In the first of two major reports on current releases of Napa Valley appellation Cabernets, her first for JancisRobinson.com, Elaine Chukan Brown reviews 57 wines, but finds frustratingly few to get excited about. A report on Cabernets labelled with one of Napa Valley’s 16 sub-appellations will follow. Elaine’s picture looking east over fog in the Napa Valley was taken from 1,800 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains.
With its dry Mediterranean climate, Napa Valley offers ideal growing conditions for vines and, with good farming, the potential for abundant flavour with resolved tannins and plenty of natural acidity. Even so, economic pressures from land prices and labour shortages currently dominate the region, making Napa Valley Cabernet one of the most expensive wines in the world to farm. So, while vintners in the region benefit from propitious weather and overall growing conditions, they need to produce wines at high prices in order to afford production costs.
The result, unfortunately, means the average price for a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet is substantial. Retail prices per bottle are generally well over $100, easily reaching upwards of $200 and more. Exceptions occasionally appear from producers who have owned their property for decades. Among Cabernets carrying the all-encompassing Napa Valley appellation, Stony Hill Cabernet at $60 is one of the most affordable quality examples, with lovely purity throughout. The Galerie Plein Air at $50 was another nice surprise offering the firm structure and ageing potential of the 2013 vintage with varietal character married to judicious oak presence. (Other examples can also be found in wines labelled with one of the 16 Napa Valley sub-appellations to be described in my next instalment).
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