Monday, May 4, 2009

Ode to Oakville

The tasting season is underway. With a chance to catch Oakville Winegrowers' 2009 Taste of Oakville on its first Los Angeles stop at the Beverly Wilshire on May 1, only one question remained before we hit the road: Where's dinner?

Tastings offer a focused tasting room experience closer to home. They might be organized by region, brand or grape varietal. At their best, tastings can offer a master class in wine. Besides face time with the winemakers themselves, there's the chance to explore a grape's different expressions, whether in a single-varietal bottling or a blend.

Tiny Oakville lies at the heart of the Napa Valley appellation. The AVA or subappellation's two-mile stretch of wine country paradise is home to more than 60 wineries whose names are synonymous with top-flight Cabernet Sauvignon. Acre for acre, big-name producers Mondavi, Opus One, Far Niente and Joseph Phelps along with cult wineries such as Screaming Eagle, Rudd and Dalla Valle make Oakville one of the greatest Cab-producing clusters on earth.

Oakville Cabernets are soaked with minerality and lusty fruit that reflect the region's soil diversity. Between gravelly soils along the western end and volcanic earth eastward, Oakville produces fleshy and structured wines rich in dark fruit kicked up by layers of mint or eucalyptus, tobacco and cedar.

About half of the AVA's wineries were present, which meant we had our work cut out for us. Loathe to skip a single one, we tasted, spit (so sad) and refreshed our palate with dry bread. Stand-outs among the stand-out Cabs were 2005 Detert Family Vineyards, 2005 Bond St. Eden and Vecina in an east vs. west throw-down, silky and juicy 2005 Groth Reserve, aptly named 2005 Flora Springs Holy Smoke and 100% certified organic 2006 Ghost Block Oakville Estate. Special treats included 1997 Dalla Valle, 2005 Robert Mondavi Reserve To Kalon Vineyard and Miner Family Vineyards' 2006 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, juiced by 5% Cabernet Franc. For value Cab Sauv, we thoroughly enjoyed the 2005 Robert Mondavi Oakville District, which we've spotted at local wine outlets in the $25 range.

If you've been searching for the Promised Land in California Cabernet Sauvignon, set your sights on Oakville wines. Most will set you back a pretty penny and many are tough to find but oh, what a reward to those who seek them out. Happy tasting – can't be late for Mozza!

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