Cabernet Sauvignon, the red wine for which Napa Valley is especially famous, is Mr. TWS’s favorite wine. Cabernets from this famous Northern California wine region have a distinct cachet and are spoken of with respect in many of the world’s wine regions where first-class Cabernets are produced. Napa’s microclimates and soil are major factors in the personalities of Cabernet Sauvignon vintages, but it’s also the winemakers who greatly influence the styles. Mr. TWS likes the complex boldness of a wine made with 100% Cabernet grapes, the most renowned of the vintages and the style that’s been produced since the 1800s in California. However, I like the smooth subtleties of a blend, which may include small quantities of Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc in the style of wines from Bordeaux that some California vintners have been making since the 1970s.
At CabFestNV, held February 28 – March 2, 2014 at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, wine lovers had a chance to taste many Napa Valley Cabernet influences and styles from more than 100 participating wineries. Mr. TWS and I were among the participants at this first ever festival to celebrate Cabernet Sauvignon. Judging by the weekend turnout of about 2000 attendees, Cabernet fans were ready for a celebration showcasing vintners ranging from small boutique family-owned vineyards to larger, more familiar brands. And there was more than wine tasting during the two-day festivities and opening night kickoff — there was also food, entertainment, and seminars all to benefit arts education. We were sorry that we had to miss Oscar-winning actor, singer and songwriter Jeff Bridges and his band The Abiders on opening night, but from all the accounts we heard, it was a great show.
It was a fun experience to sample new wines, meet winemakers, and talk to other festival goers about their favorites — all in a feel-good, non-stressful environment. Although each winery was pouring their finest Cabernets, this was no snooty wine tasting affair reserved just for those who thoroughly understand the fine points of viticulture (the science, production and study of grapes for wine) and the subtleties of a tasting experience. It was for all categories of wine lovers, and all were welcomed to the tables.
The flavors of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Although I’m not a wine connoisseur, I’m a wine enthusiast. When I taste a wine, I may not be able to quickly come up with the right words to describe the flavors or aromas, but I have a keen sense of what I like while I’m tasting it. During the tasting, I like to be led by the winemaker to fully identify the nuances. A fine wine is something beautiful, like poetry, and I love how a winemaker’s characterization is often beautifully poetic. So I’m leaving the tasting notes to the experts — the winemakers, themselves — as I introduce you to several of the wineries we visited during one day of the Grand Tastings.
Tedeschi Family Winery
Let’s start with one of our favorite boutique family-owned wineries in Napa Valley, Tedeschi Family Winery in Calistoga. I was introduced to Tedeschi’s wines on an afternoon in May 2011 by Dave of Dave’s Travel Corner. I wrote about that afternoon at a few select wineries and my experience in the vineyards tucking the vines at Tedeschi. We enjoyed lunch outside in a private setting adjacent to the vineyards. Our hosts could not have been more hospitable, creating a wonderful memory of an afternoon in Napa wine country.
In 1991, Emil Tedeschi started his small family run winery in the Calistoga location where his father had originally planted orchards after settling in Napa Valley in 1919 from Pisa, Italy. Today, Emil and his sons, Emilio and Mario, and his daughter, Elaine, work together to produce their old-world Italian style, handcrafted wines. They have a very limited production, producing only 800 cases a year.
2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasting notes:
Opens with notes of black licorice, blackberry, sour plum, followed by notes of caramel, fig, cola spice, and slate. Juicy blackberry cream and black cherry on the focused palate, with hints of bay leaf, black pepper, and caramel on a graceful finish.
Round Pond Estate
Round Pond began cultivating grapes for wine in Rutherford in the early 1980s, now producing limited quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon on their vineyard’s 350 acres. They also have several varieties of imported Italian and Spanish olive trees on the estate for production of premium olive oils in their state-of-the-art mill.
You might expect that the winery’s name is derived from a pond on their Rutherford property, but it actually comes from founder Bob MacDonnell’s happy childhood memories near Lake Frederick in West Point, New York that inspired his Napa Valley home.
2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon tasting notes:
This estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon evolves in the glass with alluring aromas of black cherry, plum, and chocolate covered strawberries. Backed by hints of warm and toasty oak, vanilla, and walnut, this wine’s palate is soft and inviting as the true complexity of the wine is revealed. It is medium bodied and well-structured, with balanced tannins and a touch of refreshing acidity.
Frank Family Winery
Frank Family Vineyards of Calistoga is located in the historic Larkmead winery which was built in 1884. The building is on the National Register of Historical Places and is a listed Point of Historical Interest in California. Family owned and operated by former Disney executive Richard Frank and patient advocate Connie Frank, the winery has been producing grapes since 1991. The winery produces several Cabernet Sauvignons along with Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Sangiovese. We sampled the 2010 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet.
2010 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon tasting notes:
The 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits a dark almost black core with magenta hues around the rim. The delicate and complex bouquet evokes ripe blueberries.
Eagle Eye Winery and Vineyard
Bill Wolf left the corporate world in 1997 and in September 1999 he and his wife Roxanne bought 13 acres in Napa with a house and 5 acres of walnut trees and some grapes. They began studying wine-making at UC Davis, followed by viticulture visits to France, Tuscany, New Zealand and Australia before completing their Level 3 Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust of London. In October of 2005, they released their first wine of the Eagle Eye Winery label. Roxanne is an artist and has created original artwork for each of Eagle Eye’s wines.
2006/2007 Limited Edition Cabernet tasting notes:
The addition of Cabernet Franc provides the deep purple color and layers of complexity. The Merlot adds to the bouquet of red ripe fruits. Ripe raspberries, dark cherries and black currants fill your mouth with that first sip. A hint of vanilla from the French oak barrels shows up in the long lingering finish.
Mario Bazán Cellars
At the tasting table for Mario Bazán Cellars, we spoke with Mario about the history of his winery. He arrived in the Napa Valley in 1973 as an immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, and began his work in the vineyards as a laborer, tractor driver, foreman. In 1997, he realized his dream of owning his own business, a vineyard management operation. The winery was first started in 2005 with the help of his wife Gloria (who he met on the internet in 2003 while she lived in Mexico) and Victoria Coleman, their winemaker. Mario’s pride in his work and wines was evident as he spoke and poured us samples of his Cabernet Sauvignon.
2008 Mario Bazán Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasting notes:
The 2008 Mario Bazán Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon invites you to look beyond its garnet hue. Aromas of cassis, plum, cherry, and blackberry ride on plumes of cocoa and caramel rising from the wine. Nuances of dried tobacco, licorice, wet skipping stone, and rosemary slowly reveal themselves.
I have a hearty admiration for those who practice the science of viticulture, and Paul Skinner Ph.D takes a scientific approach combined with artisan instinct to produce Sequum wines. Sequum refers to a vertical sequence of related soil layers. Although maintaining a respect for old vines and traditions, he has also introduced new methods to the winery’s grape-growing. We tasted two of Sequum’s Cabernets.
2009 Kidd Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon tasting notes:
Our 2009 Kidd Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon has a clear, dark crimson color with a purple-blue rim. Rich impressions of cassis, dark chocolate, dark cherry, blackberry, and dried herbs fill the nose and palate. The finish showcases the silky texture, full body, and great balance of acidity, tannin, and ripe fruit. A classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: elegant and powerful.
2010 Four Soil tasting notes:
The 2010 Four Soils Mélange Cabernet Sauvignon captures the best of the vintage, displaying a dark crimson color, and an aroma of sweet spice, sandalwood, black cherry, and black plum. The texture is very smooth, full, and plush, with flavors of cocoa, blackberry, cassis, black plum, and Chinese five spices.
BV Beaulieu Vineyard
I think it’s quite fitting that a winery in Napa would be called “Beaulieu” which is French for “beautiful place”. Founded in 1900 by Georges de Latour, BV Beaulieu Vineyard is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley and a familiar brand to wine lovers. It was his wife who named the property after seeing it for the first time in 1900. When he founded Beaulieu Vineyard, Georges de Latour had a vision of rivaling the wines of France with those he would produce here in the Napa Valley.
Reserve Maestro Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, BV Ranch No 2, Rutherford 09 tasting notes:
This 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon wine demonstrates the complex flavors achieved by blending vineyard sub-blocks of one grape varietal. Clonal selection, trellising, sun exposure, mesoclimates and soils influence the layers of nuance in this elegant wine’s aromas and flavors.
There’s always a troublemaker
And this time, I don’t mean Mr. TWS. So we move on from one of Napa’s oldest wineries to one of its newest.
With their table located conveniently near the entrance of the Lincoln Theater next to the expansive windows, Uproot was the first wine that we tasted at CabFestNV. They strive to be different and having a headquarters in New York City is a start. Their labels really caught our attention (although, sadly, our photo above doesn’t show them up very well). They represent the flavor palette, with each color identifying a tasting note. The size of the block indicates the dominance of that note in the wine.
Uproot considers itself as a change maker, not just a wine maker acknowledging that some in Napa “might even say we’re troublemakers”. Their goal is to create a “fresh, modern, energized experience for a new generation of wine drinkers”. Well, I’m not part of the new generation, but I certainly did enjoy their wine.
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon tasting notes:
Our 2011 has the quintessential raspberry and blackberry notes of a classic cab, with the complexity of dark chocolate and tobacco. Or, in other words, a great main course, followed by rich dessert and a Cuban cigar. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Beyond the wine tasting tables
On both days, the schedule was filled with seminars, speakers and entertainment in the theater. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible gave the keynote presentations on both days. On Saturday, she talked about “What Makes Great Cabernet Sauvignon Great” and shared her “9 Attributes of Greatness“. On Sunday, she was joined on stage by Napa Valley vintners and wine industry experts for conversations in “Cab on the Couch”.
We enjoyed a fun and educational seminar hosted by Master Sommelier and California Culinary Association Wine Instructor, Robert Bath called “Last One Standing”. Robert talked about the the factors that affect the styles of Napa Cabernets. After our brief training, we all stood up as he asked questions to test how much we had learned. As attendees rose their hands incorrectly in answer to each question, they sat down while those who answered correctly remained standing. I admit that I didn’t make it through many questions, but Mr. TWS did a very respectable, if not winning, job. After all, Cabernet is his favorite.
There was much more in the way of musical entertainment, music pairing sessions (exploring how music affects particular Cabernets as you taste them) and expert panels that we weren’t able to cover this year, but that we look forward to enjoying at the next CabFestNV. Details to come.
As CabFestNV was soon about to end, we returned our glasses and headed out into the cool, fresh air admiring the serene views of Napa Valley — a fine day to be in California wine country.
9 tips for enjoying a Napa Valley Cabernet festival
As we entered the Grand Foyer of the Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, we were confronted with a problem. Which wineries among all the choices should we visit? It would be difficult, if not impossible, to sample all of the Cabs (although I’m sure that there are some who try and succeed), so how do you choose? How do you keep from reaching a point of “too much Cabernet”? How do you determine what’s really good? Here’s my advice about enjoying CabFestNV.
- One option is to do a little research ahead of time to see who’s pouring on the day/days you’re going and find out a bit about their wines, history and philosophies. On the other hand … if you’re like me, just go and be surprised.
- Talk to other festival-goers and get their reviews of wines they’ve tried and liked — or didn’t like.
- Look for a welcoming, sincere smile from the representative at the tasting table. That always works for me. Make me feel welcome, and I’ll try your wine.
- Throughout the venue, there were tables with pitchers of water where you can discreetly pour a remaining portion of your previous tasting and rinse your glass with a bit of water. Your freshly cleaned glass is now ready for the next tasting and you keep have your wits about you.
- There were delicious offerings of cheeses, spreads, raw vegetables, fruit and other food to accompany the wine and bread to cleanse the palate between tastings.
- The easiest part of all is determining what’s really good. You be the judge — enjoy the fragrance, take a sip, close your eyes, swallow and you’ll know the answer.
- Don’t be self-conscious about sharing your opinions, even if they are different from those around you. The love of wine is a very personal and sacred thing.
- Take an entertainment break – step into the theater for the scheduled film showings, speakers, celebrity panels, and entertainment.
- Make a note of the wines and wineries that left an impression. Look them up online or better yet, schedule a time to visit them for tastings and tours at the wineries. Also, some wines may only be available for sale at the winery or online.