The Napa Valley offers a veritable buffet of wines to choose from, ranging from time-tested bottles made in the traditional European style, to extraordinary new blends which are blazing the trails of winemaking. So whether you like a little novelty or prefer to relax into the familiar, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste in California’s wine garden.

But even fans of the avant-garde can benefit from a trip through the classics. Understanding common varietals like the Pinots and Cabernets will give budding sommeliers a strong foundation from which they can build their tastes and expertise. So why not do it in Napa?

Whether you’re building your palate or simply like the taste, let’s start with one of the most popular and recognizable grapes in the world: The Cabernet Sauvignon.

What is Cabernet Sauvignon?

Known familiarly as “Cab,” this iconic wine variety makes up no less than 5% of the world’s total viticultural production. The plant itself is hardy and flexible, lending itself to a range of growing environments that contribute to both its accessibility, as well as its popularity.

Cabernet Sauvignons are red, full-bodied wines with relatively low dryness compared to their medium-high tannins. After juicing, Cabernet Sauvignons are fermented in oak barrels, which both introduce new and unique flavors to the final product, as well as softens the final tannic structure, resulting in a gentler and more drinkable wine. Most Cabs are happy to age for ten or more years in your wine cellar, and will only grow softer and more refined over time.

Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon

Different takes on Cabernet Sauvignon may require different serving and tasting methods. For example, a new wave of chillable reds has more wine enthusiasts chilling their Cab Sauvs for a refreshing summertime beverage. The fruity flavors of this wine also make it a popular although non-traditional ingredient in sangria.

There are many ways to enjoy a Cabernet Sauvignon, but here’s how you can expect to drink it on a tour of a Napa winery:

Cab Sauvs are served between 60 – 68 degrees, cool but not cold, and are typically decanted or allowed to breathe for an hour prior to pouring.

A small serving in an oversized goblet helps the wine to further aerate – the larger glass also allows more room for your nose, so you can enjoy the wine’s unique aromas as you sip.

Cabernet Sauvignons will offer a unique taste depending on the soil in which the grape was grown. The Napa Valley offers its own terroir, as well as a regional fermentation style that seasoned tasters may recognize. Notable California Cabernet tasting notes include black currant, blackberry, graphite, tobacco, and mint.

Different serving methods may bring out different characteristics in the wine or help you to experience the subtler flavors each varietal has to offer. But the golden rule for tasting is, whether or not you know what you’re doing, that you should enjoy it. So feel free to ignore any and all of the above suggestions if it doesn’t suit your tastes.

The Best Napa Wineries for Cabernet Sauvignon

There are more prize-winning Cab Sauvs in the Napa Valley than you can shake a wine goblet at. That said, here are a few of our favorites from iconic Napa wineries.

  • Stag’s Leap
    This winery put California on the viticultural map after a Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon beat out a number of Bordeaux competitors in a 1979 wine tasting event. Presided over by French judges, Stag’s Leap’s winemaking prowess could not be denied.

    45 years later, and the Napa-based winery is still growing and producing world-class bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, in a range of styles. The vineyard currently serves 16 distinct vintages from as far back as 2012, featuring both single-grape Cabernets, as well as Cab-dominant red wine blends.

  • Nickel & Nickel
    This Oakville-based winery is committed to producing the clearest expression of each varietal they tend with single-grape wines harvested from just one vineyard. Not only will partakers in their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon taste the unique terroir of the Napa Valley as a whole, but also the hyper-specific flavors of just the few acres of sun and soil in which the grapes are grown. This Cab Sauv is like nothing else in the world, so be sure to pay Nickel & Nickel a visit the next time you’re in California.

  • Pine Ridge Vineyards
    Pine Ridge sources its grapes from all over the valley, with special attention given to few of the region’s most extraordinary appellations, so visitors can taste what makes each vineyard so special without ever switching to another varietal!

    Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignons include unique vintages from Howell Mountain, Stag’s Leap District, Oakville, Rutherford, and of course the Pine Ridge Estate.

  • Inglenook
    Located in Rutherford, home to many of the area’s most prestigious wineries, Inglenook Vineyards was founded in the late 19th century by a Finnish sea captain named Gustave Niebaum. Having struck metaphorical gold in the fur trade, Niebaum purchased the Inglenook land and began reading all he could about the art of winemaking, amassing a formidable viticultural library as he learned.

    During its century-and-a-half of production, the winery has passed to many hands, most recently film director Francis Coppola, and won a veritable mountain of viticultural medals and other culinary awards. Visitors to Inglenook will taste the history in the company’s estate-bottled Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • Beaulieu Vineyard
    Considered by many to be the premier producer of the Napa Valley Cab Sauv, Beaulieu has earned the title of “cult” winery for its elite and limited production of distinct reserve bottles. Begun by Georges LaTour and his wife in 1900, Beaulieu is firmly established as one of the founding wineries of California’s most iconic viticultural region.

    Known familiarly as BV, Beaulieu has thrived with more than a century of wine production, even profiting during prohibition as the primary producer of altar wine for Catholic churches in America. Now, visitors can enjoy the fruits of its history and labor with an all-Cabernet tasting flight including new bottles, or rare legacy vintages.

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