Here’s How Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Ages
Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Ages Gracefully By: Laura Ness
Let it be said that wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains can certainly age distinctively – especially Cabernet and Cabernet-based blends.
There’s a lot of power packed into these storied hills and it shows up in spades in the often dark, sinewy and forest-laden Bordeaux varieties produced by the region’s top winemakers. A recent Cabernet-focused tasting called Premier Cruz, highlighted some of the region’s standout producers, and clearly showed that old Cabernet rules.
Jeff Emery’s 2005 Luchessi Vineyard Cabernet under the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard label is like carrying a freshly felled Christmas tree across the transom, instantly filling the living room with the undeniably magical spell of evergreen. It’s deep piney core is revealed with each sip, making it a wine to serve with special holiday fare, like elk with juniper berry sauce. The 2014 also displayed all the hallmarks of a monstrously ageable Mountain Cab.
Jeffrey Patterson’s 2008 Mount Eden Cabernet held its head up high with fragrant reminders of the surrounding brush-covered hillsides, steep and perilous, that must be traversed to reach his lofty perch. Worth every penny for the earthy, dusty tannins and the hint of autumn leaves in the air.
Also made by Patterson was the smooth operator 2007 Cabernet from House Family Vineyards, a thoughtfully well-knit dark overcoat of possibilities. There’s just a subtle hint of age starting to exhibit itself here.
Crafted by longtime Fogarty winemaker, Michael Martella, with guidance from second generation proprietor, Tommy Fogarty, Lexington’s 2011 Cabernet from the Gist Vineyard on Skyline, shows intensely wound tannin, demanding patience. Their Merlot is the sit-me-down-now stunner in the lineup at their tasting room in Saratoga.
Marty Mathis had everyone drinking from the legendary font of Kathryn Kennedy, with his 2014 and 2004 Cabernets, showing how ten years scarcely make a dent in the personality of these potent wines, gathered like gemstones from the tiny gold mine vineyards that dot the steep hillsides of Saratoga and Woodside.
Poured by Rootstock Wine Bar and available solely there and through their wine club, McCarthy Family Cabernets skew a bit towards the modern California palate, with the 2015 showing sweet, quickly ripened fruit with a thin veneer of chocolate. The 2010, although higher in alcohol, expressed the cool, challenging vintage with deeper earthiness and characteristic mountainside underbrush.
Therese Martin did herself proud with two examples of her winemaking magic when it comes to Cabernet, with the Signature Select version of 2013 delivering poise and polish to this varietal than can charge out of the gate like a brutish bull at a rodeo. Her careful choice of the best-tasting barrels lent plushness to the fruit-laden wine, endowing it with a delectable finish. This was a prominent crowd-pleaser.
Kings Mountain Vineyard’s Meritage selections are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (52%) and Cabernet Franc (28%), with Merlot (14%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Malbec (1%) rounding out the signature blend from this one-acre vineyard in the heart of Woodside. The 2005 is soft, with yielding tannins and flavors of dark olive and chocolate, making it easy to enjoy now. The 2006 has hutzpah and spice like there’s no tomorrow, with probably another 5 years on it. Powerfully and tightly wound, the 2007 is layered with both red and black fruits, sufficient acid and the kind of muscular structure that will go two decades without effort. Broad and brazen, the 2008 is clearly the life of the party, but it, too, has juice to spare.
Burrell School Vineyards is known for their perfumey and red rose-scented Cab Francs, but stole the show with a soaring 2012 Dean’s List Cabernet, punching well above its weight with solid red-fruited power. The 2007 Valedictorian offered an explosive torrent of beautifully co-mingled Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc, causing an attending sommelier to exclaim, “Wow! That really surprised me! Such intensity for 10 years old!” Ah, but that’s how Dave Moulton builds them: like brick storm shelters, a refuge for the past.
Bob Mullen has been the force behind the crafting of some very Bordeaux-like wines for 64 years, and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down in the enthusiasm department. The 2010 Woodside Cabernet from four different front and backyard vineyards exhibits herbal and savory characters, steeped in dark sassafras tea and wanting another 10 to 15 years before approaching its prime.
Similarly, the 2009 La Questa, from a storied vineyard in Woodside that exhibits a profound signature of tobacco, leather and cedar, shows aging promise with its rich velvet core. These are wines for the ages.
Perhaps the most exciting wine of the day was the 1993 Cooper Garrod Cabernet, 100% estate Cabernet, carrying itself tall, proud and sinewy, packed with potent earth, clay, saddle leather and old tack, sage incense and chewy blueberry. This is the kind of wine you need to sit down by the fireplace with on a cool autumn’s eve, perhaps with a dusty old book you’ve pulled from the library, its nameplate peeling and long-faded. As you turn the pages, the incomparable scent of time bursts forth, telling a tale at least as fascinating as the one the author labored to describe.
Take another sip, and contemplate what was happening in your life in 1993. Now, ponder this: what did you accomplish that year that you can still return to over and over again, with a new sense of appreciation and enjoyment?
That, my friends, is why the true storytellers among us choose to make wine.
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.