Notebook: Napa

New and upcoming release highlights

Notebook: Napa

At any ordinary time, this spotlight would have focused on the expanding reach of the effective Napa Green program, which offers land and winery sustainability certifications. Once funded by the Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Green has evolved to become non-profit organization with an eye towards growing its focus outside of wine and into the celebrated region’s hospitality industry.

Launched nearly 20 years ago, Napa Green was designed to provide third-party certifications of wastewater and other emissions that have evolved over time to become provide comprehensive “soil to bottle” oversight of vineyard and winery operations. The goal was to have 100 percent of members onboard by the end of this year, but a steep decline in tourism due to Covid-19, related winery shutdowns and ongoing effects from an unprecedent wildfire season, including the devastating Glass Fire, which continues to burn at the time of publication, has undoubtedly slowed that progress.

The region that has long been an inspiration for the good life is truly struggling.

It’s impossible to predict when Canadian wine lovers will be able return to taste and explore in Napa, however, we can support the region and its wineries with a purchase. In Ontario, the LCBO has launched a special premium Napa Valley release online, which includes some seriously collectible and splurge-worthy selections should you be looking for gift ideas or planning a big night in. Here are some highlights from that and other upcoming releases.

Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $174.95
92% cabernet sauvignon, 6% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot, all To Kalon. Hand-harvested between September 9 and October 11, with three stages of strict sorting: first, on the vine, then by individual clusters, and then single berry following de-stemming. The selected grapes went directly into traditional French oak tanks for cold soak, fermentation and extended maceration – a total of 35 days of wine to skin contact. The new wine was drained and gently pressed into 100% new French-oak barrels for malolactic fermentation. The final blend was assembled through repeated tasting trials over 20 months of barrel aging. 

Outstanding expression here. Rich and fragrant nose offers an intense mix of ripe dark fruit, floral and savoury notes. The layers of fresh, ripe fruit and savoury notes carries over to the palate, which is seriously structured and flavourful. Needs time to truly hit its stride. Stuffing to age gracefully for decades. Drink 2025 to 2050.

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $235
LCBO Classics release November 5. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon from a four-acre block within the 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III in Rutherford, Napa Valley. The name pays homage to its former owner Georges de Latour, the founder of Beaulieu who bought the vineyard in 1928. Vines are 22 years on average, with clonal selection of 4, 337 and 7. Hand sorted, fully destemmed grapes. Small, closed fermenters with both native and select Bordeaux yeast isolates are used. Malolactic fermentation in barrel, with total 24 months aging, in 100% new French oak. 

Made in rich and rewarding style, this is nicely layered and complete. An impressive and structured cabernet, this is a serious wine with tremendous cellar potential. Drink now to 2035.

Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $223

Made in a concentrated and age-worthy style, this rich and rewarding red wine is produced with fruit from two of Cakebread’s prime vineyard locations in Rutherford and Oakville. Made with 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, this offers terrific complexity with a core of ripe fruit nicely accented by floral, herbal and chocolate notes. It’s a smooth and incredibly structured wine that’s represents one of the best wines from Cakebread’s consistently strong portfolio. Drink now to 2032.

Schrader Cellars Double Diamond Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $117 
Spring 2021 release. 100% Oakville. 90% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot, <1% malbec and merlot. Beckstoffer To Kalon is the bulk of the blend. 14 months in French oak, 49% new.

Remarkable richness and concentration here, with tannins that are polished yet sturdy. Incredibly core of concentrated dark fruit, with earthy and savoury accents. Ready to drink, but structure and character to hold. Winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown explains his wines are built to last, but he knows consumers are “opening stuff off of the back of the FedEx truck.” Drink now to 2032.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $79.95

Freemark Abbey traces its history back to 1886 when it was one of original 13 wineries operating in Napa Valley. The 2015 vintage was made by wine maker Ted Edwards, who recently retired having made wine at Freemark Abbey for 40 years. Full-bodied and richly structured, this is a serious expression of cabernet, with a core of dark fruit, firm tannins and a persistent finish. It’s built to last. Drink now to 2035. Available in Ontario at the above price, $59.99 in British Columbia (2016 vintage), various prices in Alberta

Groth Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $119.25
Oakville, Napa Valley. 90% cabernet sauvignon, 9% merlot, 1% petit verdot. Estate vineyards and several partner growers. The fruit is night-harvested, cluster sorted by hand. Fruit was harvested over the course of 23 days this season. Aged in French oak barrels for 18 months, 40% new. 

Terrific expression of the power and purity of Oakville cabernet. Ripe dark fruit mixed with complex spice and savoury notes. Nicely integrated oak. Freshness and intensity in check. Really enjoyable in its youth. Stuffing to age. Drink now to 2035. 

Clos du Val Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $78.95

Established in 1972, this venerable winery can be counted on for classically made cabernet that offers layers of nicely integrated fruit and oak derived flavours in a generous and refreshing style. The mix of floral, fruit and spice notes on the nose is really alluring. Drink now to 2030. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta, $65 in Nova Scotia.

Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2016
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $46.99

While it produces serious cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other grape varieties more closely associated with the Napa Valley, Stags’ Leap has a storied reputation for petite sirah. This is the introductory range, which reveals the aromatic earthy and tea-like character of the variety along with distinctive blackberry and cherry fruit notes. Old vine petite sirah comprises the bulk of the blend, with grenache, syrah and other varieties added for complexity and balance. Drink now to 2030. Available at the above price in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, various prices in Alberta, $57.95 in New Brunswick, 

Revana Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $145
75% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 5% petit verdot. St. Helena, Calistoga and Oak Knoll District sites. Hand-harvested, whole berry sorted and micro-fermented in small batches. Harvested September 14 – 22. Aging 14 months in French oak, 85% new.

Ripe, generous and elegant style. Concentrated dark fruit with floral and oak spice notes offering complexity. Its velvety texture, ripe tannins and integrated oak are hallmarks of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown’s style. Drink now to 2030.

Pahlmeyer Jayson Red 2017
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $65

Jayson is a secondary label for Pahlmeyer, whose iconic Proprietary Red was created in a bid to become California’s equivalent of a Bordeaux first growth. The exciting 2017 blend is mostly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a surprising measure of petite sirah (15 percent) and a dash of cabernet franc (four percent). The finished wine is smooth, ripe and rewarding, with really appealing texture and length. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.

Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $84.95 
Mainly Rutherford and Oakville appellations represented. Aged in American oak barrels, 50% new, 18 months.

Plush and ripe style, medium-bodied and layered. Concentrated fruit with herbal and mocha oak spice notes. Juicy (jammy) fruit carries through to the finish. Enjoyable and ready. Drink now to 2027.

Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $76.95
Estate grown. Somerston Estate, 100% cabernet sauvignon, 24 vineyard blocks, elevations from 850 to 1600 ft asl. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak and 60% once-used French oak barrels.

Ripe, full-bodied and flavourful. Crowd-pleasing style. Fruit is jammy, texture is plush – round and supple on the palate. Drink now to 2030.

Silenus Winery Tyros Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $49.95

Intensely jammy and kirsch-like nose, boldly ripe and glossy style. Full-bodied, sweet fruit core with herbal (bay leaf) and toasted oak accents and some youthful tannins on the warm finish. Smooth, made for mass appeal. Drink now to 2024.