One would get very few arguments about Napa Valley's greatness as one of the top two places in the wine world to grow the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Napa Valley's many microclimates and soils create compelling, sophisticated Cabernet based wines that virtually any wine lover has in his or her cellar. In a relatively short amount of time, Napa has altered the world's perception of what outstanding Cabernet should taste like.
Napa Valley Cabernets can cost an undemanding $10, or fetch unreasonable prices of well over $300. They can come from vast vineyards, or from miniscule plots of land of only a couple acres.
While all of the wines from the Napa Valley Brawl exhibited classic cabernet flavors, I was impressed with how distinctive each bottle was. One could go into this tasting predicting a lot of similarity, but the results show diversity as well as remarkable quality. Four different vintages were represented, with prices ranging from $15 to $85.
Ali's entry not only received the first prize, but also was the most improved of the tasting. At first, her wine was closed and un-evolved, but later opened up to reveal impressive depth and balance.
First Place: Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Napa Valley). Exhibiting a complex nose of blueberries, blackberries, chalk, toasted oak, green bell pepper, vanilla and violets. Grapey at first, with some acidity showing up too much. Later showed blackberries, cinnamon, peppermint and black pepper. Good balance and length. Four tasters gave this their top rating. Received 31 points. Ali's bottle. About $33.
Second Place: Kendall Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon "Stature" 1997 (Napa Valley). Kendall Jackson's top of the line bottling. Looking very thick in the glass, this wine expressed aromas of bitter chocolate, toasted oak, and espresso. David suggested that it "tastes like midnight", and described it as "gusty". Healthy amounts of tannin supported flavors of leather, charcoal, roasted coffee and a rich texture. Kristin and David's favorite of the tasting. Received 24 points. David's bottle. About $85.
Third Place: Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (Napa Valley). Very expressive nose reminded tasters of cola, licorice, mint, dark chocolate, smoke, hazelnuts, and root beer. Ali felt that it was "like a wicked forest in a fairy tale". Tasting of anise, chestnuts, dark cherries, blackberries, plums and chocolate. Very balanced and a great value. Received 21 points. Andy's bottle. About $20.
Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 (Mt. Veeder). The only wine of the night from a more specific Napa appellation, this bottle offered scents of caramel, milk duds, butterscotch, and flowers. Ali noted an "underlying must" to the list of descriptions. Revealing flavors of cloves, cinnamon, cream, green pepper and dark cherry. Acidity kept this light on it's feet, with Ali suggesting that it "feels like it's going to float away". Received 6 points. Stephen's bottle. About $58.
Ramsay Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (Napa Valley). Very earthy/funky scents reminded Andy of "dirty socks". Tasters described mossy aromas, along with clove, tobacco and pumpkin. Tart, with a light texture and modest grapey, earthy flavors. David derided it for being "thin and weedy". Received 5 points. Sarah's bottle. About $16.
Michael Pozzan Cabernet Sauvignon "Annabella Special Selection" 2002 (Napa Valley). Forest/mossy scents, not unlike pine needles were unimpressive to virtually all tasters. Ali felt that it "smells like a toilet". Bell pepper, plums, anise, and stale smoke on the palate. Good attack, but finishes extremely short. Received 3 points. Kristin's bottle. About $15.