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Napa Valley Cabernet Hall of Fame


James Laube
Posted: February 18, 2000

James Laube's
Napa Valley Cabernet Hall of Fame

For this fantasy list of all-star Cabernets, I've chosen a range of vintages--older wines that have demonstrated their greatness by improving with age and newer releases that I think will provide the same kind of thrill years from now. There's also a mix of mountain-grown and valley floor wines from Oakville to Calistoga, which reflect the diversity and range of style of Napa's finest Cabernets. The clusters of wines from such years as 1958, 1970, 1978, 1985 and 1994 underscore the importance of focusing on truly great vintages when putting together a cellar. Anyone who had the good fortune to taste these wines would truly understand why Napa Valley Cabernet generates so much excitement. The descriptions and scores represent the wines at their peaks.

Wine / Score

INGLENOOK 1941 / 100
John Daniel's perfection embodied in a wine. This great Napa Valley estate helped set the high standards for Cabernet, and time and again this immense wine has shown a magnificent ability to preserve its rich flavors for decades. Rutherford

BEAULIEU VINEYARD 1958 / 96
Compelling evidence of André Tchelistcheff's mastery of wine-making. Tremendous concentration and finesse that seems timeless. Rutherford

INGLENOOK 1958 / 96
Another Daniel beauty -- dark, rich and full of flavor, in much the same style as the 1941. Rutherford

HEITZ MARTHA'S VINEYARD 1969 / 95
For a long time this was Joe Heitz's personal favorite, a signature wine with wonderful depth, focus and vitality. Oakville

BEAULIEU VINEYARD 1970 / 95
Tchelistcheff's last classic, very much like a grand Bordeaux, with its rich fruit and cedary nuances. Rutherford

MAYACAMAS 1970 / 97
Defined Mount Veeder's power and winemaker Bob Travers' passion for sturdy, long-lived Cabernet. Always dark, always chewy, with enormous strength. Mount Veeder

HEITZ MARTHA'S VINEYARD 1974 / 99
Another Heitz classic that upheld the greatness of this vintage, even if others didn't fare as well. Oakville

JOSEPH PHELPS EISELE VINEYARD 1975 / 97
Demonstrated the strength of the vineyard with a dramatic, multilayered wine in an overlooked vintage. Calistoga

DIAMOND CREEK LAKE 1978 / 99
Friends tasting through barrels in Al Brounstein's cellar find one barrel that's superior to the others and encourage him to bottle a fourth Cabernet. Thus, Lake, from a plot smaller than an acre, joins Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill. The result: a wine that's remarkably polished and fleshy, with extra flavor dimensions. Diamond Mountain

DIAMOND CREEK RED ROCK TERRACE 1978 / 96
Dark, dense and amazingly well-preserved, highlighting the vintage of the decade. It also provides a dramatic contrast to the Lake bottling. Diamond Mountain

DUNN HOWELL MOUNTAIN 1984 / 97
"Massive but elegant" is a catch phrase for this truly consistent and distinctive wine. A great vintage early on, it has since been less impressive. Howell Mountain

CAYMUS SPECIAL SELECTION 1985 / 99
Captured a broad range of enormously complex flavors in a tremendous year. Showed the vineyard's signature style as well as its consistency. Rutherford

GROTH RESERVE 1985 / 97
The first vintage that truly showcases the special qualities of the vineyard, yielding a wine with fascinating dimensions. Oakville

JOSEPH PHELPS INSIGNIA 1985 / 96
A Bordeaux-inspired blend beautifully executed in a great year, with all sorts of extra facets. Napa Valley

STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS CASK 23 1985 / 98
Warren Winiarski's finest, it still serves up an exotic range of complex flavors that are vibrant, subtle and detailed. Stags Leap District

PHILIP TOGNI 1987 / 96
Bountiful flavors are dense and beautifully defined from a single vineyard overseen by a stern, disciplined winemaker. Spring Mountain

BERINGER VINEYARDS PRIVATE RESERVE 1991 / 97
Packs in loads of ripe, plush, deeply concentrated flavors, in what has become winemaker Ed Sbragia's signature style. Napa Valley

CHATEAU MONTELENA 1991 / 97
Perhaps the greatest wine ever made from this esteemed estate. Enormous structure, power and restraint. Calistoga

ABREU MADRONE RANCH 1994 / 96
Defines the modern era of ultrarich fruit with bold, polished tannins. David Abreu manages the vineyard; Ric Forman makes the wine. St. Helena

ARAUJO EISELE VINEYARD 1994 / 96
The Araujos, owners of the vineyard since 1990, are determined to make wines that surpass the Phelps classics from the same property. Calistoga

BERINGER VINEYARDS HOWELL MOUNTAIN / BANCROFT VINEYARD 1994 / 97
Shares the winemaker's emphasis on bold flavors, this time tapping a single vineyard. Howell Mountain

HARLAN ESTATE 1994 / 96
This estate vineyard defines the trend of the 1990s, with an exacting style from grape to wine. Sleek yet powerful, brimming with sharply focused flavors. Oakville

ROBERT MONDAVI RESERVE 1994 / 95
This is a deceptively age-worthy wine, and as it evolves it should be a beauty from a watershed year. Oakville

OPUS ONE 1994 / 97
A wine that celebrates the formal marriage of Bordeaux and Napa Valley winegrowing know-how; this rich, massive wine is one of many 1990s standouts. Oakville

SCREAMING EAGLE 1995 / 96
A pure expression of a Cabernet vineyard: bright, vibrant, rich in flavor. Oakville

BRYANT FAMILY VINEYARD 1996 / 99
A seamless wine, rich, detailed, enormously complex, yet elegantand restrained. Shows the exacting vineyard and winemaking skills of Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer. Napa Valley

DALLA VALLE MAYA 1996 / 98
A blend of Cabernet and Cabernet Franc, this is a dark, intense, uniquely styled wine that should be fascinating to taste through the decades. Oakville

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