Forget the cologne, the cashmere, and even the sports car. If you’ve got an oenophile on your holiday gift list, give him/her what he/she really wants: a bottle of the good stuff. And we mean the REALLY good stuff. Each of these stellar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons is sure to wow even the most discriminating palate. Bonus: these are gifts that are meant to be shared, ideally with the gift giver. Cheers!
Larkmead 2017 ‘Solari’ Cabernet Sauvignon ($240)
Originally founded in 1895, the historic Larkmead Vineyard in Calistoga is one of the oldest family-owned establishments in Napa Valley. The pinnacle of power, this wine, built for long term cellaring, is persistent on the palate and broad in both force and length. The wine enters with sweet macerated fruit, black cherry jam, and dusty, bittersweet chocolate. The texture of this wine is driven by the vineyard: crushed rocks, gravel, and scorched earth are classic Solari characteristics. The finish lingers for 20-30 seconds with generous, mouth-coating tannins. Winemaker Dan Petroski recommends decanting and giving the wine some air if enjoyed over the next 3-5 years, but from 10 years on, and for 20-30 more, don’t hesitate to bring the wine straight to the table.
Newton 2016 Spring Mountain Cabernet ($210)
This wine is especially poignant, as much of Newton’s Spring Mountain AVA estate winery was destroyed in the 2020 Glass Fire. A few of the winery’s vintages are still to come, but after these are released, there won’t be more from Newton within this region until it has been replanted and given time for the vines to mature. Bold yet bright with a pronounced licorice finish, this wine is incredibly concentrated. The intense violet hue lends well to a nose dominated by red fruit and spice. Pomegranate, sage, thyme, and rosemary blend seamlessly with a subtle mineral quality.
Beringer 2017 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($170)
Brothers Frederick and Jacob Beringer established Beringer in 1876 with the belief that Napa could be a premier wine-growing region like Germany’s Rhine River Valley from which they hailed. They quickly made Beringer famous for its world-class wines, and this one is a prime example. To make these small-production Private Reserve wines, fifth-generation winemaker Mark Beringer chooses the best lots from Beringer’s reserve Napa Valley vineyards, each demonstrating a different aspect of Napa’s prized terroir. With bright notes of black currant and blackberries and a lush, juicy mouthfeel, this wine is also very approachable in its youth. Complex layers of black fruit and notes of cocoa powder, graphite, and light smoky oak mingle well with notes of espresso and vanilla.
Aileron 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($160)
Decades after helping her family launch their iconic Napa Valley winery O’Shaughnessy Wine Estate, Shannon O’Shaughnessy has forged her own path with Aileron Estates. The label’s whimsical paper airplane hints at the name’s derivation. An adrenaline junky and pilot who relentlessly pursues adventure, O’Shaughnessy named Aileron after the hinged surface on the edge of an airplane wing that steadies and guides the plane. Demonstrating her dedication to this vinous endeavor, she has entrusted Aileron to the world-class winemaking team of Philippe Melka and Maayan Koschitzky of Atelier Melka. Her viticulturist is John Derr. This inaugural release is inky deep and dark, befitting its Howell Mountain appellation. The aromatic profile offers black plum ripe blackberry and blueberry compote. The terroir expresses itself in fresh earthy notes balanced with Christmas spice and subtle florals. Gorgeous purity of fruit marks the finish with exactitude and focus.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2017 FAY Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)
Since its founding in 1970, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has continued to exhibit an unwavering commitment to expressing the true character of its historic S.L.V. and FAY estate vineyards and today its CASK 23, S.L.V., ARTEMIS, and FAY labels are among the most highly-regarded and collected Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. This wine features inviting aromas of ripe berries, figs, plums, candied cherries, strawberry preserves, and a touch of jasmine perfume. It has a bright and lively entry and mid-palate, which is nicely-balanced with rich polished tannins and cherry pie aftertaste. Try pairing this estate-grown Cabernet with citrus and roasted beet salad with goat cheese, soy-glazed salmon, or Pork Milanese.
C. Elizabeth Game Farm Vineyard 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)
This is Dave and Christi Ficeli’s fourth release of their very special, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes grown within two precious Game Farm Vineyard blocks on the southern edge of Napa Valley’s Oakville AVA. This wine, of which production varies from vintage to vintage at roughly 200 cases, is dense, rich, and lush, representing winemaker Bill Nancarrow’s vision of the best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon he and the Ficeli’s can make. The 2017 vintage opens with a big, memorable aromatic nose of vanilla, dried flowers, and spice. A great combination of red and dark fruits cover the palate with hints of perfectly ripe plums, cassis, berries, and dark chocolate. Gentle notes of pecans and dried cherries mingle with velvety soft tannins on the finish balance out this powerful expression of an Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beaulieu Vineyard 2017 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($145)
For more than 100 years, Beaulieu Vineyard has set the bar for rich, classic Napa Valley wines. Widely recognized as a benchmark Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon since its inaugural vintage in 1936, this wine is ripe and fruit-forward with aromas of blackberry, dark plum, and black currant. It is full-bodied and offers hints of delicate violet and black pepper spice. Notes of vanilla, caramel, and baking spice are well-integrated. This wine shows nuance, intrigue, and approachability now but has layers of complexity and structure that will allow it to age for years to come. The elegant packaging makes this one a unique gift. The wine arrives in a large black box that opens to reveal a vineyard map and includes two ‘Rutherford Dust’ soil samples.
Far Niente 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($145)
Far Niente has been growing and making Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley since 1982. Deeply reflective of their nearly four decades of crafting majestic Napa Cabernets, Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley marries fruit from the beautiful Far Niente estate vineyards in Oakville with hand-selected Cabernet lots from Rutherford, Stags Leap, Calistoga, and St. Helena. This wine is possibly the most iconic Cabernet in their portfolio and has an elegant perfume of mixed berries, baking spice, dried lavender, and thyme. It opens onto a full palate layered with expansive mixed berry, black tea, toasted oak, and spice flavors.
Yao Ming Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($120)
NBA Hall of Famer and five-time NBA All-Star Yao Ming, formerly with the Houston Rockets, has been quietly making critically acclaimed wines since 2010 from some of the most renowned vineyard sources in Napa Valley. This wine comes from his vineyard is perched on top of Howell Mountain at 2,100 elevations. The soils are decomposed volcanic ash and red clay, and he produces only three barrels due to low mountain yields. This is a true mountain wine with a ruby red and purple-hued appearance and barrel notes of toast and vanilla. The palate is firm and has a long tannin structure. This one is a must for any NBA fan/wine lover on your list.