These 10 Cabernets Are Giving Napa a Run for Its Money
Cabernet sauvignon, the alpha grape, dominates in the glass, with powerful red fruit and herbal aromas, and it monopolizes wine lists as well. Especially at steakhouses, said Justin Vann, beverage director at Houston’s Public Services: “My time in steakhouses made me feel dead to cabernet sauvignon for a while.” At Porter House in New York, for example, there are 243 cabernet-based wines on its list, and 200 of them are from either Bordeaux or Napa Valley.
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Vann’s cure for too much of a good thing? Try different regions: A 2013 university study called cabernet sauvignon the most-planted wine grape variety in the world. Whether blended with traditional Bordelais partners, such as merlot and cabernet franc, or served unblended—the typical Napa approach—look to Australia, Italy, South Africa, and other parts of the West Coast beyond to cure your cab ennui.
6,500 to 10,000+ Miles From Napa ...
Paarl, South Africa
Bottle to Buy: 2013 Vilafonté Series C ($95)
Winemaker-viticulturalist couple Zelma Long and Phil Freese led the Robert Mondavi Winery to success in the 1970s and ’80s, but when they decided to start their own project they turned to South Africa. Their dense, plummy Vilafonté Series C 2013 is a cab-based blend that’s named for the vineyard’s soil, one of the oldest recorded types in the world in Paarl, north of Stellenbosch.
Margaret River, Australia
Bottle to Buy: 2012 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon ($99.99)
In the southwestern corner of the continent, the Indian Ocean and Margaret River drive cool, maritime air into the vineyards, a stark contrast to Australia’s stereotypically hot wine-growing conditions. It's a place where you can hit surf breaks in the morning and then a tasting room in the afternoon. The resulting cabs, such as Moss Wood’s 2012, often have ripe red berry and bell-pepper aromas, lots of tannins, and a long finish.
Bottle to Buy: 2010 Balnaves The Tally ($116.99)
Vann said it was specifically the cabs from Australia that brought him back into the fold, especially when they are allowed to age. In Coonawarra, south of Adelaide, the red “terra rosa” soils create cabs with generous floral and herbal aromas. The Balnaves ‘Tally" 2010 vintage will keep in the cellar for an additional 10 years, but that classic character is already present should you decide to drink it now.
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Bottle to Buy: 2013 Craggy Range Sophia Gimblett Gravels ($69.99)
Master sommelier Cameron Douglas nods toward New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels region in Hawkes Bay, which formed when a river changed its course, exposing a silty, stony riverbed. The cabernets here have a “green bell-pepper and black currant flavors, along with a gun-metal and earthy quality.” That’s true even when blended, as in Craggy Range’s Sophia 2013.
4,000 to 6,000 Miles From Napa ...
Bottle to Buy: 2013 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia ($179.99)
In the 1970s, the so-called Super Tuscans, operating outside the rules of traditional zones such as Chianti and Brunello, showed that cabernet did well on the warm Tuscan coast. Ornellaia was one of the first, and the 2013 vintage, a silky blend of cabernet sauvignon with merlot and cabernet franc, is one of its most elegant.
Bottle to Buy: 2011 Catena Zapata "Nicolás Catena Zapata" ($103.99)
The 76-year-old founder of Bodega Catena Zapata, Nicolás Catena Zapata, is a great admirer of Robert Mondavi, and he draws more inspiration from Napa than from the Old World. He’s credited with introducing modern winemaking techniques and pioneering high-altitude wine-growing in Argentina. His namesake wine is, accordingly, a cabernet-malbec blend made from the fruit of high-elevation vineyards, and his 2011 vintage is toasty, with ripe fruit aromas and a muscular texture.
Maipo Alto, Chile
Bottle to Buy: 2010 Viña Ventisquero Enclave Cabernet Sauvignon ($64.97)
The rich, mocha-scented Enclave is the result of a 10-year collaboration between Chile’s Viña Ventisquero, a leader in exploring new growing regions in the country, and John Duval, former chief winemaker at Australia’s Penfolds. The 2010 Enclave Cabernet Sauvignon uses grapes sourced from a high-altitude (2,500 to 3,000 feet) vineyard in Pirque, a formerly obscure region in the Maipo Alto, south of Santiago.
600 Miles From Napa ...
Red Mountain, Wash.
Bootle to Buy: 2012 DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon ($160)
The small Red Mountain region is the cabernet specialist in Washington State for its hot, dry conditions that typically yield powerhouse wines. DeLille Cellars, a Woodinville-based winery founded in 1992, picked up 20 acres there in 2000, and the resulting Grand Ciel quickly became recognized as its top wine. The 2012 is a typical example, with blackberry, smoke, and licorice aromas.
Under 100 Miles From Napa ...
Lake County, Calif.
Bottle to Buy: 2012 Obsidian Ridge Half Mile ($60)
The grapes here have long been Napa’s secret sauce, blended into Napa wines to heighten their aromatics and tannic structure. In 1999, Obsidian Ridge planted what may be California’s highest elevation vineyard near Mount Konocti, a volcano that’s 60 miles north of St. Helena. (Only 3 percent of California’s vineyards are over 1,000 feet elevation; Obsidian Ridge vines go higher than 2,500 feet.) The resulting wine, Half Mile, is a spicy, chocolate-tinged mix of cabernet and petit verdot.
Bottle to Buy: 2012 Flanagan Cabernet Sauvignon ($80)
Bennett Valley, in the northern part of California’s second-most-famous wine region, is warmer than much of the rest of the county, with little of its cooling fog. So it’s ideal for cabernet. Flanagan planted its first vines there in 2001, and that vineyard’s grapes form the core of its Cabernet. The 2012 vintage mixes savory black olive and pepper notes with riper, dark-fruit aromas.
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