Food & Drink

Comparing Oakville’s cabernets

Laurie Daniel
Laurie Daniel

In the Napa Valley, where cabernet sauvignon is king, Oakville is ground zero, home to many of the industry’s rock stars, like Screaming Eagle, Harlan, BOND, Dalla Valle and Opus One. The appellation, which cuts a swath across the valley from the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains in the west to the lower slopes of the Vaca Range in the east, is seen by many as the area’s sweet spot for cabernet.

Certainly Robert Mondavi thought so. When he established his eponymous winery in Oakville in 1966, the property included part of the To Kalon Vineyard, which was famous even then. Today, Oakville’s most recognizable spot for many tourists is the Robert Mondavi Winery. When Mondavi died in 2008, the winery had already passed out of the family’s hands. But its founding surely jump-started the reputation of Oakville.

After the Mondavi winery, others in Oakville, like Silver Oak and Groth, gained fame. Success breeds success, and those wineries eventually were joined by others whose wines would be highly sought-after. Some are sold for ultra-high prices to exclusive mailing lists. Others are more widely available. None are cheap, though only a few sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle.

There’s not really one style of Oakville cabernet sauvignon, because the terrain varies so much. On the west side, vineyards are shaded in the afternoon, while vineyards in the east on rocky red soils dominate and get a lot of afternoon sun. I often find savory flavors ranging from anise to black olive to mint in the wines.

One wine that should be readily available is the 2011 Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($55), a lively wine with black cherry fruit, a note of anise and fine tannins. Other Oakville cabs priced at around $50 include the 2011 Textbook “Mise en Place” Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), which is ripe yet fresh, with black fruit, an anise note and firm tannins; and the 2011 Oakville Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), which is more structured and tannic, with lively cherry fruit accented by hard spices. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Oakville cabernet sauvignon with a lower price.

I’m usually a fan of the nicely balanced Oakville cabs from Far Niente and its sister winery, Nickel & Nickel. The 2012 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon ($145), which was recently released, is still quite tight, with plenty of fruit, a cedar note and drying tannins.

Twenty-five years ago, the Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was one of Oakville’s most in-demand wines. The 2010 Groth Reserve ($125) displays plenty of juicy black fruit and good concentration.

Other recommended Oakville cabernets include the ripe, juicy 2010 Gamble Family “Family Home” ($90); the lively, savory 2010 Hoopes Vineyard ($65); and the lush, fresh 2010 Miner Family ($75).