé was produced entirely from Malbec. In fact, this offering marked their first time producing Rosé from Malbec. Oodles of watermelon aromas fill the welcoming nose. The palate is loaded with juicy, red fruit flavors and bits of spice. Red cherry and pomegranate are of note. Cranberry and a bit of black cherry emerge on the finish, along with crème fraiche, white pepper and more red fruit flavors. This is a crisp, fruity and refreshing wine; it screams summer.

Yorkville Cellars 2013 Eleanor of Aquitaine ($28)

This wine is a classic blend of Semillon (70 percent) and Sauvignon Blanc (30 percent). Blending took place after separate lots were aged over five months in French oak. White flower aromas dominate the lovely and restrained nose. Lemon ice, orchard and tone fruit flavors are all in play on the layered palate. Tropical fruit flavors such as papaya and mango fill the long, somewhat lusty finish.

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Lodi’s Markus Wine Co. home of unique and delicious wines

I recently spent several days in the Lodi wine-growing region of California as the guest of the Lodi Winegrowers. Over four days, the group I was with took a deep dive into all things Lodi. We visited wineries, vineyard sites and had lunch at the home of a couple who own a terrific winery. The overall variety of wines we tasted was stunning in its diversity, both in terms of grapes utilized as well as styles they were made in. One wine brand in particular that stuck out for me is Markus Wine Co.


This project is part of Borra Vineyards. There are a few distinct differences between them, the biggest being that while the Borra wines are produced from fruit grown on the family’s own vineyards, the wines from Markus Wine Co. are made from sourced fruit. Winemaker Markus Niggli looks for great vineyards in the region and crafts wines in a fresh, modern style. We tasted Markus’ wines at the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, one of his sources for fruit. The family that owns this vineyard and grows the fruit is dedicated entirely to German varietals. They carefully tend a broad array of grapes and sell them to artists like Markus who use them to craft lovely wines loaded with character. Markus also works with a nearby artist to create labels that merge imagery that brings to mind a place from his past, with the spot the grapes are sourced. Three of his wines really stood out for me. The fruit for all of these is from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.

Markus Wine Co. 2014 Nativo ($19)

This wine is a blend of Kerner (75 percent), Riesling (19 percent) and Bacchus (6 percent). Fermentation took place over 10 days in stainless steel utilizing native yeast. It was aged in-tank for five months prior to bottling. Granny Smith apple aromas dominate the nose. The refreshing palate is studded with appealing flavors such as honeysuckle and white peach. Bits of sweetness emerge on the finish, which shows lemon zest and wet limestone characteristics. Firm, racy acid keeps everything in check. If you want to blow away your wine-loving friends, bring a few bottles of this gem with you, and they’ll be in awe of your wine-selecting abilities.

Markus Wine Co. Nuvola ($19)

This selection is entirely Gewürztraminer. All of the fruit was hand-harvested. Fermentation took place in stainless steel over 10 days using native yeast. It was aged in stainless for five months prior to bottling. Apricot and lychee fruit aromas dominate the welcoming nose. Hints of savory herb lead the palate. They’re joined by copious amounts of stone fruit, lemon zest, minerals and a touch of orchard fruit. The long finish is layered with continued fruit, spice, minerals and crisp acid. This is a lovely and singular expression of Gewürztraminer loaded with charm.


Markus Wine Co. 2013 Nimmo ($22)

This offering is a blend of Kerner (69 percent), Gewürztraminer (11 percent), Riesling (10 percent) and Bacchus (10 percent). Fermentation took place in a combination of stainless steel and barrel over seven days. Barrel aging occurred over nine months in a combination of French and American oak; 60 percent of them were new. Hints of smoke lead the nose here. The body has some nice weight and heft to it. Lychee, pineapple and lemon curd are all in play. There is a viscosity and mineral-driven nature to the mouthfeel which dances alongside a core of tart green apple notes and spice. The finish is crisp, long and refreshing. All of these elements come together to make this a remarkably appealing wine. This is one of those wines I had trouble putting down.

Lodi California has some truly exciting things going on for wine lovers. Projects like Markus Wine Co. are really setting a new standard. These are remarkably well-priced wines, produced from grapes one might not expect to find in Lodi. Of huge importance, of course, is the fact that they are exceptionally delicious, well-made wines that stand apart from the pack. The wines of Markus Niggli, along with those of quite a few other artisanal family producers in Lodi, are worth a special effort to seek out. Spend your money on these; they will make your tongue do a happy dance.

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Paso’s Niner Wine Estates offers variety and value


The city of Paso Robles is located almost exactly between Los Angeles and San Francisco, two of the largest and most distinct cities in California. When wine from Paso hit the national stage, it was Zinfandel that stole the show. Soon after, lots of Rhone varietals began to emerge. In earlier days, many of the efforts were big, extracted wines featuring high alcohol. Things started to change, and today, Paso Robles is home to a truly wide array of different grapes, many of which thrive in its varied climates. In addition to that, many producers are making proportionate wines, so much so that the cartoonish wines of years back are well in the minority. One of the producers that is part of that sea change is Niner Wine Estates. In addition to Paso Robles, they have estate vineyards in Edna Valley. Here are some terrific Niner wines from each.

Niner Wine Estates 2014 Estate Albarino ($20)

All of the fruit for this wine came from their estate vineyard, Jespersen Ranch, in Edna Valley. This is a 100 percent varietal wine. After fermentation, it was aged for 10 months in stainless steel prior to bottling. Toasted hazelnut and lychee fruit aromas fill the welcoming nose here. Stone fruits such as white peach, apricot and nectarine are all in abundance on the delicious and full-flavored palate, along with bits of spice. The finish is long, mellifluous and dotted with topical fruits. Firm acid contributes to the mouthwatering nature of this Albarino. It’s delicious, refreshing and hard to put down.

Niner Wine Estates 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($25)

About 1,200 cases of this Chardonnay from Jespersen Ranch in Edna Valley were produced. It’s 100 percent varietal and was aged in entirely French oak; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Orchard and stone fruit aromas fill the nose, along with toast and spices galore. The palate shows off apple, peach and pear flavors with baker’s spices. Toasted pecan, crème fraiche and continued fruit flavors fill out the above average finish. This is a fine example of Chardonnay that is enhanced by time in new oak without it becoming a distraction. Lovely sipped by itself, this Chardonnay will excel with soft cheeses, pastas with creamy sauces or a simple roast chicken.

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