Yes, I’m that person that gives people shit about drinking Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. And I’m that person, even when my general mantra is to drink what you like as long as you’re open-minded. I have nothing against Napa Cab. After all, it is the wine that put the American wine industry on the global stage and pretty much made ‘Napa Valley’ into a household name. And as you can see, I’ve got plenty of love for Napa Cab.
But there is a time and a place for Napa Cab – as there is for all wines. My gripe with Napa Cab is that people only want to drink it to the exclusion of everything else. Grilled shrimp? Let’s open a Napa Cab. Asian food? I’ve got a Napa Cab for that. People! Napa Cab can be great. Is great. But it doesn’t go with everything!
As it happens during this time of year, one of the often-asked questions is what impressive (expensive)1 bottle of wine to gift. And when I ask what type of wine they were thinking, the answer in many instances is ‘Cabernet Sauvignon.’ So since I’m always asked the question, it seems fitting that I share some Cabs that I think are worthy of gifting. Some of these are well-known (because hey, why mess with a classic?), while others may not be as well known. And all are generally available for purchase. Because why recommend a highly allocated bottle that no one can get?
So here are some Napa Cab picks that have graced my cellar that would make excellent gifts.
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2016 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars ‘Fay’ Cabernet Sauvignon ($130)
Stag’s Leap three estate grown Cabs (S.L.V., Fay, and Cask 23) are all quite highly regarded. It was the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon that went toe to toe with some of Bordeaux’s best and came out the champion in a tasting event now known as the ‘Judgment of Paris.” I’m yet to try the Cask 23, but enjoy both the Fay and the S.L.V. In fact, a couple of years ago, I opened a 1992 Fay during the holidays and even at 25 years old, it still had some life to give. The Fay Vineyard was the first vineyard ever planted in what is now Stags Leap District, which makes it a perfect choice given its prominence in Napa’s history. The 2016 vintage is classic Napa Cab with powerful tannins and a dark brooding intensity. Voluptuous with ripe blueberry, blackberry, vanilla, and tobacco.
You can purchase from Wine.com here: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2016 Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Red Wine as well as at Total Wine.
2016 Robert Craig Affinity Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($70)
I first learned about Robert Craig wines through Instagram. The people posting about their wines seemed genuinely excited about them. So the first time I saw it on a wine menu during a trip to Seattle, I ordered a bottle and became a fan. I should note that founder Bob Craig passed away this past September after several years of battling Parkinson’s. He was known as a mountain Cabernet pioneer in Napa and spearheaded the formation of the Spring Mountain District and Mount Veeder AVAs. So of course they make some fantastic mountain wines. In fact, I’m a big fan of their Howell Mountain Zinfandel. And while ‘The Craig,’ as it is affectionately known, certainly offers more expensive Cabs, the entry-level Affinity is one of my favorites. Just a bonus that that price is nice. This Classic Bordeaux style blend comes in at 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 4% Cab Franc, and 4% Malbec. It’s ripe berry fruit and vanilla spice are in check by some earthiness.
2015 Chateau Montelena ‘The Montelena Estate’ Cabernet Sauvignon ($150-175)
While gaining fame when it’s Chardonnay was awarded top scores at the above-mentioned Judgment of Paris, the Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely my favorite varietal from this historic producer. I still remember a few years ago pulling a 1996 Cab out of the cellar, drinking it over the course of several hours, and just being wowed at the greatness from beginning to end. The 2015 is a blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Amazingly vibrant dark fruit alongside mocha, leather, cedar, and spice. Rich and full-bodied with approachable tannins that soften up with some time in the decanter. As always, a pleasurable sip. It can certainly be enjoyed now with some decanter time, but will undoubtedly improve with a little more time in the cellar.
2016 Mirror Wines Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($120)
So I’ll have to admit that there was some bias that initially got me to purchase this wine. As a Notre Dame alum, I was intrigued when fellow Domer and Alum (and former quarterback) Rick Mirer created his own winery. I mean, I had to support my peeps, right? I first tasted the Mirror Cab at a local tasting several years ago when Rick was making the rounds and promoting his label. But once I tried it, I was convinced it was a quality sip. I have several vintages in my cellar and yes, have even gifted this wine to friends. The 2016 Howell Mountain Cab (they also make a regular Napa Valley Cab) exhibits what I’ve come to enjoy about Howell Mountains wines. Massive and concentrated with well-structured tannins, ripe black fruit and mocha.
2014 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville ($120-150)
Love him or hate him, the recently retired Bordeaux wine critic Robert Parker held a lot of influence over wine drinkers. To some, those ratings are everything and oftentimes form the basis for whether they will purchase a wine. So seeing as how we have the ubiquitous 100-point scale created by Parker, we can’t very well talk Napa Cab and not mention Groth Cabernet Sauvignon, whose 1985 vintage garnered the first ever 100-point score given to a California wine from Parker. But this time around, we’re talking the 2014 vintage. A little more reserved fruit than some others I’ve included, this one gives different looks of black currant, smoke, and flashes of herbs along with dense, chewy tannins. Steak wine all day for sure.
2009/10 Nice Wines Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($110)
I often tell Houston peeps that if they haven’t been to the Nice Winery located in our city, they are missing out. Not only are they wonderful supporters of our local Houston community, they make some good wines. I’ve visited them on a number of occasions and have never left empty handed. One of the other things that I enjoy about visiting them, is that not only do they showcase their own wines, but they also showcase the wines of other producers that they love and enjoy. With a unique business model that has them owning estate vineyards in a number of places including California and even Argentina, I’m always excited to check out their portfolio. A recent tasting there found me oohing and ahhing about their Stag’s Leap Cabernet. I was able to taste the 2009 and 2010 side by side and seriously couldn’t pick a winner. If I’m remembering correctly 2009 was more fruit forward (and also wine double gold at the Houston Rodeo Uncorked Wine Competition) whereas the 2010 was a bit more structured. So of course, you get them both!
Purchase Nice Wines on their website.
So see, I do loves me some Napa Cabs. And you can bet I’ll be opening a few in the coming weeks. Cheers until next time y’all.
*Cover Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.