Our Summer Saga continues with some new and long-awaited Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc-based wines from all over the whole wide world.
CALIFORNIA – NAPA
Dominus 2015. No need to wait, this 2015 is already a legend. The Moueix family (they of the Bordelais unicorn Chateau Petrus) bought into the small Napanook vineyard in Yountville around the same time that the Rothschilds started Opus One, and though Opus has reflected the Mondavi partnership (and the inherent To Kalon vineyard) in its relative lushness, Dominus has become the region’s stately French Embassy, like a Californian portal to the Médoc. Built like the Washington Monument pelted with blackberries, 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 2015 is the tallest of the tent poles in Napa’s golden run of 2012-2016, the vintage’s extra midsection making the wine a little more immediately approachable, but the stately thing to do would be to give it a decade’s nap. 100 points Robert Parker, 100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 98 points James Suckling, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $469.99 +tax **
Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. Mike Grgich has accomplished many things in his incredibly long and storied life – including a short dishwashing stint in Vancouver on his journey between native Croatia and Napa – but it’s likely that he’ll best be remembered for making the Chardonnay that beat the French in the Paris Tasting of 1976. He started Grgich Hills shortly after leaving Chateau Montelena, and was an early champion of organic, non-interventionist winemaking in California, back in an era where pesticides were considered a vitamin. When I met Mr. Grgich at his winery in 2014 – he was 91 at the time – he offered me some wine in exchange for my wife (I declined). Although Mike is no longer the head winemaker (a job now held by his nephew Ivo Jeramaz), his fingerprints are all over this 2015 Cab, it is as floral and herbaceous as it is fruit-packed, with blackberries and violets taking centre stage. Ever the humanist, Grgich’s wines drink (awesomely) young, they age terrifically (I have a signed 2010 at home) and although most wineries now practice his methods, no one has quite matched his style or spirit. 96 points Decanter, 2 6-packs available, $110.98 +tax
Ashes and Diamonds Grand Vin No. 2 2015. What do you get when you combine the scion of Darioush, the winemaker of Larkmead and the oenologist of Eisele and Altagracia? Not what you think, actually. Whilst one could reasonably expect an incendiary Glycerine-grenade, Ashes and Diamonds is a throwback to the Napa wines of yore, echoing an era when the red wines of the valley could actually make French Judges mistake them for French wines. Built from Cabernet Franc and Merlot grown in their own Oak Knoll vineyard, Grand Vin No. 2 is reserved, complex, and civilized, the fruit is matched by earth, there are wisps of cinnamon and fresh portabella mushroom, spicy anise on the finish – all these flavours are present but not obvious, just like a Saint-Émillon, you have to put some work in. A&D is an unlikely cult-wine given how un-loud it is, but the buzz is booming none the less, very little enters the province because very little is made. Positioning themselves as a kind of Anti-Parker, A&D is not submitted for ratings. 6 bottles available, $154.98 +tax
Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. Smells like a Danish and drinks like a hug. Former Disney exec Richard Frank bought the old Tudor-style house on Winston Hill in Rutherford in the early 90s to get away from L.A. from time to time, the fact that there was a vineyard on the property was incidental to him – until he moved in and started fielding calls from dozens of Napa wineries all trying to buy his fruit. Turns out that the estate was part of the original Larkmead winery from the 19th century, and it didn’t take long for Richard to start bottling his own juice under his family label. Frank Cab is a pleasure-forward affair, with candied cherries, rich espresso, vanilla bean and cassis. The thick body is the real story here, overflowing its tannic beltline like a muffin-top after Thanksgiving. Will age a decade but so will you, so drink now and be very happy. 3 6-packs available, $87.98 +tax
DuMol Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Enjoy a glass of Premium California Unobtanium. Adam Smith’s Uber-Cult winery Du Mol is mostly consumed with producing Sonoma Pinots and Chards that desperate collectors run each other over for in order to assume their allocations. Accordingly, this Napa-grown 2016 Cab - the third bottling he’s ever done – is available only to their wine-club members in the US. Minerality sings lead, here, over lower layers of cocoa powder and violets. The nose suggests a rocky ride but the landing is smooth and creamy. As graceful as their Pinots, as deep as a double-bass, and as forbidden to US consumers as Ketchup Chips. 93 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $175.98 +tax
CALIFORNIA – PASO ROBLES
Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. I was standing at the back of the classroom during our recent tasting with Austin Hope when we got around to this Cab, and I watched about a dozen guests get up from their seats, one by one, to trade in whatever previous wines they were holding and grab this one. It just tastes so instantly like Yes. Probably the best value I have in a blockbuster Cal Cab, full of Wagnerian bombast and girth, with sweaty ripe blackberries fanning themselves with cinnamon bark. Not sure if this is my last batch for this year, but I fear it may be. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 6-packs available, $69.99 +tax
Viña Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Can’t keep this one on the shelf. Even though Viña Robles is owned by a couple of Swiss guys, they sell so much wine locally that we pretty much have to beg them to send any to BC (incidentally, Everything Wine has the exclusive on this). Once upon a time Hans Nef was importing Napa wines into Europe, and was tiring of the rising costs when his friend Other-Hans (Hans-Rudolf Michel) turned him onto Paso and the terrific value therein. They partnered up to start Viña Robles and life got busier. Sporting a smidge of Petit Verdot for structure, this bonkers Cab was aged almost 2 years in a mix of French and Hungarian barrels, and shows tasty lil’ blueberries (a Paso hallmark) with chalk and cloves. 95 points – Gold Medal – Best In Show - Los Angeles International Wine Competition, 3 cases available, $49.98
Blind Creek Collective “Consensus” 2015, Cawston. The new vintage of BC’s boldest Meritage is also its last, making this gorgeous 2015 all the more collectable. The Similkameen’s Blind Creek vineyard, due to a gap in the mountains on the south ridge of the valley, gets an hour more evening sun than nearly any other vineyard in the Similkameen or the Okanagan, making it one of the best sites in BC for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, blended here with rich Merlot from the same plot. The “Collective” was bought out by original partner Road 13, which was itself purchased my Mission Hill, but the Blind Creek lot wasn’t part of that acquisition, leaving the future unclear for this premier BC terroir. I grabbed the last available boxes of this future lost legend, I encourage you to do the same. 6 6-packs available, $59.98 +tax
El Enemigo “Gran Enemigo” Cabernet Franc 2013, Gualtallary, Mendoza. Makes a credible claim to Argentina’s First Growth. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a 100 point wine at this price. Ripe, fresh, and structured for the ages, this is the crowning achievement of this boutique wing of the storied Catena family, and beats a new alternative path forward for fine Mendoza wine that doesn’t depend on Malbec. If a Chinon and a Pomerol had a baby, and that baby was born a full-fledged Ninja, you’d have Gran Enemigo. Pulls off that rare trick of wielding the power of an angry Roman God without being overly heavy or backwards – those afraid of the dreaded green Greek Salad aromas (pyrazines) in unripe Cab Francs need not worry, this Ninja is full grown. 100 points Robert Parker, 4 wooden 6-packs available, $141.98 +tax
Until next time, Happy Drinking!