Trade Jabs and Napa Cabs
If wine could talk, it’d probably say “dude, leave me out of it!”
I’ve been asked more than a few times this past week if I thought that collectors should quickly buy up Napa wines, lest the current rumblings about tariffs erupt in a tit-for-tat trade war with our southern neighbours. It’s not unheard of for wine to become a hostage in these disputes, as our recent spat with our neighbours to the east has shown, so it’s certainly plausible that Canada, in retaliation for tariffs imposed on our southbound exports, could make American wines cost even more than they do now.
I think that’s pretty unlikely though, even if retaliations escalate. American wine comes from states that voted decisively against the current President, so hurting grape growers in those places won’t really cost him politically, he’d go from unpopular to unpopular with no electoral consequence. China, by contrast, would reportedly take aim on agricultural products like soy and grain, grown in swing states that would wield more influence if they were angry, and I suspect that we – if drawn in - would also strategically target imports from Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania rather than wine from Washington, Oregon and California.
So my final answer would be: Don’t buy Napa Cabs for fear they’ll double in price, buy these Napa Cabs because Jordan only got a tiny bit and he’s gonna sell out and then you’ll be sad. Here are some legendary Cabs, new into the Vintage Room:
Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stag’s Leap District
One of the true Napa greats from one of Napa’s great vintages. Even the first Napa settlers in the late 19th century singled out this west-facing bluff in Stag’s Leap and planted grapes there – John Shafer ripped up the Zin and replanted to Cab in the ‘70s. This is amazing stuff: dense and powerful but pulls off a large measure of balance, even at such a young age. Indeed, Hillside Select epitomizes that Napa style that achieves longevity through sheer concentration, rather than an abundance of tannin or acid (Insignia and Lewis would also fall into this category). “Built like a skyscraper”, says Parker, who was probably trying not to use swear words. I got one 6-pack before Christmas (which sold immediately), and now have two more because I’m so very good at yelling. 98+ points Robert Parker, 99 points James “101-or-Bust” Suckling, 98 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $449.99 +tax
Screaming Eagle Second Flight 2014, Oakville
Is something really overpriced if it keeps selling out, year after year? This “Second Wine” to (arguably) Napa’s First Growth has experienced a good deal of mission creep over the last few years, allowing Merlot to sneak in and dominate the blend, and eschewing blunt power for more grace and nuance (perhaps betraying the influence of consultant Michel Rolland). The body is enormous but the tannins are silk, with violet and earthen notes trying to poke out from under the blueberry blanket. A welcome burst of fresh acidity classes up the finish and sets it apart from the mothership. 97 points James “Screech” Suckling, 95 points Decanter, one wooden 6-pack available, $1200.00 +tax
Lail Vineyards J. Daniel Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Howell Mountain
Surrender to the Pleasure-Bot. The Lail family, whose lineage traces back to the first Cabernet-planted vineyard in Napa (Inglenook), pays tribute to one of their predecessors, John Daniel, (Mr. Daniel passed well before my time but based on this wine I imagine he was covered in velvet and cupcakes). Sourced mostly from the Mole Hill vineyard on Howell Mountain (with additional valley floor help from Calistoga), this is simply gorgeous – it almost expands in your mouth, there are so many layers. Richly textured with mocha, licorice and charcoal, this drinks like a foot rub (getting one, not giving one). The 2014 may not have the decades-long forecast of the ‘13s, but boy, it’s gonna take out a second mortgage to try and make you happy. 95 points Vinous, 95 points Robert Parker, 2 6-packs available, $350.99 +tax
Vineyard 7 & 8 “7” Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Spring Mountain
A rare Napa back vintage (2004!!!) from an even rarer high-altitude mountain vineyard. Sitting 2000 feet above St Helena and named for the luckiest numbers in western and eastern lore, respectively (although it really just sounds like the name-generator broke down), Vineyard 7 & 8 has been quietly producing Napa mountain fruit (leaner, more structured with more longevity) for a while now, safely under our radar, at least until now. Exclusive to Everything Wine and far cheaper than the winery price of $95, come try it tomorrow (Saturday) when we pour it in the River District Vintage Room at 3pm. This was under Parker’s radar also until the 2007 but he rated it 92-94 in most subsequent vintages. 92 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 6-packs available, $74.49 +tax
Vertical: Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 2013, 2014, Rutherford
Lofty Wines of Lore from the First Lady of the Valley Floor. Three golden Napa vintages from Kathryn Walt Hall, a dynamic winemaker from an old Napa family, MBA and former U.S. ambassador to Austria, among many other things (I, comparably, feel accomplished when I cross the Alex Fraser). This is elegant, timeless Napa, with spicier notes and graphite around the edges, but there is always the decadent fruit to swim in, blue and black. I have 1 6-pack of each vintage.
2012 – 97+ Robert Parker, $256.49 +tax
2013 – 96 Robert Parker, $256.49 +tax
2014 – 97 Jeb Dunnuck, 95 Robert Parker, $256.49 +tax