Why Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Napa Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of the red wine jungle. Bordeaux may reign supreme in old world wines, but when it comes to new world Cabs, Napa Valley is tops. The first grapes were planted in Napa Valley by George Calvert Yount in 1839. Charles Krug is credited with establishing Napa’s first commercial winery in 1861. Napa experienced ups and downs in the early years due to phylloxera, Prohibition, etc; however, in 1944 seven ambitious Napa Valley vintners realized unity was their way to global recognition. These seven Napa Valley icons signed a formal agreement establishing Napa Valley Vintner and in so doing drafted another declaration of independence; a statement to the Bordeaux loving world that the US also produces first class Cabernet Sauvignon wines.


It took the world 32 more years to recognize Napa Valley as a top wine producing region. In 1976’s Judgement of Paris, the French judges not only awarded both a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as best in class, beating out a Burgundy and Bordeaux respectively. In 1985, famed wine critic Robert Parker awarded a 1985 Groth NV Cabernet Sauvignon 100 points, from that point on Napa Cabs have been an ongoing success story.

So why does Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Bordeaux varieties, perform so well in Napa Valley? Cabernet Sauvignon is a black grape variety containing high acidity and tannins. Typical aromas and flavors include black fruits, herbaceous notes, and additional oak driven earthiness such as tobacco, licorice, spices, and vanilla. It grows well in moderate to hot climates and has the potential for great age-ability. Napa Valley’s climate is influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the ranges of mountains that surround it. It experiences a long growing season of sunny, warm days with cool nights, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Within Napa Valley lie an array of microclimates that vary greatly depending on geographic location and elevation. In addition to the many microclimates, Napa Valley also contains a mosaic of soil types. Soils range from volcanic to marine origin, in total the Napa Valley Vintners report the AVA contains half the world’s soil orders, with more than 100 variations! This is why Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 40% of Napa’s total production and 55% of crop value.


The diversity within Napa Valley is recognized through sub-AVAs. Each of the 16 sub-AVA represents a unique microclimate within the greater Valley. I wish I had 16 wines to share with you to highlight the unique qualities of each sub-AVA. Instead, below are six Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that are examples of the quality style produced in Napa.

2014 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($58): Crafted of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 1% Cabernet Franc from grapes grown in Calistoga; medium ruby; medium aromas of fresh picked red and black fruits, sweet baking spice, dried violets, dried savory herbs, menthol, minerality, licorice, milk chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla; medium body wine with high acidity and slightly grippy tannins, elegant with a nice lift on the palate, balanced with earth notes and nice thread of minerality with juicy fruit that softens on the palate, offers nice restraint for a big wine; lovely wine to enjoy now after a decanting, also has great ageability; click here to buy this wine.

2013 Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($160): Crafted of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Cabernet Franc, and 1.5% Petit Verdot from grapes grown in Calistoga; medium garnet with ruby hues; medium aromas of baked cherries, blackberries, currants, plums, and raspberries, dried roses, dried herbs, sweet baking spice notes, cassis, cocoa, cedar, and vanilla; crushed velvet on the palate, high acidity and tannins yet well-integrated with optimal balance, full-body wine with a lush mouth-feel, juicy fruit on front and  mid-palate, earthiness on long, sultry finish, this is a gorgeous wine, invest and save; click here to buy this wine.

2014 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($63): 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4.5% Petit Verdot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, the Cab Sauv is grown in Yountville estate vineyard, with Rutherford and Calistoga estate vineyards rounding out the blend; medium+ ruby with violet hues; medium+ aromas of fresh picked violets, red and blue berries, and plums, licorice, sweet baking spice notes, mocha, fresh tobacco leaves, mint, coffee beans, dusty earth and vanilla; medium+ body wine with high acidity and high grippy tannins, fresh on the palate with a juicy fruit mid-palate, minerality/dusty earth finish, elegant and sophisticated wine, easily enjoyable now, will further integrate with aging; click here to locate this wine.

2014 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($55): Crafted of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Merlot from grapes grown in Stags Leap District, Atlas Peak, Mount Veeder, St. Helena, Calistoga, and Rutherford; medium+ ruby with violet hues; pronounced aromas of baked blackberries, cherries, raspberries, plums, and currants, sweet baking spice, dried roses and savory herbs, roasted coffee beans, fresh picked tobacco, licorice, dusty earth, and vanilla; four grapes blended from six vineyards come together in an opulent wine, full-body, layers of flavors, rich and robust on the palate, round with juicy fruit upfront and earthiness on back and in long, lingering finish, enjoy this big daddy with a juicy steak and your palate will be happy; click here to buy this wine.

2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($50): Crafted of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Merlot from grapes grown in Spring Mountain District estate vineyards; medium+ ruby; pronounced aromas of fresh picked violets, fresh picked blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, and plums, dried mint, forest floor, cassis, black pepper, sweet tobacco and spice notes, licorice, minerality, and vanilla; incredibly balanced wine that meets the palate with silkiness of juicy fruit, as it moves across the palate the silkiness morphs into a dusty earth with medium+ acidity and dusty tannins, the influences of the volcanic soil are evident, elegance and restraint are axioms at Smith-Madrone this wine is no exception, full body, long finish, drink now with a decant or cellar properly and enjoy in a few years; click here to buy this wine.

Other than The Montelena Estate Cab, these are reasonably priced Napa Valley Cabernets. Land and grapes come at a premium in Napa; however, you can enjoy these more wallet friendly wines (depending on your budget) to experience the quality that Napa Valley delivers in Cabernet Sauvignon.

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