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.