What Makes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon So Special?

One could easily answer this question by pointing to the quality of grapes and the impeccable California climate. Yet, that’s only scratching the surface for there is much more to why Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is so treasured.

It all started well over half a century ago when enterprising individuals were hoping to recreate Bordeaux wines. In fact, Jackie Onassis herself would sip French wines while at the White House. The winemakers in Napa Valley couldn’t recreate Bordeaux legitimately so they imported Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes and steeped themselves into French wine-making techniques. Prior to this time, there were winemakers dating back to the pioneering days of the 1850’s and 1860’s.

Wine-making in Napa Valley back then was a bit akin to moonshine in the south. It was sold in jugs or tanks after aging in vats of redwood. Over time though, as the methods of the French were incorporated, Napa Valley started turning out classier renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1970’s and in 1976 during a private wine competition that would be nicknamed the “Judgement of Paris,” the results found Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley to rank right up there with the wines of Bordeaux.

From there, Napa Valley took off running. Now, the region is covered with vineyards that grow great grapes, take advantage of the sunshine, and know how to age and bottle properly. To properly judge a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon yourself, you should take a sip and let it linger, thinking of the fruit quality and depth of flavor. It’s key to know that oak from aging serves more as a seasoning to the wine than as a main character.

With the history and topography of Napa Valley, it adds to why Cabernet Sauvignon from here is so special. With the location on the San Pablo Bay, it creates an induction effect, resulting in a cloud cover in the mornings. This fog helps slow the ripening process in the California sunshine. Then there’s the hills that add a complexity to the flavor profile, and the soils.

In fact, the soils themselves might be hailed as the sole reason Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is so special. The soils are volcanic and create a unique, almost dusty earth-driven flavor. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon produced in other corners of the world, Napa Valley is relatively free of minerality so this dusty quality gives it quite the notable touch.

The Napa Valley has two distinct styles of Cabernet Sauvignon that vary on where they grow. From the valley floor, you get lush and refined wines with blueberry, black cherry, and plummy tastes with just a touch of mocha and licorice for a well-rounded taste with well-integrated tannins. If you are the sort that prefers dominant fruitiness, then these might be best for you.

Of course, the hardest part is choosing a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to try. There are so many wonderful bottles of the stuff from incredible vineyards. It might be best to take a tour of wineries in the Napa Valley to discover what makes each unique.

If you’re far from California though and not able to visit, you can seek out some of the most notable Cabernet Sauvignon created there. We’ve selected three from the top producers out there that you’ll be sure to enjoy, though please don’t forget about the other magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon offerings from Napa Valley and discover your own personal favorites.

  • Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Founded in 1970 by Warren Winiarski, the award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons that come from Stag’s Leap shouldn’t be missed. The adjacent vineyards of S.L.V. and Fay are both incredibly different from one another. S.L.V. is extremely robust and full of tannins therefore it takes longer to mature but lends a deep and incredibly complex wine full of enjoyment. Fay is extremely approachable and young.

  • Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

Helmed by the McCrea family, the first grapes planted here at Stony Hill were Chardonnay in 1948. Tucked on a remote mountainside, they hit the map for their Chardonnays. With this success, they employed the same approach using Cabernet Sauvignon. A food-friendly offering, Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is beguiling, complex, and reminds one of Rioja with a dustiness that delights.

  • Corison Cabernet Sauvignon

For nearly 30 years, the head of Corison, Cathy Corison, has been creating impeccable Cabernet Sauvignon. Tucked between St. Helena and Rutherford, the terroir is wonderfully unique. It’s deep and stony, perfect for this varietal. What makes this wine one not to miss is that it is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. She’s experimented by blending it with other varietals but has found this is her favorite way to craft it. One sip and it’s easy to see why. It’s juicy and plump with the feel of old leather and rich cedar backed by supple tannins.

In essence, what makes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon so special is a very multi-faceted approach, since it’s the fact that Napa Valley hasn’t been producing wines as long as France yet manages to go head-to-head with it and It’s the soil, the climate, the sunshine, and how all of these things have come together to create a rich tapestry of wine culture you can taste in every sip.