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Great Wine: Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon


Very few Napa wine producers can boast of a broad, high-quality portfolio the way that ROBERT CRAIG WINERY can. Chardonnay, Rosé and Zinfandel are some of the varieties in its mix, but—focusing on small production numbers of distinct growing areas—it is best known for mountain grown Cabernet from Napa Valley sub-appellations, including Mount Veeder, the Spring Mountain District, the Diamond Mountain District and Howell Mountain. Each of the sub-appellations possess unique terrain and microclimates, imparting distinct qualities on the grapes cultivated there.

Many young Cabernets from the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain are reputed to be harsh in tannins and acid, requiring substantial time in the cellar before they are ready to drink. The 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon breaks from that mold. Whether you characterize this wine as supple or approachable, one adjective is undoubtedly befitting: sensational.

The nose expresses dark fruit and violets. On the palate, this wine possesses transverse length with deft precision, delicacy and finesse. Blackberry is the dominating flavor here, but a small sprinkling of pepper and a hint of leather are also evident. While the measurable tannins are high, they are perfectly balanced and lend to the wine’s round complexity. Up to two hours of decanting will serve you well, and one should not hesitate to enjoy this now, but the acids suggest the more patient among us will be greatly rewarded in just three to five years (versus 10-20 years comparatively for most Howell Mountains).

So what makes this wine so approachable and so enjoyable while young? I asked the winemaking team at Robert Craig Winery, and the answer is appropriately complex. It has to do with extracting skin tannins not seed tannins, avoiding an extended maceration period, a scientifically-based ripening approach developed over the winery’s long existence, almost no pumping, and utilizing state-of-the-art technology. To put it more simply, the unique, supple characteristic of this Howell Mountain Cab is achieved through an exacting farming method, selection of grapes within a purposefully limited crop load, and gentle handling of the berries. Or, even more simply, passionate winemaking.  –R.K.


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July 15, 2015


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