On Friday I had what I like to call a "super bonus round" of blind tastings, and once again Napa Cabernet provided the excitement, with more than a dozen 2006s (and a couple of earlier vintages) that would make any Cabernet drinker smile.
Not only were many of the 2006s outstanding — among them a trio of Hall Cabernets (at $70, $100 and $150), Girard Artistry ($42), Chappellet Signature ($52), Piña Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard ($85), Snowden Reserve ($75), Phifer Pavitt Date Night ($75) and a pair of Buehler wines at $36 and $45 respectively – but these wines are a bit trimmer in terms of ripeness, more like 2005 than 2004, the latter having been a super-ripe vintage.
Winemakers say the wines ripened and developed flavors at lower sugar levels, hence their lower alcohol percentages. While I enjoy many styles of Cabernet, from opulent to tight and Bordeaux-like, the 2006s struck me as being exquisitely balanced, rich without being heavy, and distinctive in reflecting where they’re grown.
The Piña, for example, has a rich core of gravelly-pebbly currant and sage, true to Howell Mountain. And Phifer Pavitt’s Cabernet comes from Pope Valley; it might be the best wine from that appellation that I’ve tried. (Pope Valley is legally part of Napa, but is separated from the valley by Howell Mountain.)
This is the second exciting vintage from this producer, and I’m sure that once people realize how good Pope Valley wines can be, you’ll start to see and hear more references to the Pope Valley-Napa Valley appellation—and more producers seeking its grapes. The wines are rich and fleshy, with gobs of fruit and great depth, but not as heavy as some Cabernets from the valley floor.
Prices are still mixed; some are going up, some are coming down and most appear to be holding the line. The Girard, though, is the best of this bottling to date, and at $42 it's a great buy, as are the Buehlers.