California Dreaming: Napa Valley and Sonoma County

As the cradle of all New World and American wine, these two regions in the northern half of the Golden State possess all the attributes of viticultural nirvana: Perfect amounts of sunlight, soils that imbue the fruit with structure and complexity of flavor, and the local populace’s tenacious pioneering spirit that drives the winemaking to new heights in each vintage. These superb conditions have made Napa the capital of Cabernet production and Sonoma one of the finest regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay outside of Burgundy.

Aubert Estate 2008 Lauren Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Mark Aubert has made wine for such illustrious producers as Peter Michael, Colgin Cellars, and Bryant Family Vineyards. If these names do not provide sufficient indication of the caliber of his winemaking skills, then one taste of this 2008 Chardonnay certainly will. The vintage’s amazingly low yields packed unfathomable richness into this stunning cuvée, which exudes flavors of pineapple, crème brûlée, and lemon zest. ($90)

Buccella 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

A layered and voluptuous Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes grown in St. Helena, Yountville, Oakville, Calistoga, Coombsville, Carneros, and Oak Knoll, this lush red combines hints of barbecued meat, black cherry, coffee, and hints of cinnamon spice atop silky tannins. ($150)

Colgin 2006 Cariad Red Wine Napa Valley

Ann Colgin, who has been crafting breathtaking wines since 1992, describes her label’s style as “seductive, hedonistic, and memorable.” These descriptors could not be more accurate. The Colgin name on a bottle elicits the same kind of reaction from wine collectors that Picasso’s signature does from connoisseurs of art. This definitive Napa Meritage expresses flavors of cassis, espresso, nutmeg, and dark plum. ($250)

Continuum 2007 Red Wine Napa Valley 

A fabulous effort from Tim Mondavi and family, this fine blend comes from a property perfectly situated high above the Napa Valley floor, near estates belonging to Colgin Cellars, David Arthur, and Ovid.

The 2007 vintage is characterized by bold flavors of dark scorched earth, mocha java, black currant,

and cedar. ($140)

Dana Estate 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Located 1,200 feet above sea level, Dana Estate’s Lotus Vineyard has steep and rocky soils that furnish the perfect medium in which to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. Here the vines yield grapes of supreme complexity that, in the glass, conjure the soft scents of the forest, such as earthy mushroom, and flavors of dark chocolate and kirsch. ($275)

Darioush 2007 Shiraz Duel Napa Valley

As a young man growing up in Iran, where his father made wine as a hobby, Darioush Khaledi used to sneak sips from the barrel. Some 30 years later, he now owns one of the most versatile labels in the entire Napa Valley, producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Viognier. His signature wine, however, is this Shiraz, which contains essences of vibrant oak, truffle, tar, and spiced blackberry. ($45)

Dolce 2006 Late Harvest Napa Valley

A beautifully sweet late-harvest Sémillon-based dessert wine grown in foggy Coombsville and aged for 30 months, this California sauterne rivals Chateau d’Yquem with its flavors of fig, tapioca, passion fruit, and orange peel. ($85, 375ml)

Dominus 2007 Red Napa Valley

The New World creation of Christian Moueix, who oversees wine production at Chateau Petrus and Château Trotanoy in Pomerol, this Bordeaux-style blend from Napa Valley combines tobacco, charcoal, and black-currant highlights, all of which contribute to a subtle, caressing, and velvety style that should enable the wine to age beautifully. ($130)

Du Mol 2008 Viognier Lia Russian River Valley

Produced in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, this Viognier received added depth and richness from the intense heat waves that struck the region in September 2008. These conditions increased the wine’s acid level, which perfectly complements its rich, ripe flavors. Aromas of wildflowers and acacia greet the nose, while the palate is treated to a taste of succulent apricot and honeydew. ($60)

Duckhorn 2006 The Discussion Red Napa Valley

Beginning in 1976, Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif., established a tradition of using Merlot rather than Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary varietal in this blend, much as the right-bank chateaux do in Bordeaux. The 2006 vintage displays the seductive, tranquil softness of the Merlot along with notes of clove, allspice, blueberry, and loam. ($115)

Kapcsándy 2007 Estate Cuvée Red Napa Valley

In 2000, the Kapcsándy family purchased the historic State Lane Vineyards in Napa Valley’s Yountville appellation, which previously contributed fruit to Beringer’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon program. The family enlisted the assistance of winemaker extraordinaire Helen Turley and her husband, viticulturist John Wetlaufer, who applied their magic touch to the first few years of the winery’s production. The 2007 vintage captures the essence of the vineyard with its notes of crushed rock, damp cigar tobacco, graphite, and crème de cassis. ($135)

Kesner 2007 Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard Los Carneros

Jason Kesner has been involved in the wine business for over 15 years, and this rich, buttery Chardonnay literally represents the fruit of his experience. The gorgeously structured 2007 vintage displays aromas of orange blossom and lanolin, as well as flavors of lemon, peach, and mineral. Because no more than 30 percent of the French oak barrels used in the aging process are new, the oak essences assume a supporting rather than starring role in the wine’s profile. ($60)

Lancaster Estate 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley

Aged 22 months in French oak barrels, this superb red wine, which contains 84 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, combines nutmeg aromas and deep cassis undertones with flavors of dark raspberry and vanilla to create a sublime sensory experience. This is perhaps Lancaster’s finest release yet. ($65)

Larkmead Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Only estate-grown fruit is used to make this remarkable red wine, which consists of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 percent Merlot, and 1 percent Cabernet Franc. Produced and bottled at Larkmead Vineyards and aged for 18 months in 56 percent new French oak barrels from Tonnelleries Ermitage, Demptos, and Sylvain, this eminently age-worthy wine is redolent of cola and dried herbs. On the palate, its distinctive dark plum fruit mingles with traces of granite that echo the vineyards’ rocky soils. ($60)

Leviathan 2008 Red Wine

This powerful and richly flavored red comes from Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson, the man who crafts the wines for Oakville’s celebrated and ultra-exclusive Screaming Eagle winery. Leviathan’s notes of boysenberry, graphite, and smoke make it the perfect accompaniment for a thick steak. It is a hedonistic delight that will become even more complex with bottle age. ($48)

Lewis 2006 Cuvée 7 Lance Armstrong Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintner and 23-year racecar veteran Randy Lewis, who drove in five Indianapolis 500 competitions, met cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2001 Tour de France, where—thanks to their shared passions for racing and wine—they formed a bond of friendship. Happily for oenophiles, they also decided to collaborate on a wine. Armstrong chooses the final blend of this 100 percent Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, which is named Cuvée 7 in honor of the athlete’s seven Tour de France victories. The 2006 vintage layers scents of cedar and spicy oak over hints of black currant and dark chocolate. Sold in a three-bottle set. ($275 per bottle)

O’Shaughnessy 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Intrepid entrepreneur Betty O’Shaughnessy came to Napa in 1990 and has been producing world-class wines ever since. The mountainside terroir of the vineyards imbues this Howell Mountain cuvée with powerful flavors of currant, creamy milk chocolate, blueberry, and sandalwood. ($95)

Ovid 2006 Red Napa Valley

Blessed by the influences of David Abreu, Andy Erickson, and Michel Rolland, Ovid—located on Pritchard Hill—produces spectacular Bordeaux-style wines in its custom-made concrete fermenters. This latest release, which was aged for 18 months in French oak in the winery’s on-site caves, exhibits a pronounced black-currant liqueur flavor and hints of melted asphalt, graphite, and sun-baked granite. ($200)

Pahlmeyer 2007 Merlot Napa Valley

While attending law school, Jayson Pahlmeyer ventured into a wine-tasting class. Over the next 15 years, his legal interests were gradually overruled by his love for the complexities and pleasures of Bordeaux, which prompted him to establish Pahlmeyer Wines. His signature Merlot is aged for 18 months in

75 percent new French oak and is a feast of melted milk chocolate, black licorice, and sweet raspberry. ($75)

Paul Hobbs 2008 Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir

Paul Hobbs has been planting wine grapes since 1969, when, still a child, he uprooted a section of his family’s apple orchard to plant vines. This enthusiasm later landed him in the position of head oenologist at the famed Opus One winery before he struck out on his own. Made with fruit sourced from Napa’s Carneros appellation, this streamlined Pinot Noir is aged 10 months in French oak barrels and combines the scent of violet and Asian spices such as star anise and ginger with fresh, waxy black cherry. ($75)

Promise 2006 Red Wine Napa Valley

Crafted from 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a unique microclimate in Napa’s Rutherford Bench, this fine red wine possesses great depth of flavor and a richness that could be matched only by a great amarone. Smoke scents and flavors of dark plum, bitter chocolate, and dried herbs dominate the latest release of this ultrarich wine. ($225)

Quintessa 2006 Red Wine Napa Valley

From the amazingly diverse Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley, this Bordeaux-inspired Meritage blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carménère into a harmonious composition of vanilla, licorice, and black currant. Aged for 18 months in toasted French oak, this wine has a wonderful elegance. ($145)

Scarecrow 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The Scarecrow label pays homage to Napa grape grower J.J. Cohn’s previous career as chief of production at MGM, where he produced the classic films Ben-Hur and The Wizard of Oz. Made of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford District, this powerhouse will dazzle the senses with its flavors of dark raspberry, new oak, Asian spice, and vanilla. ($150)

Schrader Cellars 2008 CCS Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Napa Valley

Sourced from one of Napa’s most esteemed plots of land, the Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville, this blockbuster is opulent and lush. Yet as wonderful as its cascading flavors of plum, blueberry, coffee, and tar are now, it will acquire even greater complexity and nuance after some time in the cellar. ($150) 

Seavey Vineyard 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Caravina Napa Valley

Located in Napa Valley’s St. Helena, Seavey is widely considered to be one of the great hidden values among the region’s Cabernets. This vintage bears the scent of acacia flowers and is ripe with the flavors of dark chocolate, red cherry, and sweet raspberry. ($55)

Shafer Vineyards 2006 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

John Shafer and his son Doug have been producing brilliant wines from Napa’s Stags Leap District since the 1970s, and this dark beauty further enriches their legacy. Aged a full four years prior to release (three years in Alliers and Tronçais oak barrels and one year in the bottle), this pure Cabernet Sauvignon weaves together the tastes of plum, cassis, tobacco, and Périgord black truffle. ($215)

Sloan 2006 Red Wine Napa Valley

Owner Stuart Sloan debuted his label with the 2000 vintage, which was made with the assistance of a who’s who of consultants that included David Abreu and Michel Rolland. The result was well worth the investment, and Sloan has continued to attract ardent fans ever since. Today, revered Napa winemaker Martha McClellan crafts this outstanding red, which contains 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and will easily age for three decades in the cellar. The 2006 vintage exudes notes of licorice, black currant, tobacco, and dark chocolate. ($395)

Spottswoode Estate 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

A definitive St. Helena Cabernet from one of the true classic Napa producers, this release possesses a plush and lavish character defined by blueberry, mocha, rich cassis, and a powerful finish. ($130)

Switchback Ridge 2007 Merlot Napa Valley

The legendary Robert Foley has been making the wines for this label since 1999. His balanced and beautifully rendered Merlot has set a new standard for the varietal in the Calistoga region of Napa Valley. The 2007 vintage, which was aged for 18 months in French oak, summons essences of sweet boysenberry, mocha, caramel, and crème de cassis. ($56) 

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