From Napa Valley to the coastal vineyards of Paso Robles, the Golden State is famed for its mastery of cabernet sauvignon
by Neil Shrodo
THE LIGHTER SIDE
If you’re in the mood for something light, pop open a bottle of 2016 Böen Chardonnay, a truly special tri-county chardonnay that’s crafted from Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara fruit. Winemaker Joe Wagner describes it as, “Opulent flavors with a silky, alluring texture, flavors of apricot, lemon cream tart, and vanilla. This tri appellation chardonnay is elegant and lingering on the palate.” $17.99
Bold, rich, and velvety smooth. Toasty oak with hints of vanilla and spice. These are the hallmarks of a California cabernet, the most planted red grape in the Golden State’s bountiful wine regions. Combining powerful flavors of black and blue fruits, cassis, plum, and cherry, plus nuanced secondary flavors of oak, earth, and spices, California’s cabernet reframed Bordeaux’s world famous grape and made it uniquely American. It is more accessible young, though the top producers are capable of aging and improving the wine for 20-30 years or more.
California cabernet has evolved far beyond its heartland in Napa Valley, and there are many diehard fans of regions like Sonoma, Paso Robles, and beyond, where a treasure trove of high-quality cabs is being produced at lower price points. Sonoma’s elevation and warm, sunny days followed by cooler, breezy evenings result in cherry and red berry-forward cabernets. Paso Robles, located about halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, is closer to the coast, and the vineyards can see up to a 50-degree diurnal swing in temperatures, ensuring the grapes stay fresh, ripe, and balanced, with complex flavors of black fruits.
Recent California vintages have global wine critics raving, particularly the 2016 and 2018 harvests. The 2018 vintages are just coming to market now; here are some great options to consider:
2018 GIAPOZA CABERNET SAUVIGNON, NAPA
One of our favorite values from the past few years, this cabernet is a blend of fruit harvested in Napa and Lodi that sees 18 months in French oak barrels and has classic flavors of black currant, blackberries, and dark chocolate. With broad and dense tannins, it has a great mouthfeel that is firm yet lively. $14.99
2018 DAOU CABERNET SAUVIGNON, PASO ROBLES
With roots in Lebanon, the Daou family immigrated to the U.S. via the south of France in the mid ‘70s, seeking to leave their wartorn country behind and find a new life. Bringing with them a drive to succeed and an ardor for wine, the Daou brothers bought a vineyard in Paso Robles and started making a simply superb cabernet. The 2018 vintage is described as, “Pure crème de cassis and meaty touches, slow to unfurl, over pure blackberries, cedar, and dried thyme. Medium to full-bodied, it explodes with flavor in the mouth, purely defined but very ripe, with a very finely grained frame and a youthful cloaking of new oak, finishing long, fresh and classy.” 92 points. $19.99 (normally $27.99)
2018 DETAILS CABERNET SAUVIGNON, SONOMA COUNTY
From one of the best vintages in Sonoma in recent memory, this complex cab is packed with ripe aromas of raspberry, black plum, and blueberry, plus balanced flavors of cherry, mocha, and black licorice with subtle notes of cedar-tinged oak and allspice. One of our favorite new finds, this wine is an absolute over performer. $29.99