Seven for Seven – A Brief Tour of Napa Valley


I was delighted to curate this small, intimate tasting for one of our private corporate clients. The objective was to taste representative wines from reference-point producers in top vintages across several appellations. I picked the first six wines, while our host added the seventh. As much as I enjoy tasting new releases in Napa Valley, sitting down and focusing on a smaller group of wines years after release is every bit as instructive. I would like to thank the team at the Press Club in San Francisco for handling all aspects of wine service with extreme care. It was a tremendous evening all around.

The 2012 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulous. Racy and ample in feel, the 2012 is also shockingly rich today, more so than I remember from the past. All the elements come together in a seamless, wonderfully deep wine that captures all the best the vintage has to offer. I have never been the biggest fan of the 2012 vintage in Napa Valley, as I thought much of the initial enthusiasm was built on over-compensation for 2011, but Spottswoode very clearly sits at the top. What a great start to the evening. 97/Drink 2023-2037.

Blankiet’s 2018 Proprietary Red Paradise Hills Vineyard soars out of the glass with breathtaking aromatics. Bright and focused, the 2018 is also an infant that is going to need time. I have seen wines from this site age exquisitely well. I imagine that will be the case here as well. Dried herbs, lavender, spice and menthol weave through a core of dark-fleshed fruit, all leading to a gorgeous, resonant finish. So impressive. 98/Drink 2028-2043.

Getting the room ready for a remarkable tasting.

The 2014 Togni Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is the most clenched wine of the evening. It has always been a bit stern, but on this night the 2014 is especially reticent. I admire the energy and persistence, but the wine’s best days are clearly in the future. Readers should plan on cellaring the 2014. It’s a wine very much in the mold of Togni’s other slow-maturing vintages. Time in the glass brings out all sorts of minerally and savory undertones, and yet the 2014 is only showing a fraction of its potential today. 97/Drink 2028-2044.

The 2018 VHR – Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is off the charts. What a wine. Nearly seamless in feel, the 2018 possesses tremendous stature and intensity from the very first taste. Dark-fleshed fruit, menthol, dried herbs, leather and graphite are some of the many notes that saturate the palate. The 2018 is a wine that continues to blossom, exceeding even my own early expectation. This is an especially fine showing, the best yet. 98+/Drink 2026-2043.

The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain is classic Dunn. Graphite, herbs, incense, tobacco, licorice and coffee infuse the 2010 with notable depth. There is an exotic quality to the 2010 that is hard to fully capture with words, but that lends tons of allure. This Cabernet Sauvignon is just starting to be approachable, although it clearly has the stuffing and pedigree to drink well for many decades to come. One of the very best wines of the vintage, the Dunn Howell Mountain has always been magical. It is all that and more on this night. Readers lucky enough to own it are in for a treat. 98+/Drink 2023-2045.

A stunning collection of Napa Valley icons.

We venture all the way to the southern tip of Napa Valley with Favia’s 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville. I have tasted the 2018 twice in recent weeks and it has been absolutely stellar on both occasions. It’s a wine that continues to grow in pedigree and complexity while remaining very young, which is always a great sign. It’s a fabulous example of a modern Cabernet Sauvignon that gracefully marries Napa Valley opulence with Coombsville savoriness. 97/Drink 2026-2043.

Our host very graciously adds the 2008 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard, a fabulous contribution, as it allows us to explore another vintage and one of Napa Valley’s most important vintages. At age 15, the 2008 remains quite young. I am surprised to see a bit more sweet oak character here than in some of the younger wines in the tasting, perhaps a reflection of the preferences of that era. Even so, the 2008 offers up plenty of Eisele character in its dark fruit, leather, tobacco, espresso, scorched earth and spice flavors. The balance here is not as perfect as it can be in the very best vintages, perhaps a lingering reminder of a season marked by drought, frost, and heat during bloom but then much more favorable conditions through the end of summer and into harvest. The 2008 was one of the first young vintages I tasted at Araujo. It’s great to revisit it on this evening. 97/Drink 2023-2038.

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