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Tasting Note

Posted March 10, 2017 A brilliant effort, rich and layered, capturing tiers of espresso-laced dark berry flavors, mocha-scented oak and notes of blackberry, licorice, hazelnut and brownie. Maintains focus, with a long, persistent finish that echoes the core flavor themes.

And the answer is...


Varietal

At first glance, this mystery wine sounds like it might be a tasting note for a decadent dessert. There are a lot of enticing flavors going on here, but instead of grabbing a fork, lets grab a glass and analyze our choices.

We know our wine is rich, so we can safely assume it's a full-bodied wine. First to go is the lighter-bodied, often silky Pinot Noir, as it doesn't match the weighty profile of our mystery wine. Pinot Noir is also most associated with red berry and strawberry flavors. It can show mushroom or earth notes, with some age, but espresso, mocha, brownie and licorice notes are all out of character for Pinot.

Let's move on to Merlot. While it's capable of a big, bold profile, it often shows a softer, more approachable wine. Merlot's fruit flavors lean a little darker than Pinot Noir's, with black cherry, plum and currant leading the way, but even with plenty of new oak, it would be rare to find a Merlot with this rich profile of espresso and mocha. Hazelnut and brownie are especially off the mark for Merlot.

Alicante Bouschet is rarely bottled on its own. Often interplanted among Zinfandel vines and used in field blends, this variety tends to yield a dark, juicy red with subtle earth and spice, reminiscent of Grenache. Once again, however, our oak-influenced flavors of espresso, mocha and hazelnut suggest we keep looking.

Of the remaining choices, both Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon can make for full-bodied reds. Typically Tempranillo shows more acidity than tannins however, and missing are Tempranillo's hallmark earthy and leathery notes. Cabernet is often rich and layered and its affinity for oak is on display with this wine, showing off mocha-scents and hazelnut shadings. The oak notes offer a counterpoint to Cabernet's dark berry and licorice flavors.

This wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Country

Cabernet has many homes around the globe, but save for some plantings on the North Island, it's not a major player in the cool climate of New Zealand. Also, despite Cabernet being planted in most regions throughout Spain, it is normally used as a blending grape with Tempranillo, and is rarely bottled on its own.

Rogue Valley in southern Oregon is starting to expand and diversify beyond Oregon's signature red, Pinot Noir. Cabernet has found a place in this emerging region; it has yet to find a signature style here, but it tends to lean toward a medium-bodied style.

France's Bordeaux is home to some of the most expensive and sought-after wines in the world, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier red grape of Bordeaux's Left Bank. Traditionally, cool to mild growing temperatures tend to create wines with moderate alcohol levels, which can be hard and tannic in their youth, but still show ripe fruit flavors, and often an herbaceous side. But our mystery wine is rich and fruit-forward.

The weather in California is typically warmer than in Bordeaux, with more abundant sunshine and less rainfall, which yields riper, more generous, fruit-forward wines. Our mystery wine is bursting with flavor and there's little sign of tannins or herbaceous notes.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from California.

Age

Narrowing down the age of this wine shouldn't be too hard. The rich and layered tiers of fruit are not descriptors that would suggest the wine is more than 10 years old, so we can eliminate that age bracket first. On the other end of the spectrum, most Cabernet is aged 18 to 24 months in barrel before being released, so it's also unlikely that this wine falls in the one-to-two-year-old bracket.

The tiers of fruit and oak flavors suggest a younger wine. As Cabernet ages, it will start to lose its primary fruit flavors, but the intensity of this wine suggest it's likely still in its youth.

This Cabernet is from the 2013 vintage, making it four years old.

Appellation

We know we're in California, so we can rule out New Zealand's Marlborough, Bordeaux's Pauillac, Spain's Rias Baixas and Oregon's Rogue Valley.

Cabernet is king in Napa Valley, so the choice seems obvious. But lets examine Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara before jumping to conclusions. Located within Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon is the warmest corner of Santa Barbara County, making it an ideal location for Bordeaux varieties. The soil is a mixture of loam and clay, yielding wines with good natural acidity and minerality, neither of which we see in our mystery wine.

There's no mistaking it: This wine is a Napa Valley Cabernet. The bold, layered flavors that we see in this mystery wine, coupled with our clear evidence that this wine has received a solid dose of oak barrel aging, are classic characteristics of Napa Valley Cabernet.

This Cabernet is from Napa Valley.

Wine

This is the Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Jack's Masterpiece 2013, which scored 95 points in the March 31 issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $125 and 3,919 cases were made. For more on California Cabernet, read senior editor James Laube's tasting report, "Back to Back," in the Nov. 30, 2016, issue of Wine Spectator.

—Aaron Romano, assistant tasting coordinator

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