2008 Aurielle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Expert Rating
CG 94 points
(Read the full review below)
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Aurielle Vineyards Howell Mountain Raising the Ante on Howell and Mt. Veeder

For decades, the valley has attracted the rich and the super-rich, each wanting to put their private stamp on Napa. When land was sensibly priced and one could buy a chunk of Howell Mountain without lapsing into sticker shock coma, the wealthy bought land, then built wineries and brands. But in recent years, as the cost of playing skyrocketed, the ground rules changed. Unless you already owned the Denver Nuggets, you shied away from the land grab. Instead of thinking big, most opted to go extravagantly small, writing a blank check for 8-12 barrels of the best mountain Cabernet Sauvignon money could buy.

That would be CEO Frank Sterns's plan when he was first introduced to the brilliant young winemaker, Chad Alexander. Alexander was fresh off a stint as head winemaker at Robert Craig, where his massive, full-throttle, black fruit Cabernets had garnered raves from The Wine Advocate. Having just taken his leave from Robert Craig so as to start his own winemaking consultancy, Alexander's cell phone was ringing off the hook. Chad would accept just six clients. Frank Sterns would prove to be the most persuasive of all.

"It was like a dream," Alexander told us as we stood 2,000 feet up Mount Veeder at this hidden mountain oasis. "I wasn't brought up to spend other peoples' money frivolously, but when someone comes to you and tells you to simply get the best fruit money can buy, you feel like a kid in a candy shop, and I just did as I was told."

The first vintage of Frank Sterns's Aurielle Cabernet Sauvignon would be the 2006, a small, experimental cuvee drawn from Alexander's old stomping grounds on Howell Mountain. In 2007, Sterns upped the ante, ordering Alexander to double the production to 12 barrels. Alexander reached out to renowned viticulturist, Brian Rahn, locking into a few tons off of Rahn's own 5-acre hillside vineyard. "Aurielle" wouldn't be a secret for much longer.

Robert Parker described the 2007 Aurielle Cabernet Sauvignon as having "abundant creme de cassis notes, medium to full body and silky tannin … [providing] plenty of pleasure over the next 10-15 years," before rating it 93 points. Released at $90/bottle -- by our math, given the cost of Alexander's services, Rahn's mountain clusters and all those new French barrels -- Frank Sterns would barely break even. Undeterred, the CEO pressed forward.

In 2008, Alexander took the next leap. "I love the fruit off of Rahn Estate. But I wanted more flesh in the mid-palate, more black fruit filling. I still had a blank check, so came up here and took a few tons off those three acres down there," pointing a couple hundred feet down the western face of Mt. Veeder. "It's the best fruit on the mountain. It costs a fortune. But it's just what the Howell Mountain Cabernet needed."

If Robert Parker thought the 2007 Aurielle was "opulent, pure and silky," wait until he gets his hands on this one. Alexander's 2008, composed of 2/3 Howell Mountain blackberry muscle and 1/3 Mt. Veeder mid-palate flash, is jet black/purple in color. An average of less than two tons per acre was drawn from each site, accounting for the tremendously lush black fruit aromatics, and the massive boysenberry/creme-de-cassis opulence of the attack and core. Still the mountain fruit finish remains firm, sneaky tannins arguing persuasively for 10-15 years of bottle age.

Tasting Notes

2008 Aurielle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
"(2/3 Howell Mountain from Rahn Estate, 1/3 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon) Jet black/purple in color with powerful aromas of blackberry preserves and boysenberry, bracketed by new wood cedar. Massive on the attack, packed with crushed black fruits, drizzled with creme-de-cassis, the core is big, rich and plush, the texture absolutely silken. Despite the immense concentration, the finish remains firm with sneaky mountain tannins lurking in the backdrop. Delicious now for its youthful hedonism, but also built for the long haul. Drink now-2025."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

"Rich and complex, deep and boasting plenty of still youthful yet outgoing curranty fruit, this wine is about as close to classic as a wine of its size and expressiveness is likely to get. Its keen focus on varietal character is matched by the supportive, wonderfully complementary oak in its makeup, and if a wine of size, it is also a wine of great sophistication. That it comes with a fairly evident wash of latter palate tannins is neither a surprise nor a problem because the wine's depth is matched to its lean underlying sense of balance. A decade or more of growth would seem to be in the offing with this one."
94 points -- Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine

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