There’s an old salesman’s saying that goes “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” The idea was to sell the experience rather than the actual product. I’ve always been somewhat conflicted about that. The experience is an important and even integral part of the product but to support the experience, the product has to be good. And the bigger the experience is made out to be, the better the product has to be. My experience is that once someone starts selling sizzle, they often begin cutting corners on the steak. To me the steak is the most important thing. So here are some higher end Napa Valley reds that offer the best possible steak and (oh, by the way) the sizzle to go with it. You might think of it as great steak with elegant but exuberant (rather than flashy) sizzle – but in these cases, you are buying the steak and the sizzle comes along as part of the deal.
ARAUJO Eisele Vineyard Cabernet, Napa Valley, 2012 ($499.99)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Eisele Vineyard aged 20 months in oak barrels (all French, all new). Purple-red with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Rich, elegant, juicy. Lots of tobacco leaf and a bit of black pepper to go with dark and darker red fruit with little black fruit. hints at dark floral to go with subtle earth and oak. Pure. Lovely. Elegant. Textural and dimensional wine. BearScore: 97+.
ALTAGRACIA (Araujo) Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley, 2012 ($129.99)
Effectively the second wine of the Araujo Eisele Estate, this is an all Eisele Vineyard blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc 6% Merlot, and 4% Malbec aged 21 months in oak barrels (all French, 99% new). Purple-red with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, fresh, lively, ripe with red and darker red fruit accented with tobacco leaf, spice, dust, and oak. Delicious, lovely accessible. While this is the 2nd wine from the Eisele estate, it may be one of the ten best Cabernet-based red made in Napa Valley. WOW. BearScore: 95+.
OPUS ONE, Oakville – Napa Valley, 2013 ($264.99)
An estate blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Component lots received an average of 18 days of skin contact. 17.5 months all new French oak barrels. Purple-black with red highlights and well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics. Complex still developing Cabernet blend offering dark and darkest red and some black fruit accented with tobacco leaf and cedar, black pepper and warm spice, and gravelly dusty earth and oak. Complex and evolving in the glass and even in the mouth. complex, satisfying. offers dimension and texture. BearScore: 96+.
QUINTESSA, Rutherford – Napa Valley, 2013 ($158.59)
An all estate blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carmenere, and 2% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and aged 21 months in all French oak barrels (85% new). Red Purple with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, delicious, fresh. Darker red fruit with tobacco leaf and dust. Integrated oak and some spice. Delicious. Complete. Alive in the mouth. Best Quintessa yet? BearScore: 96.
Is there a theme here? You bet there is. All of these are stunningly good Cabernet Sauvignon or heavily Cabernet-based wines that offer elegance and balance, texture, and dimension. They push all my buttons. Having said that, I look for elegance and balance rather than extraction and extreme ripeness. I think Cabernet-based wines should offer some tobacco leaf and should not smell or taste of chocolate. Given those conditions, I think these are – at their price points – the best options in the market. Each is from a special and particular place. All practice pristine farming and land management. Each is made in a ‘spare no expense, make the best wine we can’ environment using meticulous process and respectful practice. All steak, no sizzle. But, in the best possible way, they will sizzle when you put them in your mouth.