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Posted: March 8, 2000

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Napa Valley Cabernet Hall of Fame

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For more on Napa Valley, see the Feb. 29, 2000 issue of Wine Spectator.


Total Acres Planted: 3,300

Total Bordeaux Varieties: 2,613 acres

OLD GUARD: Beaulieu Private Reserve, Caymus Special Selection and Freemark Abbey Bosch

RISING STARS: Beaulieu Vineyard Clones 4 & 6, Flora Springs Hillside Reserve and Lokoya

OTHER REFERENCE CABERNETS: Cakebread Benchland and Three Sisters, Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard, Livingston Moffett Vineyard, Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon, Peju Province Reserve, Quintessa, Sequoia Grove Reserve, Staglin and The Terraces

REGIONAL CHARACTER: There is perhaps less diversity among styles in Rutherford than in Oakville, and the best wines feature very rich plum, black cherry, currant, olive, sage and spice qualities. The Cabernets are perhaps a shade more elegant and fruitier than those from Oakville, and in some cases more structured. But in truth, it's difficult to separate the wines in blind tastings, even for long-time winemakers and those who study the area. Also within the appellation, Caymus Special Selection, from the east side of the Napa River, is markedly different from Flora Springs Hillside Reserve, which is grown on the west side. In many respects, winemaking decisions are key factors, with some wines being 100 percent Cabernet and others being blends.

Rutherford's cast of Cabernets is nearly as star-studded as Oakville's. Oakville is perhaps a shade cooler, with the San Pablo Bay breezes hitting it first and leaving it last. The soils are similar, with the crumbling hillsides from both sides of the valley forming rich layers of soil.

BV, with its private reserve, shows how complex and long-lived Rutherford Cabernet can be; Caymus, even with its usually brilliant special selection, tends to be its showiest early on and has a more variable track record when it comes to aging. Freemark Abbey's Bosch is one of the most elegant and subtle Cabernets in Napa Valley and a much underappreciated wine; it rarely wows in blind tastings, but delivers enormous complexity on its own. Flora Springs found its best Cabernet came from a winery-owned hillside property, and it can be an enormously juicy and full-bodied wine. Closer to Caymus, Heitz uses grapes from its Trailside Vineyard. Heading east and higher into the mountains leads to Chappellet, Snowden and Bryant, though those wineries technically exceed the appellation boundary of 400 feet above sea level.

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