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Some Cabernets I liked in 2012


I’m not going to do a full-blown “Best of” or “Top 100” list, but I will spend the next few days going through some of the wines I thought highly of, for various reasons, by variety or varietal family. We’ll start with a selection of Cabernet Sauvignons.

Most of the best Cabernets released in 2012 were from the 2009 vintage. It was a generally good year, on the cool side but not as cool as the next two vintages to follow. Napa Valley as usual dominated in this category, with excellent wines coming from all quarters of the appellation, both mountains and benches.

My highest scoring Cabernet of the year was David Arthur 2009 Elevation 1147 Estate (99 points, $150). This past year provided me with an in-depth exploration of the Pritchard Hill area (which really should have its own appellation) and the David Arthur represents all that area can be. To excel in that exalted terroir is no mean feat.

I always like to single out Oakville Cabs that express their Oakville-ness and this year it was Janzen’s 2009 Beckstoffer To Kalon (97, $135), but why oh why don’t they put Oakville on the label instead of Napa Valley? I will single out only one of Diamond Creek’s ‘09s, the Volcanic Hill (96, $175), for sheer, ageworthy tannins and mountain concentration, but all of Diamond Creek’s Cabs were spectacular, as were those of Von Strasser, also from Diamond Mountain.

Chimney Rock went through some doldrums in the early 2000s, but man, are they ever back. Their 2009 Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet (96, $135) rocked. Duckhorn produced a splendid array of Cabernets, packed as always with hard tannins to ensure their safety down the line. These are always wonderful Cabernets to review; this year, their best was, not a 2009, but the 2008 Monitor Ledge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (96, $95). Alongside these wines are Nickel & Nickel’s Cabernets, also always tannic ageworthy, but so complex and chewy. My preference this year was the 2009 Branding Iron (94, $100), but the entire lineup is exciting.

From Howell Mountain, Denis and May-Britt Malbec produced a huge wine, their 2008 Cabernet (94, $150) that must be cellared. I’ve enjoyed watching this young couple build up a track record. And a word of praise for Beaulieu’s 2009 Georges de Latour Cabernet (94, $125), often overshadowed but really as good and ageable as ever.

Finally, a few Cabs that got my Editor’s Choice designation because of their price-quality ratio: Yates Family 2008 Cabernet from Mount Veeder (95, $55), Robert Mondavi 2009 Cabernet from Oakville (94, $45), Terra Valentine’s 2009 Wurtele Vineyard off Spring Mountain (94, $65), Snowden’s lovely 2009 “The Ranch” Cabernet (93, $40), Neal Family 2007 Cabernet (93, $45), Long Meadow Ranch 2009 (93, $47) and Hunnicutt 2009 (93, $50). These wines demonstrate that you don’t have to break into triple digits to enjoy a great bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Conclusion: Napa Cabernet is getting better all the time. Somehow vintners, aided no doubt by their growers, are learning how to achieve ripeness at lower brix levels, resulting in more balanced, graceful and elegant wines that still preserve the lush, sweet fruit you expect from a Napa Cab. I personally am looking forward to tasting the better 2010s, which should arrive in the coming year, and the 2011s that will dominate 2014

Monday: Bordeaux blends.

  1. How come you left several producers and one of the largest vineyards (stagecoach) out of your “in-depth exploration” of Pritchard Hill?

  2. Those prices! Ouch.

  3. Agree with Bob about the prices! How so many wineries sell those wines at those prices I’ll never know.

    I agree on the QPR of the Mondavi Oakville Cab. Especially in comparison to many of the other wines mentioned, this wine, which I think is made mostly from the Mondavi portion of the To Kalon vineyard, is a real steal. Had an 06 recently and it was singing.


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