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FAR NIENTE

“Estate Bottled” Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $200

One of Napa Valley’s magnificent historic stone wineries, Far Niente (the name means “without a care” in Italian) was founded in 1885. The winery and exquisitely sited vineyards are poised up on a bench in the western hills of Oakville. Abandoned in 1919 at the onset of Prohibition, it was bought in 1979 and painstakingly restored by the late Gil Nickel, whose family continue as co-owners. With its beautifully polished tannins, the 2017 is rich without being heavy and the flavors (black currants, forest, damp earth, and spices) are very alive.

Available at Far Niente

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TURNBULL

“Fortuna Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $150

Founded in 1979 by famous California architect William Turnbull along with friend and attorney Reverdy Johnson, Turnbull Cellars is today owned by the O’Dell family (Patrick O’Dell is a newspaper publisher from northern California). Winemaker Peter Heitz (no relation to the Heitz Cellars family), is the 14th generation of his family to be in the wine business—ten in Alsace, France and another four after his ancestors immigrated to the Napa Valley. In addition to its home vineyard surrounding the winery, Turnbull also owns the fantastic Fortuna Vineyard, a landslide of rocky red volcanic soils that slipped off the hills on the east side of Oakville. Magnificently structured and powerful, yet fresh and expressive at the same time, Turnbull’s “Fortuna Vineyard” Cabernet is built to age.

Available at Turnbull Cellars

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DETERT

Cabernet Franc 2017

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $95

If you’ve never drunk a great franc, you must try Detert. Beautifully intense and rich (but not fat), it flows with layers of lavender, dried sage, pipe tobacco, black olives, dark chocolate, and fresh cherries. Sparks of minerality keep the wine alive on the palate. The Detert family has a long history in California, and the Detert Vineyard is part of To Kalon, planted in 1868 and perhaps the most famous vineyard in Napa Valley’s history. Detert’s cabernet franc vines—planted in 1979 with original budwood–are the oldest cabernet franc vines in Napa Valley.

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VINE HILL RANCH

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $225

Driving north on Highway 29 in the Napa Valley, as you come around a slight bend approaching the Oakville AVA, there’s Vine Hill Ranch tucked into the rolling hillsides of the Mayacamas right below Harlan. The vineyard always seems idyllic—bathed as it is in gentle sunlight and breezes. Vine Hill Ranch was founded in 1959, and the third generation of the Phillips family now cares for the estate. Originally the family sold grapes to many of the superstar wineries of the Napa Valley. But in 2008 the winery decided to make its own Vine Hill Ranch wine (one can only imagine how sad that made former buyers of the fruit). The 2016 exudes richness and concentration, with loads of spicy/peppery/savory flavors. It’s very supple on the palate, and has a long, cassis-laced finish.

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MACDONALD

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $175

For pure hedonism and “aliveness,” the MACDONALD cabernet sauvignon is it. The wine’s luscious dark berry richness and savoriness is spine-tingling in its deliciousness. The soaring structure is nothing short of majestic. The utterly fine tannins are silk, and the wine has a superbly long finish. But what I love most about the MACDONALD is its purity and precision. There’s not a molecule out of place. No surprise then that the wine comes from part of the historic To Kalon vineyard, the most famous historic vineyard in Oakville. The vineyard (with vines dating back to 1954) and winery are owned by brothers Alex and Graeme MacDonald who are meticulous. Every vine is numbered, hand-tended and mapped by satellite. Graeme MacDonald has also painstakingly researched the history of To Kalon and the wines made from it.

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OPUS ONE

2016

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $365

Opus One was the first California/France joint venture in the Napa Valley—and among two acclaimed figures, Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, no less. As such, Opus One signaled a new international era for Napa Valley. The first vintage was in 1979. Directly across from the Mondavi winery in Oakville, Opus One has always been based primarily on some of the best blocks of To Kalon, in addition to its own well sited vineyards adjacent to the winery. Year in and year out, the wines are classic and exquisitely balanced with beautiful structure, concentration, and finesse. Never “loud” or flashy, they are quintessential connoisseur’s wines, and always possess complex aromas and long finishes.

Available at Opus One Winery

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HARLAN

ESTATE 2015

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $1500

With his set jaw, flowing white hair and piercing blue eyes, Bill Harlan looks like he could have walked out of the novel Atlas Shrugged. Known for his relentless attention to detail, Harlan became fascinated by wine in the 1950s and 60s. He bought the beautiful hilltops (with 360 degrees of exposition) in the western elevations of Oakville that would become Harlan in 1984. The Harlan wines are generally exquisitely balanced classics with textures of pure silk. The 2015, made by longtime Harlan winemakers Bob Levy and Cory Empting, is languorous and sublime with vivid cassis, sweet tobacco, and foresty aromas and flavors, and an achingly slow finish. Harlan is never varietally labeled. The vineyard, however, is planted to 70% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, and 2% petit verdot.

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DALLA VALLE

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $200

Naoko Dalla Valle and her late husband Gustav founded Dalla Valle in 1986. The winery’s first winemaker was the esteemed Heidi Barrett. In 2017 Naoko and Gustav’s daughter Maya joined the company as its Director and began making the wines with help from consulting winemaker Andy Erickson. The cabernet vineyard, poised on a landslide ridge in the eastern hills of Oakville, makes wines that are rich and intense with saturated blackberry and cassis flavors, plus bitter cocoa notes and a minerally rockiness. Although the wines can be closed when young, the 2016 is open, fresh, luscious and long.

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GARGIULO VINEYARDS

“Money Road Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $110

Jeff Gargiulo’s background in growing things (he was CEO of both Sunkist and one of the largest tomato and vegetable companies in the U.S.), was the perfect springboard for his becoming a vintner and founding Gargiulo Vineyards in 1998. The Money Road vineyard (on a small lane called Money Road) is right in the heart of the Oakville appellation. The wines always have a beautiful dark savory aspect to them, and the 2017, with its plush core of fruit, is no exception.

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GROTH

Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

(Oakville, Napa Valley, CA) $150

Groth’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a small rocky section of the Groth estate in the heart of Oakville. Once part of a large alluvial fan that flowed out of the Vaca mountains, this block of vines is famous for giving rise to the first California wine (the 1985 Reserve) ever awarded 100 points by the wine critic Robert Parker. The Groth Reserves are intensely structured, dense, concentrated, and somewhat closed when young, but in my experience, take on polish and expressiveness after ten years of aging.

Available at Groth Vineyards & Winery

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ANDREOLA

"Mas de Fer" Extra Dry 2018

(Veneto, Italy) $24

Superb freshness and delicious fruit-driven flavors reminiscent of pears and peaches.

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MALIBRÀN

"Ruio" Brut NV

(Veneto, Italy) $19

The spicy/minerally side of Prosecco Superiore, with nice notes of ripe peaches and plums.