My dad was never a wine guy when I was growing up, but my grandfather sure was. Clients would fairly often give Dad a nice bottle of something as a thank you gift or a holiday gesture. Dad, having not a fractional clue whether the wine was “good” or not, would leave it in a cabinet to collect dust.
Grandpa was another story. He adored good wine and had great taste. He was also notoriously incapable of spending money on anything, especially himself (coming of age during the Depression had left him almost pathologically thrifty decades after he could afford not to be). So he’d come over at Christmastime, he’d see the stuff Dad had shunted to the Cabinet of Forgotten Things, and a version of this conversation would arguably take place:
“I see you’ve got some Cabernet in here. Well, it’s probably past its prime by now, anyhow. Vinegar, most likely.”
“Yeah, client gave it to me. I never really drink that stuff.”
“Well, say, we could just open it right now. It’s all but certainly turned, but that’s all right, I’m not fussy. Hate to see it go to waste.”
At which point Grandpa would stick the cork pull into the 1978 Bordeaux, pour a glass, assume an air of martyrdom as he prepared to take that terrible, vinegary sip.
“Why, what do you know? That’s not bad!” At which Grandpa would have a brilliant bottle of Cab all to himself, everyone in earshot got a funny feeling he knew the wine wasn’t “bad,” and Dad was none the wiser.
Is this a parable? Kinda.
Wine is a great gift. It’s festive, it’s celebratory, it intrigues the senses. It represents history and craft and all that good stuff. It’s bottled memory. The catch is, unless you’re one of those people who collect it as an investment, and if you are I confess I don’t entirely understand you, wine has no value whatsoever if it is not being enjoyed. It needs to come out of the bottle and go into your mouth or it’s really just an abstract idea, an experience waiting to happen. So while the holiday season is a great time for a splurge bottle, there’s a tipping point for most of us. You want a gift wine to feel special, but not so precious no one can bear to pull the cork.
If there’s a dinner host, party-thrower, or person on your gift list for whom “Napa Valley Cabernet” is synonymous with “Really Good Wine,” I’d like to propose Newton Vineyard a wonderful luxurious option.
Newton was founded in 1977 by Peter Newton, an English expat winemaker who had previously founded Sterling Vineyards. Newton’s Cabernets are… not priced for poets; a bottle of one of their single vineyard bottles will run you close to $200. (If that sounds crazy I’ll note that a bottle of Ghost Horse will run you five times as much). But for a special occasion, you will make someone who loves Cabernet really, really happy. And you’ll be supporting things like sustainable farming practices and green design, which are important to some of us and arguably should be to everyone. These folks don’t do a million different wines. They make Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and they pay really close attention to them. Three separate sites produce single vineyard bottlings (there’s also an unfiltered Cab at the more accessible price of $60, which is a blend). Each is a bit different (mountain vineyard wines tend to be stonier, the valley floor fruit from Yountville a little more fleshly); all are quintessential Napa Valley. Of the single vineyard wines my personal pick is the Spring Mountain Cabernet (though trust me that if you come across the Mt. Veeder or Yountville bottlings you are unlikely to be disappointed).
Spring Mountain is a site that absolutely loves Cabernet, and in the hands of current winemaker Alberto Bianchi, this fruit really shines. The 2015 Spring Mountain Cab is deep and rich but at the same time vivid and juicy with a dark garnet hue. Its aromatics tend toward the herbaceous (a lot of thyme, a little mint, possibly a trace note of sage) with a considerable amount of fresh violets. The dominant fruit note on the palate is like redcurrant, but deeper, along with some pomegranate and a little dried blueberry, and balanced with chocolate, coffee and stone notes. Tannins are in the umami range, finish is hefty.
This wine will age for a long time (definitely ten years, easily beyond 20) if you want it to. But as my grandfather was always fond of pointing out, there’s something to be said for just going for it. You can open it for a festive occasion or you can open it and create a festive occasion. Either way it’s a thing of beauty.