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MORE CALIFORNIA CABERNETS
- RIDGE VINEYARDS & WINERY
2015 Santa Cruz Mountains Cab, etc. Sold
vineyard easily merits inclusion on the list of California "Grand Cru"
sites. The track record for Monte Bello is long and reasonably consistent.
The vineyard is atop Monte Bello Ridge. Cabernet from this site is sometimes big and
tannic, but almost always elegant and refined.
The winery was founded by Dave
Bennion and some pals from Stanford Research Institute. They had several other
partners and made wine in a cellar closed in the 1940s. The wines were like Dave:
big, bold, intense and a bit rustic.
Winemaker Paul Draper arrived on the scene in 1970 and those wines of the early part of the decade were huge. They're still young
and backwards. Draper made a sensational wine from a vineyard called Eisele in 1971
and this, too, is a candidate for the Hall of Fame. This wine
really established the Eisele Vineyard as a potentially great site and
Phelps made a few vintages of it in later years.
Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains appellation appears on Cabernets from time to
time. Ridge has segmented their Cabernet vineyards into three dozen
different parcels. The best, most structured and cellar-worthy wines
go into the Monte Bello, while the Santa Cruz label is the
Their 2015 Santa Cruz Mountains blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon , 16% Merlot,
2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.
This is made of fruit from their Monte
Bello vineyards. The wine is medium-full bodied and has a wonderful
perfume of the Cabernets. Wood is in the background, enhancing the
wine rather than covering it. This is drinkable now, especially with
food. We expect it to develop and soften in the bottle over the next
5-10 years. Good value, too.
The Monte Bello "Cabernet" is routinely a wine we view as a
leading ambassador for California wines. The wine has a great track
record, being worthy of comparison to top Bordeaux. It's typically a
much different animal from its Napa Valley competitors, as it's not a
"fruit bomb" and we're fairly certain they don't blend in the
grape concentrate called "Mega Purple" in hopes of gaining
impressive numerical scores from those who critique California wines.
These are some of California's best wines...as it's grown in notoriety, the
wine has become a bit scarce. They used to sell it in a 12 bottle
box. Then in a 6 bottle box. These days it's offered in distribution
in a 3 bottle box.
We periodically have a few bottles, but don't count on it.
- ROMBAUER VINEYARDS
- Rombauer is, these days, famous for its hugely-oaked
Chardonnay (is it a Spätlese or merely a Kabinett level wine?), but they make a nice, medium-full bodied Cabernet.
They used to purchase fruit for this, and then for a while, it was solely
from estate grown vineyards. Apparently sales have increased (as has
the quality of the wine) and now they augment their own Cabernet vineyards
with some grapes from growers.
The 2014 has 11% Petit Verdot and 5% each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
We used to view this as a pretty ordinary bottle of wine, but we must admit
the quality level has been increasing, it seems, each vintage and we know
our snobby wine-geek friends would be quite surprised if presented this wine
"blind." They're using 70% brand new French oak, too,
another enhancement. As a result, this is nicely cedary and can be put
on the dinner table instead of, or along with, a number of other well-known
- Currently in stock: 2014 ROMBAUER Napa CABERNET SALE
ROUND POND ESTATE
MacDonell had a farm, ee-eye-ee-eye-oh.
And the farm is in Napa Valley's town of Rutherford, a prime site for
The place is named after a childhood camping place in New York near West
Point...Round Pond. MacDonnell named his Rutherford retreat as Round
Pond and today they grow grapes and olives on the property.
It's a beautiful property, planted in fairly rich, fertile soil on the
We're fans of their Cabernet...and now they offer three bottlings.
The 2015 Rutherford Estate is a deep, dark, full-bodied red. They fortify the Cabernet
with a bit of Petit Verdot and the wine is very showy. We like the intense dark
berry notes and the moderately oaky character. It's approachable now
and it ought to cellar nicely for another 5-10 years.
One of the best values in Napa Valley Cabernet was their "Napa" bottling.
This is now labeled "Kith and Kin." Perfectly okay wine,
but we've not carried it for a couple of vintages.
We advised them to consider having a bit of oak showing in future
vintages...the last one we tasted was well-made by a bit
"standard." Stay tuned on that one.
They sometimes have a "Reserve" bottling costing
triple-digits. The last one we tasted was very fine...nicely oaked
and showing dark fruits.
Currently in stock: 2015 ROUND POND Napa-Rutherford CABERNET
SAUVIGNON SALE $67.99
2010 ROUND POND Napa CABERNET SAUVIGNON Sold
- The Sbragia name may
be familiar to you if you read any wine publications. Winemaker Ed
Sbragia has been with the Beringer winery for more than 25 years. They
have put his name on a reserve wine or two.
Sbragia's father cultivated plums in Sonoma County in the 1930s and later
planted a vineyard. His efforts at winemaking were not so successful,
apparently. But Ed came on board at Beringer in the 1970s, working
with winemaking legend Myron Nightingale. Sbragia took over the helm
in 1984 and this coincides with Beringer's making tremendous qualitative
strides. The 1984 Reserve Cabernet really established Beringer as,
finally, a source for major league quality wines.
Well, Sbragia's son is now working in the wine business. Adam Sbragia
is employed at Beringer's "Souverain" facility in
So now there's a "Sbragia Family" winery, featuring a range of
We included the "heavy hitter" bottling of Sbragia's line-up in
our May 2005 blind-tasting of 2001 Napa Cabernets. The wine was the
group's favorite wine. I also had it ranked first.
- In October of 2006 we had Sbragia's 2003 "Monte Rosso Vineyard"
wine in a blind-tasting of Cabernets. It was the group's top wine as
it showed sweet oak and a wonderful fruit fragrance and flavor. I
knocked it a bit for its "currently fashionable styling," but
there's no denying the wine is quite good. The nose shows sweet
fragrances and the wine is full and deep on the palate. It will
probably cellar well for 5-10+ years, but it's most showy now.
The Monte Rosso vineyard was, of course, owned by Louis Martini and it's now
part of the Gallo empire.
The soils are decomposed volcanic red rock, a wonderful environment for
The 2010 was very good, but we've not found the 2011 or 2012 to be
especially showy or of similar quality and complexity.
- Currently in stock: 2010 Sbragia "Sonoma Valley"
Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon Sold Out
- SILVER OAK WINE CELLARS
2014 Alexander Valley SALE
2014 Alexander Valley SALE $179.99
2013 Napa SALE $112.99
- Brother Justin Meyer started his
wine career, I believe, at the Christian Brother's facility. He was involved at
Franciscan Vineyards in the early days of that property before striking gold with Silver
The recipe has been simple, the winery creating a Cabernet styled along the
lines of the old-time Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernets: lots of American oak and no
We've liked these for a long time, but it took Robert Parker (The Wine
Advocate) until the early 1980s to finally praise these wines. Having been
beatified, the wines had been more difficult to acquire. No
longer the new kid on the block, Silver Oak wines are routinely viewed
derisively by hot-shot sommeliers who have dubbed the wine "Silver
Joke." We know a number of wine biz people who look down their
pointy little noses at Silver Oak's wines.
Okay...the wine might not be the most complex Cabernet on the planet, but it
is still a rather nice wine with a steak. We opened a 1997
Alexander Valley in July of 2012 and this was a beautiful bottle of
wine! Anyone deriding this is simply an arrogant snob. I'll bet
the same folks would gush about similarly-styled wines from Spain's Rioja.
A Napa bottling is produced
at the Napa facility and, having bought the old Lyeth winery in Sonoma, their Alexander
Valley wine is vinified in Geyserville. The single vineyard "Bonny's" is
no longer in production at Silver Oak, but the Meyer family still owns the
vineyard and they are offering "Bonny's Vineyard" Cabernet under
their own banner.
like this style of wine, which we do, please have a look at some of my Spanish
selections---these are matured in American oak as well, and many offer as much pleasure as
do the Silver Oak wines. The wines hold up beautifully, but we've found they are fully
developed upon release. While they may soften with time, you won't find subtle
nuances in an aged Silver Oak bottle...what you see is what you get. Delicious with
grilled or roasted red meats.
The 2014 Alexander Valley was the latest release. It is a wonderful,
classic example of Silver Oak Cabernets...lots of woodsy fragrances on the
nose and palate. The tannins are approachable and the wine can easily
be consumed now, in its youth. It ought to last well for another 10-15
years if stored properly. This is particularly satisfying
when paired with a grilled steak.
The Napa Cabernet is a fine example of what Silver Oak Cabernet is all
about. It's a throw-back to the great old bottles of Private Reserve
Cabernet from Beaulieu Vineyard back in the 1960s and 1970s. Those
were wines which showed lots of dark fruit notes and plenty of American oak.
We currently have the 2013 Napa...quite good.
Silver Oak now owns a barrel-building company in Higbee, Missouri.
They had purchased a 50% stake in the company back in the year 2000, but
these days they own the place outright.
It allows them to control and maintain the quality of the barrels that are
so important to the style of Silver Oak's wines.
As you can see, the price of a bottle of wine has changed slightly.
We checked the Bureau of Labor Statistics "Inflation
Calculator." That allows you to select a year and dollar figure
and calculate how much that money is worth today.
The $6 bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet would have been sold, likely, in
1976. That $6 calculates to $26.59 in 2018.
As you can see, the inflation rate for the wine industry is far different.
The cost of vineyard land, barrels, labor, etc. are far different today than
in the 1970s!
There was a wine shop in San Francisco some years ago that
had a marvelous little catalogue and they worked with a local cartoonist to
have great art work on the covers, always barbing some aspect of the wine
There are always people who will tell you they used to buy "such and
such a wine and it was only ten bucks back in the day."
Yes...you were once in diapers and now look at you.
(Uh, some of these old-timers might once again be in diapers.)
SMITH MADRONE WINERY
Smith Brothers launched their winemaking adventure in 1971 when Stu Smith
began planting vines on their 200 acre ranch atop Spring Mountain in
Napa. He had explored the site the year before and, aside from lots
of forest land, he found evidence that vineyards had been planted there
ages ago as there were still some grape stakes hither and yon.
The property, in fact, had been turned over to George W. Cook in 1885 when
President Chester Arthur granted title for the estate. The Smiths
have the deed from the US Land Office and they wrap bottles of a reserve
wine they call "Cook's Flat."
Back in the early 1970s there were not too many wineries on Spring
Mountain, but these days they have all sorts of winemaking
neighbors. There are about two dozen wineries on that winding
road. They are not far from Philip Togni, Paloma, Ritchie Creek and
Stu's brother Charles is the winemaker, helped by Stu's son Sam Smith.
They've been making good wines up there for decades and they are
well-regarded by Napa Valley winemakers, but they're a bit unknown to many
wine consumers. The Smiths put more effort into making good wine
than they do in tooting their own horn.
Cabernet Sauvignon is planted on south and west-facing slopes. They
also make Chardonnay and Riesling. At one time they produced a bit
of Pinot Noir.
- The 2014 Cabernet is currently in the shop. The winter of
2013/2014 was rather dry and the Smiths say this led to the Cabernet
grapes being a bit smaller than normal, resulting in greater fruit
intensity. The Smiths, by the way, eschew irrigation and prefer
dry-farming for all their vineyards.
They look to make traditionally-styled Cabernet and are not looking for
the darkest, inkiest, most powerful wine in the world. The alcohol
level of the 2014 is just less than 14%, a rarity these days in
California. It's blended with 8% Cabernet Franc and 7%
Merlot. The wine is matured in French oak for a year and
a half, with 70% of the barrels being brand new. Despite such a high
level of new wood, you won't find the wine to be particularly oaky, a
testament to the intensity of the Cabernet Sauvignon from their mountain
- The wine is delicious now and yet it likely has good cellaring potential
if you can resist the temptation to open a bottle tonight.
Currently in stock: SMITH MADRONE 2014 Spring
Mountain Napa CABERNET SAUVIGNON $49.99
Charles and Stu Smith
Stu Smith explaining the orientation of their vineyards atop Spring Mountain.
Those trees in the middle of this snapshot are Picholine Olives.
They don't make any oil, but have offered to give, gratis, the olives to someone
who would harvest them and return with a few bottles of oil.
- The Summers
family has been growing grapes and making wine for a few years now, having
traded in his banking career for one in winemaking.
Jim was bemused by the Napa Valley wine culture. He passed away in
August of 2018.
For many years he visited our shop and we enjoyed hearing his observations
about the wine business. Summers was a real salt-of-the-earth kind of
guy, a far cry from the business school winery executives that had moved
into the community. He was also amused by the rich celebrities who
have flocked to the Napa Valley looking for the ego gratification one gets
seeing one's name on the label of bottles of wine they're hoping to sell for
a couple of hundred bucks a copy.
They're on Tubbs Lane in Calistoga, a neighborhood anchored by a little
winery called Chateau Montelena.
We visited the winery one day with Luciano Sandrone, a famous Barolo
winemaker. Sandrone's grand-daughter Alessia was staying with a
Silicon Valley family for a couple of weeks and then Luciano, his wife
Mariuccia and grandson Stefano came to visit for a little
Summers knew we were mainly in the neighborhood to visit Montelena as they
are marketed by the same company that imports the Sandrone
Illustrating what a sweet guy he was he knew we had to depart for our
appointment at the neighboring winery.
It was a warm day and he said "Kids, it's a nice day and I don't think
you want to visit another boring, old wine cellar. Tell you what, your
Uncle Gerald and Grandpa can go see Montelena while you and your Grandma can
come with me. Bring your swimming suits and you can go for a swim in
the pool. I'll drive you to Montelena where you'll have
And that's what happened!
Jim Summers was thrilled to have a visitor as world famous as Signor
Sandrone to come see his winery and taste his wines.
We have featured Summers wines in the shop for many years...the Cabernet is
a popular wine with our customers, but we especially like the Summers
Charbono (it's on the picnic table in a few photos below).
A 2015 "Andriana's Cuvée" is one of the few bargains in good
California Cabernet. This is a blend of Napa (33%) and Sonoma (67%)
fruit. It's a medium-bodied Cabernet, intended for
immediate drinking, rather than extended cellaring. It's a wine which
is quite drinkable in its youth...very fine. Made predominantly of Cabernet
Sauvignon (there's a bit of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Petite Sirah in
the mix) and matured for 16 months in French oak, half the barrels being
We hope Beth Summers continues to manage the family business...
2015 Summers "Andriana's Cuvée" Cabernet Sauvignon SALE
Famous Barolo winemaker Luciano Sandrone and Famed Calistoga Vintner, Jim
Jim Summers and that's winemaker Ignacio Blancas, who despite his name,
makes some terrific red wines.
In the Summers' winery...Tasting Cabernet from the barrel...
Jim Summers enjoying a glass of his Charbono one cool day when we met him
at Gott's Roadside burger stand in St. Helena.
We brought stemware and had a cool bottle of his fabulous Charbono in our
cellar bag (much to his surprise and delight).
Joining us that day was Marianna Pojer of Italy's famous Pojer e Sandri
winery in the Trentino region.
Our friend John Downing had come up to attend a Gambero Rosso tasting in
San Francisco and he joined us on our little tour.
John works for the Hollywood store of K&L.
Jim didn't drive a fancy car as you can see.
MORE CALIFORNIA CABERNETS
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