California Cabernet Sauvignon Makes a Classy Holiday Wine Gift

the peoples palate by rich mauro

California Vineyards

The holidays offer a great excuse to splurge on an expensive wine gift, whether for a business associate, friend, loved one, or … even yourself!  If you or someone you know delights in high end California Cabernet Sauvignon, you might be tempted to go on a (probably futile) quest for a so-called Napa Valley “cult cab.” I suggest taking a different approach: pick up one of the Napa Valley icons below.

Beringer Vineyards is one of Napa Valley’s most historic wineries, having been founded in 1876. Through most of its years Beringer has been one of the state’s best producers. For the past 30 years, the Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been Beringer’s flagship wine. This is the ultimate reserve wine, in which Beringer’s winemakers work to craft the perfect blend drawing from the very best lots of Beringer’s very best vineyards. In 2007 ($115) this process yielded a complex, concentrated, highly structured wine. The 2008 Private Reserve Chardonnay ($35) also is outstanding.

For a major splurge, you can’t do better than the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($225). Mr. Phelps, who was a principal in Colorado’s Hensel-Phelps construction company, opened his eponymous winery in 1974. He was an early proponent of blended cabernet-based wines using Bordeaux as a benchmark. And from day one this has been one of California’s best wines. This wine that puts power and luxury all in balance, like a seamless silk garment with fruit, mineral notes, and lush texture all in balance. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($54) is also fine choice.

You also should look to Sonoma County, which often is overshadowed by Napa’s reputation despite often producing superior wines.  Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate is one of the best of the many properties in the Jess Jackson (founder of Kendall-Jackson) wine empire, particularly with the single vineyard and Legacy wines. The vineyards are located along a western ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains overlooking Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. The 2006 “Christopher’s” Cabernet Sauvignon ($100), from a vineyard ranging 2200-2400 feet, is intense and powerful, with vibrant dark fruit. The 2008 Chardonnays: Upper Barn ($65), Red Point ($55), and Broken Road ($55) are just as impressive.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, one of Sonoma’s oldest modern wineries (founded in 1959), has always been a reliable producer of solid value wines. Recently it has elevated its game and has become a top tier producer, especially with its portfolio of special bottlings (Reserve, Single Vineyard and Meritage wines), also from Alexander Valley fruit. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($45), with its concentrated, wild berry fruit and lush texture, and the 2007 Symmetry ($55), a complex, elegant Bordeaux blend, are excellent examples of their type.  Whatever the occasion, these are wines will make it special.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.