There is little question that cabernet sauvignon is the Napa Valley's money grape. As a stand-alone grape, it produces some of the most expensive and sought-after red wines in America. And, as a blending agent, it is the backbone of most of the Napa Valley's most coveted and traditional Bordeaux-style red blends.
This is Napa's strength.
But there is another side of the Cabernet story, one told eloquently by Paraduxx, a sister winery to the renowned Duckhorn (where merlot is king).
Paraduxx was founded on the premise of blending zinfandel with other red grapes from the Napa Valley. The results were often spectacular. In recent years, Paraduxx has expanded its repertoire of blends, and those are spectacular as well.
That point was driven home to me recently when I sampled two new Paraduxx blends from the 2014 vintage. Both are modestly labeled "Red Wine" with the appellation being the determining identifier.
The "Atlas Peak" ($80) is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese, the latter being the "money" grape of Tuscany. Long ago, the great Italian winemaker Piero Antinori suggested the Atlas Peak region off the Silverado Trail in southern Napa would be an excellent place to grow sangiovese.
The "Howell Mountain" ($80) borrows a familiar theme from Australia and blends cabernet sauvignon with syrah. Both varieties do well on Howell Mountain, situated in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley above the fog line, which is important. The southwest sun exposure guarantees optimum ripeness for these two world-class grapes.
Both wines exhibit exceptional depth and richness, with classic tannin structure that suggests they will age beautifully. I assigned a score of 96 to the Atlas Peak and a 95 to the Howell Mountain. Though pricey, they are still less expensive than many Napa Valley blends of comparable quality.
What's more, they are not what you've come to expect from Napa. They are different in a very good way. They demonstrate the versatility of the Napa Valley. They are a triumph in every respect.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Cycles Gladiator 2016 Pinot Noir, Central Coas ($12) -- Cycles Gladiator started at Monterey's Hahn Estates winery during the reign of winemaker Adam LaZarre. The brand moved on, and so has LaZarre, though they are still together under the Wine Hooligans umbrella. LaZarre is at his very best when the task is getting the very best into a modestly priced bottle of wine. The 2016 Cycles Gladiator shows good flavor intensity and body, with notes of dark cherry and earth. It's a perfect budget wine for the backyard barbecue this summer. Rating: 86.
Cuvaison 2015 'Adda' Chardonnay, Carneros ($50) -- Chardonnay has been Cuvaison's strength over the past three decades, and this single-block "Adda" chardonnay from the winery's estate in Carneros lays down a marker that bodes well for the future, too. Beautifully balanced and admirably restrained, the Adda nevertheless shows ample richness and depth without the heaviness that often comes with those two characteristics. Notes of pear, lemon creme and spice dazzle without sacrificing the elegance innate in this bottling. Rating: 94.
Dutton-Goldfield 2016 Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley ($38) -- The beat goes on for winemaker Dan Goldfield, whose chardonnays consistently rank among the finest in California. The Dutton Ranch is another beauty from the master, showing exquisite balance, a core of ripe pear and delicious golden apple, a touch of baking spice as background and a gentle note of lemon oil. Rating: 94.
Trefethen 2016 Chardonnay, Estate, Oak Knoll District ($36) -- Over the half century Trefethen has been in business, its chardonnay has stood out among the Napa Valley's finest. Always well-balanced and age-worthy, Trefethen resisted the temptation to follow the trend of the 1990s toward more lavish oak and uber-ripe grapes. The 2016 is in keeping with past vintages, exhibiting a note of pineapple/tropical fruit, pear and green apple with a mere hint of wood spice. This wine will age nicely, unlike many other Napa Valley chardonnays, and retain its freshness for several years to come. Rating: 94.
Cortonesi 2013 'La Mannella' Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Italy ($72) -- Cortonesi's "La Manella" Brunello from the 2013 is still a baby, showing powerful tannins that, to some extent, mask an impressive flavor profile of black cherries and dried herbs. Even at five years of age, it easily needs another two to three years to show what's behind the wall of tannin. This is a collector's wine that will hold together a good 15 to 20 years. If you must serve it now, think osso bucco or strong cheeses. Rating: 93.