THE YEAR'S BEST

In each issue of Wine&Spirits, our critics focus on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category that they've tasted in the past year.


     December 2007

Over the last twelve months,
Wine & Spirits tasted 708 American cabernet sauvignons and blends.

The Following sixteen wines received the strongest praise from our critics.


Cabernet Sauvignon
96  I  Diamond Creek $175
2004 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
Gravelly Meadow unfolds into delicious, supple richness in 2004, its floral cherry and rose scents underscored by firm minerality. This grows on a gravel wash left behind by floods along Diamond Creek, where Phil Steinschriber tends the cabernet vines to tame the potent tannins so they feel irresistible rather than austere. One taster compared the feel of it to a mink coat. Gravelly Meadow is a beauty to drink now and over the next 20 years. (290 cases) (W&S 12/07) Diamond Creek Vineyards, Calistoga, CA
 

 
96  I Diamond Creek $175
2004 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon
The most classical of the three Diamond Creek wines in 2004, Red Rock is also the most perfectly formed. It starts with a dark oak savor that turns to succulent cherry and deepens to black currant. Its freshness feels as cool as the shade on a sunny Diamond Mountain afternoon. Firm tannins support the fruit, and it's the fruit that lasts, set to go the distance. A great vintage of Red Rock, this has decades of development ahead. (476 cases) (W&S 12/07) Diamond Creek Vineyards, Calistoga, CA
 

 
95  I  von Strasser $100
2004 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Reserve
Von Strasser's Reserve is unusual in its emphasis on equal parts petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, with ten percent each merlot and cabernet franc. The verdot contributes richness, velvety texture and mouthfilling weight. That restful softness contrasts with layers of stony complexity, as if earth had been extracted into fruit. The blend is sophisticated, confident and delicious, a great Napa Valley wine that is sure to become a classic. (248 cases) (W&S 2/07) von Strasser Wine Co., Calistoga, CA
 

 
94  I Bravante $35
2004 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Trio
Compressed into its cold, hard mountain tannins, this estate-grown blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc needs a day of air to reveal its foresty fruit. Given enough oxygen, it feels cool rather than cold, with dense, soil-inflected tannin that's powerful without completely hiding the lush fruit underneath. It feels like it will live a long time, a wine to check on ten years from the vintage and likely to be enjoyed for many years after that. (450 cases) (W&S 6/07) Bravante Vineyards, St. Helena, CA
 

 
94  I  Cadence $40
2004 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
With soft, cedary aromas, cassis fruit, hints of earth and leather, this Red Mountain wine leads with elegance rather than power. Its flavors are finely wrought and succulent, the texture gentle and reserved, while pure purple fruit gathers strength on the palate. A blend of cabernets franc and sauvignon with merlot and petit verdot, this is drinking beautifully right now, especially with rare roast beef. (620 cases) (W&S 10/07) Cadence, Seattle, WA
 

 
94  I  Diamond Creek $175
2004 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
Soft and silken, Volcanic Hill is the most forward of the three Diamond Creek wines in 2004. It's packed with black cherry flavor and exotic spice, red plum and fraises des bois adding to the wild complexity. Already sleek, it needs time for the earthy density of the tannin to absorb the wood. It should age with grace. (796 cases) (W&S 12/07) Diamond Creek Vineyards, Calistoga, CA
 

 
94  I  Grgich Hills $58
2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Surprisingly elegant for a 2003, this melds bright raspberry flavor with darker tones of savory black olives and freshly turned earth. The fruit character is beautifully floral, clean and fresh, a crush of berry flavor held in tense suspension with the tannin, so finely integrated that it's the fresh impression that lasts. Lovely to drink now with a roast leg of lamb, this will only get better with age. (W&S 6/07) Grgich Hills Cellar, Rutherford, CA
 

 
94  I  HDV $60
2003 Carneros Napa Valley
The cold, wet spring of 2003 generated a lighter than normal fruit set, allowing most of HDV's fruit to be dry farmed. The blend is mainly merlot, grown on Hyde Vineyard's shallow loam over clay; ten percent is cabernet sauvignon. Oak enhances the lean texture of Carneros merlot, without obscuring the high notes of cherry and elegant, chanterelle-like savor. Its complexity will develop further in the years to come, the wine enjoyable anywhere along the way with a dry-aged steak. (1,287 cases) (W&S 2/07) HDV Winery, Napa, CA
 

 
94  I  Martin Ray $55
2003 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Bryan Davison of Martin Ray purchased most of the fruit for this wine from the Van der Kamp Vineyard, 1,400 feet up Sonoma Mountain on a northwest-facing slope. The soils range from red volcanic loam at the top of the vineyard to clay farther down, producing a remarkably delicate cabernet with mineral complexity. Dark flavors of woodland berries weave into the ferrous tannin, feeling strong without any overt muscularity. It's beautiful from the moment the aroma hits, and the fruit impression lasts. (600 cases) (W&S 2/07) Martin Ray Winery, Santa Rosa, CA
 

 
94  I  Quintessa $125
2004 Rutherford Napa Valley
From the Huneeus estate on the east side of Napa Valley in Rutherford, Quintessa is a selection from 170 acres of vineyards, mostly planted to cabernet sauvignon, along with merlot and small blocks of cabernet franc, petit verdot and carmenŹre. The concentrated crop in 2004 produced a wine with elegance as well as resonant power in its tannin. The fruit is perfumed, the tannin tremendously rich, almost chewy. It leaves a lasting impression of warm red spice. Delicious with tea-smoked duck. (W&S 12/07) Quintessa of Rutherford, Rutherford, CA
 

 
94  I  Ridge $135
2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
Ridge grows one of California's most distinctive cabernets at its Monte Bello estate. Ridge doesn't irrigate these vines—nor does it inoculate the juice to start fermentation, which yielded a modest 13.2 percent alcohol in 2004. The fractured limestone in the soil provided just enough moisture to grow this elegant cabernet, with flavors of wild black cherries and black currants. It feels balanced and firm, dense while weightless, a beauty that will mature for two decades from the vintage, perhaps longer. (1,500 cases) (W&S 12/07) Ridge Vineyards, Cupertino, CA
 

 
94  I  Saviah $23
2005 Walla Walla Valley Une Vallée
Three iconic Walla Walla vineyards comprise Une Vallée: Pepper Bridge provided cabernet sauvignon (62 percent), Seven Hills merlot (31 percent) and McLellan cabernet franc (7 percent). The scents are seductive, as rich as dulce de leche, the red currant fruit barely showing itself at first. It's savory, with an herbal note and gentle elegance to the texture making it unquestionably the product of the Walla Walla vallée. And it has astonishing length. (304 cases) (W&S 12/07) Saviah Cellars, Walla Walla, WA
 

 
94  I  Sbragia $75
2003 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Rancho del Oso Cabernet Sauvignon
Ed Sbragia has worked extensively with Howell Mountain fruit in his role as winemaker at Beringer. He sources the grapes for his own label from the same vineyard that produces O'Shaughnessy's Howell Mountain wine. It feels certain, a wine that's comfortable in its own skin. Oak perfumes the tense, floral fruit and enriches the tannins; with air, mountain forest scents and black currant and blackberry flavors become more prominent. Decanted, it's luscious with duck. (642 cases) (W&S 4/07) Sbragia Family Vineyards, St. Helena, CA
 

 
94  I  Spottswoode $110
2003 St. Helena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
This latest release celebrates Spottswoode's 125th anniversary this year, a fitting tribute to the vineyard first planted in 1916 by the Spotts family. In 1972 the Novaks bought Spottswoode and replanted the vines. Tony Soter made the first Cabernet in 1982; this current vintage was made by Rosemary Cakebread. Her '03 is lovely, a wine of tremendous richness packed with black currant flavor. It's smooth and lush, a sleek Napa Valley red, destined to be a classic. (3,699 cases) (W&S 4/07) Spottswoode Vineyard and Winery, St. Helena, CA
 

 
94  I Vineyard Seven
         & Eight
$90
2004 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Seven Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
From a vineyard planted in 1985, at 2,020 feet on Spring Mountain, this is a fresh, foresty cabernet with stamina. There's a tight core of berry flavor, and a mineral edge from the tannins. As a young wine, it manages to carry a lot of alcohol without showing it, leaving a bright impression of juicy plums rather than any heat. The wine feels natural, festive, surprisingly pretty for its thoroughbred stance. It's a wine to follow along the course of its development, which should be ten to 20 years. (1,400 cases) (W&S 12/07) Vineyard 7 & 8, Napa, CA
 

 
94  I  von Strasser $70
2004 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Rudy von Strasser has become one of the premier cabernet growers in Napa Valley, and this wine is a barrel selection of some of his best lots. It's long on black currant fruit and succulent as a fresh forest mushroom. Youthful electricity drives it, sleek and elegant even if it is far too young to get the full benefit of the ferrous tannins. A wine to cellar, or to open now, an hour or two before serving a beef tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms. (764 cases) (W&S 2/07) von Strasser Wine Co., Calistoga, CA