Forget those punishing resolutions this time of year. The real pain comes when you wander down to your wine cellar to survey the damage you’ve done the last few weeks. Some of the loss was undoubtedly planned depletion—bottles chosen because the time was right in their life to bring them to the table to share during a holiday meal worthy of their company. Those other empty slots? Chalk them up to any number of things: spontaneous nights with friends, dinner in a restaurant whose wine list is no match for your collection (corkage fees are worth it). Stuff happens during the holidays that compels us to pull out bottles—and isn’t that the point of a cellar anyway?
Not to worry. We’ve been on the lookout for replacements. In recent tastings of Northern California Cabernets, some classic bottles have stood out as especially promising for filling those alarming empty spaces. Most are current vintages, so give them time (pillage the more seasoned wines next year). One, though, will bypass the wait. Here’s half a case.
Arrowood 2014 Réserve Spéciale Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Exotic florals, mocha, and baking spice underpin black plum and cherry in this top Arrowood Cab. This is a powerful wine, with impressive structure integrated with the fruit ($100).
Dalla Valle 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Deep, complex layers of mocha, earth, sweet spice, vanilla, and pine forest lead to gently plush blackberry, cassis, and plum, with a brightening kick of orange peel. This is a smooth one from Dalla Valle ($200).
Freemark Abbey 1998 Bosché Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
The winery is releasing a small amount of this 20-year-old Freemark Abbey. Fresh-looking color belies beautiful secondary notes—dried rose petal and fig—while cherry, cassis, and toasted spice morphing into compote suggests the wine is in its sweet spot. It’s also interesting to note the light glass the wine is in; such was the state of the industry a couple of decades ago ($150+).
Odette 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, Napa Valley
In this version of Odette, from the PlumpJack group (it seems like a good year to acquire wine from the Newsom-Getty partnership), beautiful aromas of spiced black fruit over violets are followed by juicy and mouth-filling blackberry and black currant flavors, with elegant tannins and a long, delicious finish ($140).
Staglin Family Vineyard 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley
If you’re a skeptic about the “Rutherford dust” character in the region, this Staglin Cab—releasing later this year—will set you straight. That earthy nose gives way to silky berry and plum flavors, with exotic toasted spice (coriander, cumin) and fine-textured tannins. Concentrated and long, this wine comes with a big “wow” factor.
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards 2014 Christopher’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
From 2,400 feet in elevation, this Cab from Stonestreet has gently grippy tannins, making it built to last. Earth, mineral, and anise add complex layers to lively raspberry, cherry, and cassis, all melded in great balance ($150).