HIDDEN CAB STEAL

Talk about hiding in plain sight, this particular offer has us scratching our heads. In a world where Cabernet is king, and Napa Valley is the center of the Cabernet universe, why on earth would you market a Cabernet as Provenance Deadeye Napa Valley Red Wine 2016? The front label doesn’t even say that, or anything else. There is simply an artist’s rendering of something that loosely resembles a rifle sight or crosshairs zeroing in on some sort of target. While we had a good ‘what were these people thinking’ chuckle, the wine inside was anything but a joke.

This surprising complex Napa Valley ‘red’ is in fact 96% Cabernet Sauvignon (well into the realm where it could be labeled varietally) that sees 21 months in barrel! It has a real almost-old-school feel to it, and reminds us of some great Napa Cabs from the mid-90’s as Napa was just entering its cult period and things hadn’t gotten too ‘out of hand’ yet. Dark red and black fruit, something that could be described as “Rutherford dust” (though we have no idea where in Napa it came from), wonderful balance and a dense, juicy, rather polished palate, we expect most folks that are fans of Napa Cab will love the juice!

There’s the ‘rub’ and the advantage. Finding competent Napa Cabernet for under $50-60 is no easy task these days. Looking at the bottle, however, you would have no idea that this was Cabernet, and not some goofy proprietary kitchen sink blend vying to be the next ‘Prisoner’. The beauty is that neither will anyone else unless they read something about it somewhere (though there isn’t much). Apparently, this is the first release so few have seen Deadeye at all. Good vintage, fine effort, a delicious Cab for a modest fare and almost ‘witness protection’ anonymity, it’s a great deal as it is and there is no guarantee that the next one will hit the mark the way this one does.

THE RETURN OF GIBBS: SINGLE VINEYARD, ESTATE NAPA CAB UNDER $25

You never mind retelling a good story, especially one that has a happy ending.  8Such is the saga of Gibbs Cabernet.  There’s always a need for a well-made version of Americas’s favorite varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) that doesn’t cost “an arm and a leg,” the search for really good Cabs at fair prices is ongoing.  Since Cabernet is still kind of a big deal here in California, we were pretty sure we found the value Cabernet ‘holy grail’ back in 2014 when we rolled out the 2010 Gibbs Obsidian Block Cabernet Sauvignon.  Estate grown on a vineyard near Saint Helena, a quality, pure, varietally honest effort, that had definite Napa terroir and style points to boot, seemed too good to be true.

We rode that horse for several vintages simply because we could.  I mean, why not?  It was pretty much everything you could ask for in a Napa Cab at this price.   The story itself deserves a quick refresher.  The Handlys, Susan (formerly Carpenter) and Craig, met at a label design company in Napa called Colonna-Farrell.   After moving to Saint Helena in 1977, owner and winemaker Craig Handly began working as a label designer with, a notorious design studio with a history that is closely tied to the success of Napa Valley’s wine industry..

Before finding himself involved in the production of wine, Craig began a design and photography firm, Handly/Hansen, which produced materials for wineries including Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, Robert Craig, Karl-Lawrence, and Elyse. Later, Susan and Craig began their own stationary company, which started to lose ground at the turn of the century thanks to the wide acceptance of e-mail communication. It was then Craig made his foray into wine production by starting yet another company, Terroir Napa Valley.

With a focus on the staple crop of Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Terroir Napa Valley focused largely on producing single-vineyard wines that exhibit the qualities of the vineyard site. As fate had  it, Dr. Lewis Carpenter (Susan’s father), who farmed his vineyards in St. Helena for more than a half century, passed away. Craig Handly, his son-in-law, is now farming those choice St. Helena vineyards.   Those well situated vines, acquired long before the real estate craziness that is Napa today, are the source for the Gibbs Cabernet.

For whatever reason, the 2015 Gibbs didn’t make the cut after 4 out of five vintages previously.  But the 2016 is brighter and deeper and stands out in its field the way that the 2010 did back when we discovered the winery in the first place.  The Gibbs Cabernet Sauvignon Three Clones Napa Valley 2016 is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot and 7% Petite Verdot that spends 8 months in French Oak.  It is 100% estate bottled, something virtually no Napa Cabs in this price range can say.  The ‘Three Clones’ moniker is a reference to the three different clones of Cabernet (6, 15, and 337) that are the heart of this engaging estate blend..

In the glass, the nose jumps forth loaded with spicy red and black fruits.  On the palate, all of the promise of the nose is delivered with the fruit character persistent from the cool black fruit core to the more jubilant, redder fruit center to the wine at large, with plenty volume to the flavors delivered.   If someone told you this cost $50, you’d taste the wine and look at the (single vineyard) Napa Appellation, and have no reason to question anything.  The kicker here is it is less than half that ($25)! Same as it ever was, this is one of the pre-eminent deals  on Napa Valley Cabernet.

 If you’re looking for the ‘hook’, there aren’t any scores or reviews on this one.  It seems this remarkable little wine is still under the radar, which is better for those of us that still just enjoy drinking a good Cabernet and don’t care about the media, particularly if the price is right.  We understand that it might be difficult to comprehend a well made, unpresuming, delicious Cabernet, from prime Napa Valley dirt, for under $25.  But it is certainly the kind of ‘adjustment’ one should be able make.  With only 1600 cases produced, the impact on the market at large will be pretty minimal.  But the possibilities for those ‘in the know’ is a whole different matter.  Good hunting.