2006 Titus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Titus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley We were having dinner at Mustards, talking Cabernet. It was 1998 and Phillip Titus was already splitting his time between his day job as head winemaker at Chappellet and his rest-of-the-day job at Titus Vineyards. But all Titus could talk about was Joseph Phelps's Insignia, the Napa Valley Cabernet blend that had become a cult wine overnight, earning 95-96 points from Robert Parker in consecutive vintages. "Have you tasted the recent releases? They're unbelievable, almost too good. So sweet and ripe. At Titus we have the structure of Petit Verdot, rusticity of Malbec. At Chappellet, we have Pritchard Hill. I need to figure out how to inject a little Insignia into both."

It took a while before guys like Titus, Mark Herold (former assistant winemaker for Phelps), and the team at Peter Michael grasped the essence of the secret of Insignia. But while some bought into the Insignia technique (see below) hook, line and sinker, often making rich, nondescript Cabernets, Titus has been more judicious, deftly softening and sweetening the wines at Chappellet, while retaining the signature character of Pritchard Hill and Ehler's Lane.

In the 2006 Titus Cabernet Sauvignon, Phillip Titus has put it all together, crafting a deep, polished Cabernet with an Insignia-like attack, but with the foresquare structure that speaks to Eric Titus's meticulous attention to yields and balance in the vines. This is a beauty, and at the price, one of the greatest values in the Valley.

While the Insignia technique -- warmer fermentation -- explains the ripe, concentrated, succulent forward flavors, where does the Titus Cabernet get its firmness? The Titus vineyards are off the Silverado Trail, between the Trail and Route 29. Okay, there's a precious little knoll on the property, but since this is the valley floor, where does the wine get all that muscle? The second secret at Titus is the varietal mix on the property. Phillip learned the value of varieties like Petit Verdot and Malbec, each of which imparts structure, color and raciness to the Cabernet. By keeping yields down, and adding small dollops of the blending varieties to buttress the Cabernet, this one has Pritchard Hill-like sinew to balance out all that Insignia sweetness.

Brothers Phillip and Eric Titus
Brothers Phillip and Eric Titus
Taming Tannins
The secret of Phelps Insignia is not unlike what we've seen elsewhere on the world's wine trails (like Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont), where producers are trying to tame harsh tannins and astringency. After a five-day cold soak, Titus allows the temperature to climb, drawing out color and tannins before the alcoholic fermentation. Water soluble tannins are supple, as compared to harsher alcohol soluble tannins, so Titus gets all the sweet fruit extraction without the astringency that was common at Chappellet in the 1980s. Then it's a matter of titrating time on the skins (more of this at Titus than Chappellet), continuing to draw out phenolic complexity while keeping a close eye on the soft tannin structure.

Tasting Notes from the WineAccess Travel Log
"Deep purple color to the edge. Deliciously ripe and sweet aromas of cassis, blackberry, and violets, with faint dark chocolate in the background. Rich and juicy on the attack, with deep, fine layers of bright bing cherries and red fruits. Excellent finish with fine persistence and smooth, supple tannins. Drink now for its primary fruit lushness or age for up to a decade."