Skip to content

Column: Unapologetic Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley

Napa Valley's Cabernet Sauvignon are strong and bold.

California has many great wine regions that produce wonderful wines with different grape varieties.  But the most famous wine region in California is Napa Valley, which is known for Cabernet Sauvignon wines.  People even make wine pilgrimages to Napa Valley to try these famous wines.  Napa also has several Michelin star restaurants, so it’s truly a place for those who enjoy food and wine.  Once travel abroad is permitted again, I’ll do another article on the best restaurants in Napa that I’ve tried.

Why are Napa Valley Cabs so sought after?  For me, Napa Valley captures the essence of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in a no-nonsense manner.  Napa Valley Cabs are unpretentious and unapologetic for their strength and boldness.  They are not as fruity or jammy as Australian Shiraz wines but they have plenty of fruit, high alcohol content, and heavy tannins.  Sometimes, if there isn’t enough heat during a particular vintage, Cab wines can taste green or vegetative, but good Napa Cabs will give you a roundness that feels like someone hugging you. Napa Cabs go best with very flavourful, rich foods, like prime rib or steak, but they can also go nicely with plain bread.  These wines pair perfectly with food, and that’s probably why Napa Valley is such a haven for great restaurants.

The first thing you have to figure out is whether this style of wine suits your taste buds.  Napa Cabs are upfront wines with dark fruit, chocolate, oak and tobacco aromas and flavours.  Many will be over 14 per cent in alcohol content.  Some drinkers, especially beginner wine drinkers, find these wines too bold and alcoholic, but they’re tremendous when paired with foods with concentrated flavours that need a strong wine. Many Napa Cabs need decanting and improve if you store them for three to five years before you drink them - so if you’re opening a bottle, you should definitely decant for at least one to two hours before drinking.

I always had a misconception that Napa Valley Cabs could only age for a short while and did not have the aging potential of Bordeaux wines, until a friend served me some older Napa Cabs from his cellar (before COVID-19) .  He served a Beringer 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve and a 1994 Dominus (Dominus is a winery that only makes one wine, which is predominantly made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, blended with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot).   You would expect that wines that have been aged for almost 30 years would be light, but I was shocked to taste that both wines were still drinking very powerfully.  The Beringer had currant and black cherry flavours, but with age, it had also developed mint, cedar and dry herb aromas. It was in its peak drinking window, but still had lots of good years left.  The 1994 Dominus was very floral and fragrant.  It still had fruit but was also leathery and silky.   We also had a 2007 Dominus, which was also delicious.  They were all amazing wines that were stored with great care.

While liquor stores probably won’t have any Napa Cabs from the 1990s, the Louis Martini 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($43.99) usually does not miss the mark.  It is made the classic Napa style and is one of pioneer wine families in Napa.  For more information about this wine, please see my video wine review on YouTube

Until next time, happy drinking!

Tony Kwan is a lifestyle writer.  Lawyer by day, food and wine lover by night, Tony aims to give you an insider’s guide to the best that life has to offer.