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A Decadently Lush California Cab

What it lacks in complexity Nickel & Nickel's 2000 Dragonfly Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon makes up for with lushness

"About as good as it gets in California cab. Doesn't have the depth or complexity of great Bordeaux, but oh, that amazing decadent fruit!"

These are my tasting notes on the Nickel & Nickel Dragonfly Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($65), and the more I thought about that assessment, the more it puzzled me. Not puzzled in the sense of being surprised because the Nickel & Nickel people make a superb portfolio of wines, but puzzled by the bit about the comparison to Bordeaux. So, in an attempt to learn why this might be, I got in touch with Dirk Hampson, the chairman and director of Winemaking of N&N.

Napa has more sunshine and more heat than Bordeaux so it is always going to yield lusher, more generous fruit, but Hampson pointed out that Dragonfly is located in a particular area of St. Helena known to old-timers as the Banana Belt because of its propensity to produce wines packed with ripe fruit flavors.

Far Niente Was First label

O.K, so that's the fruit part of the equation resolved, but what about the more tricky issue of the complexity?

To answer this we need to backtrack a bit. The owners of Nickel & Nickel first started making wine under the Far Niente label, and the single-bottling of the cab contains wine from several different blocks, each one contributing subtly different qualities to the blend.

As Hampson explains, this is not dissimilar to what happens in Bordeaux. "The great estates in Bordeaux are able to blend wine from different terroir in their estate, and different varietals so they are able to bring in more layering and complexity.

Product of a Single Vineyard

Then, in 1997 the same team launched a second line of wines, Nickel & Nickel, with a different philosophy: Each wine is the product of a single vineyard. The downside is that they don't show the complexity of a blend but on the other hand they are a pure expression of the characteristics of that unique place. Hence Dragonfly's astounding ripe fruit characteristics.

"It's like asking the question 'Which is better, the symphony or the soloist?'" Hampson theorizes. "There's no answer. A symphony has more layering, more richness, more complexity, whereas a soloist can be such a clear, perfect note that it cuts right to your core."

The current release of this soloist cab is the 2005, and it costs $97 from the winery. For retail outlets try

WOW Rating:

When to Drink: Now, and for the next 10 years.

Breathing/Decanting: Decanting is a good idea.

Food Pairing: Roast meats, chicken and game, steaks.

Grapes: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Appellation: St Helena

Region: California

Country: USA

Price: $65

Availability: Very limited.

Web Site:

See more wines at

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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