The Joy of a Perfectly-Aged Napa Cab
If the delights of a perfect-condition, aged Cabernet are a mystery to you, this is your lucky day. If you’re well-acquainted with the joy of opening a perfectly-cellared Napa Cab, chances are you know Sam Baxter of Terra Valentine—a friend of Wine Access dating back years. Sam’s an absolute wizard at the high-wire act of nursing grapes to the pitch of sun-warmed ripeness while keeping sturdy tannins in check—no small feat on Spring Mountain’s challenging, high-altitude slopes. In 2006, Baxter crafted a complex, powerfully concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Yverdon Vineyard, perched 2,100 feet up in the Mayacamas. The majority of this wine disappeared years ago into the chilly cellars of Napa collectors. The vineyard has since switched hands, acquired in 2013 by Lokoya, whose Cabernets regularly mint Parker 100-point scores. That makes this perfectly-aged mountain Cabernet, round and bold, redolent of black and blueberry fruit, dried herbs, mocha, and cedar-spice, an extraordinarily rare catch, one of the last of its kind. $90 from the winery, just $59 per bottle—34% off—and the lowest price anywhere. Shipping included on 3.
After first encountering one of Terra Valentine’s massively proportioned yet wonderfully pliant Cabernet Sauvignons years ago at Jean-Georges in New York, we made it our mission to journey to the top of Spring Mountain Road and meet the maker. The first time we visited, amidst breathtaking views of rolling green vineyards and valleys, we were greeted at the door by Sam Baxter, one of the most brilliant mountain Cabernet whisperers in all of Napa.
What ensued was a masterclass vertical tasting of Terra Valentine Cabernets, each back vintage bespeaking tomes about the respective harvests, every bottle a miniature epic. The brawny 2007 showed all the plushness and firm tannins that year was renowned for. The 2010 was deep and concentrated, but only just beginning to unspool its black-fruit power. The bottle that we caught our mind running back to the most in the days that followed? The 2006 Yverdon Vineyard, the biggest of them all, almost royal in its opulence yet with a rockhard tannic structure that needed at least another five years to mellow.
“Yverdon was planted by an eccentric engineer by the name of Fred Aves back in the 1960s,” Baxter told us. “He designed this whole place, down the gargoyles in the ceiling beams, and built it practically by himself.” While Aves had been spot-on in his selection of the vineyard site, with its mix of rich volcanic soils and seabed sediments, his viticultural know-how left something to be desired. When the vines failed to produce, he tore them out and the land fell into disrepair until it was acquired by Angus and Margaret Wurtele in 1999. Baxter began replanting in 2001.
“The key to Yverdon is its unique microclimate, over 2,000 feet above the valley,” said Baxter as he uncorked a new vintage. “When the fog rushes in on summer and autumn mornings, it pushes warm air up right up the mountainside. By the time the sun’s fully out, the grapes are basking in heat and intense exposure, ripening into the midday hours. But in the afternoon, we get cold coastal breezes blowing in over the ridge, dramatically dropping temperatures and keeping intact all the complexity, subtlety, and freshness.”
Baxter called last week, jogging our memory of that first delightful meeting and tasting. “Remember that 2006 you couldn’t stop talking about?” he asked. “It’s ready now.” Loaded with black-fruit opulence, the tannins now silky and integrated, it’s ready alright, drinking in its absolutely prime—an utter beauty.