Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category for the year.

December 2003

Over the last twelve months, Wine & Spirits tasted 687 Cabernet Sauvignons and Blends.

The following 16 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all Cabernet Sauvignon wines tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is available on

Cabernet Sauvignons and Blends
95 I Marston Family Vyd. $60
1999 Napa Valley - Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon

This glows with heady, autumnal scents of apple orchards, chestnut honey and beeswax all hovering over a tight core of fruit, potent and unyielding. It feels natural, a Spring Mountain classic to cellar for ten years or more. (W&S 02/03) Marston Family Vineyard, Oakville, CA

95 I Quilceda Creek $78.50
2000 Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon

This tastes black as woodland berries, black as grapes ripened in the soils of Red Mountain a dynamic cabernet, its power in perfect balance. The black spice of the tannin carries an electric charge, as does the vibrant sweetness of the fruit, buzzing for minutes after each taste. (2,925 cases) (W&S 12/03) Quilceda Creek Vintners, Snohomish, WA

94 I L'Ecole No. 41 $36
2000 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

L'Ecole's 2000 has the deep, dark soil flavors of Walla Walla and an extra dimension that seems to take that black richness of the earth and extend its flavor for minutes. The oak, fruit and tannin are only separate elements if you work to perceive them individually; it all deepens in a satisfying scent, taste and feel: A beauty to treasure for a decade or more. (W&S 08/03) L'Ecole No. 41, Lowden, WA

94 I Von Strasser $60
2000 Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Sori Bricco Vineyard

As luxuriantly ripe as the fruit may be, as warm, red and focused, the tannins manage to wrap it tight; their earthen grip drawn out of red, iron-rich clay soils. A beautifully grown cabernet from one of Napa's most coveted hills. (1,053 cases) (W&S 10/03) Von Strasser Wine Co., St. Helena, CA

94 I Andrew Will $45
2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

Black cherry richness completely fills the mouth with flavor, a blast in the middle, held back by stony clay tannins in the end. This is festive and elegant wine, filled with vivid spice. (1,078 cases) (W&S 12/03) Andrew Will Cellars, Vashon, WA

94 I Calistoga Cellars $26
2000 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Dark and glistening as a freshly washed black plum, this cabernet shines with plump, generous black fruit. The simplicity of its flavor develops into layers as it takes on air, even as the density of its tannins increase. (W&S 08/03) Calistoga Cellars, Ukiah, CA

93 I Hartwell $100
2000 Napa Valley, Stags Leap District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

The glorious texture is at once tight, firm and supple, the wine heady and dark. It smells like Stags Leap earth spicy scents meld with the dark richness; a lush and gripping pleasure. (W&S 12/03) Hartwell Vyds., Napa, CA

93 I Chappellet $110

Grounded in the steep, volcanic soils of eastern Napa, this luxurious cabernet gives layers of richness. From a base of black fig and date, it rises to savory spice and earth tones, the plush, ripe tannin offering chocolate, the freshness of the acidity bringing mint. A textural pleasure. (1,300 cases) (W&S 08/03) Chappellet Vyd., St. Helena, CA

93 I Long Meadow Ranch $60
1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

A cabernet with classical elegance, its concentration is implied by the lead pencil scent, revealed in the firm cherry fruit, lasting in a tight finish. Another taste offers more transparency to the flavor of black earth and humus, gently perfumed. (1,500 cases) (W&S 02/03) Long Meadow Ranch Winery, St. Helena, CA

93 I Howell Mountain $60
1999 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine has absorbed the sun, returning it in flavors black as obsidian. The powerful tannins give a massive attack, a blast of flavor, then a slow, subtle retreat. (342 cases) (W&S 02/03) Howell Mountain Vineyards, Rutherford, CA

93 I Quintessa $110
2000 Rutherford Red

This elegant 2000 makes a lasting impression, for its zesty dark fruit rather than for its size. Firm tannins check the heady density, though not the delicious flavor. Green herb accents develop with air, as layers of flavor will develop with time. (W&S 12/03) Quintessa of Rutherford, Rutherford, CA

93 I Pine Ridge $70
2000 Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Concentrated and fresh, this opens in a crescendo of flavor. It's tight up front, then by the finish the cherry flavors extend and harmonize with the richness of the tannin. A natural expression of ripe Howell Mountain fruit. (465 cases) (W&S 12/03) Pine Ridge Winery, Napa, CA

93 I Ridge $120
2000 California Monte Bello

Built for the ages, this requires several days of air to begin to express all its complexity. From the beginning, however, it gives a sense of soil, of fruit pushed through the raspy expression of the soil to emerge with flavors of dark red berries fresh off the vine. (4,000 cases) (W&S 12/03) Ridge Vineyards, Cupertino, CA

93 I Saviah $28
2001 Walla Walla Valley Une Vallee

A power trip for those who like hefty, broad-shouldered reds, this wine offers up its generosity unbound, yet it doesn't feel unbalanced. The pedal-to-the-metal richness is enhanced by oak, adding scents of bacon fat over the layers of plum and exotic red fruit. (192 cases) (W&S 10/03) Saviah Cellars, Walla Walla, WA

93 I Shafer $150
2000 Napa Valley Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon

Shafer's justly famed Hillside Select is a textural pleasure in 2000, all about the velvet-soft feel of the wine. The tannin and fruit are perfectly integrated, so neither stands out, all woven together in that sleek, silken texture, a Stags Leap District head-trip. (2,500 cases) (W&S 12/03) Shafer Vineyards, Napa, CA

93 I Terra Valentine $35
2000 Spring Mountain District/Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Long and sleek, this dramatic mountain cabernet has a reservoir of flavor at its dense core, a lovely fruit richness that keeps giving with overtones of the underbrush in a pine forest by the sea. (W&S 08/03) Terra Valentine, St. Helena, CA