Once home to dense oak forests from which it takes its name, this small town and AVA in Napa Valley is now Cabernet Sauvignon country. At the geographic center the valley, Oakville sprang to life as a water stop for steam trains plying the tracks of the Napa Valley Railroad Company in the 1860s. In 1868, Napa winemaking pioneer H.W. Crabb bought 240 acres of land near the Napa River, planted vines, and started a winery he called To Kalon, which means “the highest beauty” in Greek.
This two-mile-wide stretch of Napa Valley was granted American Viticultural Area status in 1993. Today it hosts 5,000 acres of grapes and more than 70 producers and growers whose wines are among the foremost Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends in the world. Among Oakville’s historical highlights are Heitz Cellars bottling of California’s first “vineyard designate” wine, its Heitz Cellars 1966 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and Groth Vineyards & Winery 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve receiving 100 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, the first ever perfect score for a wine from California.
Valley floor fruit at the center of the region receives ample sunlight and a constant cycle of morning fog and cooling influences from San Pablo Bay and an influx of warmer air from San Joaquin Valley to the east. In the Vaca Range on the east side of the AVA, elevations rise to 1,400 feet and receive sun late in the day, while vineyards in the Mayacamas Mountains on the west side ascend to a more moderate 500 feet and benefit from afternoon shade. A variety of soils that includes alluvial, sedimentary, and volcanic allows for a diverse array of flavor and tannin profiles within the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc grown here. Here are some of the best wines from this region at the heart of Napa Valley.
Baldacci Family Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
Winemaker Michael Baldacci uses less new French oak for his Oakville Cabernet than he uses for his Stags Leap District Cab. He stated the oak “adds a bit of weight in the mid-palate, without overwhelming the smooth and graceful structure” of the wine. This alluring wine is garnet colored with a nose of blackberry, red plum, and cedar shavings. It is well rounded with silky tannins and flavors of ripe black fruits, river rock, cocoa powder, and espresso bean. Michael recommends drinking now (as do we) to enjoy the expressive fruit flavors.
Venge 2018 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
The Venge family has been farming grapes and producing wine in Napa Valley for three generations. Their Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is made from grapes grown on their Oakville Estate Vineyard. It is garnet colored with a nose of ripe red and black cherries and cassis and flavors of black raspberry, brown baking spices and a hint of clove in the post palate. The tannins are pleasantly grippy now but will mellow out with time. Drink now through 2038.
Far Niente 2015 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
This almost eight-year-old Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking perfectly right now with well-integrated silky tannins, great mouthfeel, and balanced acidity. It is black cherry colored with a youthful violet rim and aromas of cedar, graphite, cassis, and red plum. In the mouth there are flavors of blackberry, black plum, cocoa powder, and tobacco leaf. Drink now or lay down for up to 10 more years.
Gallica 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
Gallica represents Rosemary Cakebread’s passion for making fine wine from organically farmed grapes in Napa Valley. Fruit for this delightful wine is sourced from the Oakville Ranch Vineyard located at altitudes between 800 and 1,400 feet in the eastern hills of Napa Valley. The soils are red colored due to their volcanic origin. Rosemary and her winemaking team co-ferment 93 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with 7 percent Cabernet Franc to achieve their desired flavor profile. This enticing wine has aromas of ripe black fruits with notes of cedar, graphite, and cigar box and flavors of blackberry, cassis, and dried rose hip. The tannins are well structured and well-integrated, and the finish goes on for what seems like days.
Heitz Cellar 2016 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
The weather during the 2016 growing season and subsequent harvest was considered to be just about as perfect as it gets in the Oakville AVA. Grapes for this Cab were grown in alluvial soils in the western part of the viticultural area and showed excellent concentrations of sugars and acid when picked. This enticing wine has aromas of blackberry, cassis, dried Mediterranean herbs, and a lifted note of mint. Upon entry it has flavors of black fruits including black plum and black cherry with velvety mouthfeel and well-structured tannins. Drink now or enjoy through 2036.
Textbook 2019 Mise En Place Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
Textbook founder Jonathan Pey and his wife Susan fell in love with the wines of France and Italy and now their goal in Napa is to “create wines reflective of the power in Napa Valley, yet consistently balanced with the European sensibility…” stated Jonathan. Their wines are made by Abigail Horstman who worked in New Zealand, Italy, and Israel before settling in Napa Valley. The Mise En Place Cab has aromas of ripe blackberry, cassis, and pencil lead with flavors of ripe black and red fruits, wet river rock, black plum, dark chocolate, and a touch of cedar. It has powerful tannins and is drinking beautifully right now, but don’t hesitate to lay a few bottles down for seven to 10 years.
Groth 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville Napa Valley
Groth wines consistently garner high points from well-respected wine critics, and the 2019 is a great example for why this trend continues. This delightful wine is composed of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grown on their 27-acre estate with 5 percent Merlot coming from the Hillview Vineyard. This ruby colored wine introduces itself with a bouquet of blueberry, black raspberry, and pastry crust. In the mouth it has flavors of ripe blue and black fruits, ripe red cherry, and dark chocolate. The tannins are smooth and rounded making this wine perfect to drink now, but if you lay a few bottles down for up to a decade you will be well rewarded for your patience.
Tamber Bey 2019 Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley
Tamber Bey Vineyards is named for owner Barry Waitte’s first two Arabian Horses, Tamber and Bey and produces wines from two estate owned vineyards, Deux Chevaux (Two Horses) Vineyard in Yountville and the Estate Vineyard in Oakville. The 2019 Oakville Cab is made from grapes from the latter. It has aromas of blueberry, cedar, caramel, and ripe black plums and is soft on entry with flavors of black fruits, anise, cigar box, and blueberry jam. It was bottled in June 2021 and is drinking nicely now but could benefit from a few more years of bottle ageing.