A Spectator Wine of the Year Winemaker’s Forgotten Cabernet
There are good reasons you might not have heard of this remarkably powerful, pedigreed Napa Cabernet. Though crafted by a master from grapes from some of Napa’s most coveted vineyards, this 2012 Three Sticks Cabernet Sauvignon was only offered to Three Sticks’ wine club and private wine dinners. Upon the 2014 retirement of legendary winemaker Don Van Staaveren, the author of Wine Spectator’s 1999 Wine of the Year (the 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages), Three Sticks opted to abandon Cabernet Sauvignon almost entirely. That left this under-the-radar gem from Napa’s heralded 2012 vintage to fall between the cracks, in perfect condition and provenance but forgotten in the cellar until we found out — and took all 85 remaining cases. With Van Staaveren’s expert guidance and grapes culled from the elevated Atlas Peak vines of Elkington Setty Ranch and Ithaca Vineyards’ 10-acre Rutherford Bench plot, we have this sophisticated expression of terroir at 47% off its normal library price — a once in a lifetime purchase.
Napa wineries will always remember 2012 as the “watershed” year that righted their balance sheets, with a bountiful harvest of sensational concentration and juiciness that sent prices soaring up and down the Silverado Trail. But wine lovers and critics like Robert Parker, who deemed 2012’s Napa harvest “extraordinary” for Cabernet Sauvignon, will always savor the landmark vintage’s stunning consistency. Parker famously wrote that it was almost impossible to find an unimpressive 2012 in a year when “Napa’s Cup Runneth Over,” with Cabernets showcasing “exuberant, boisterous, even flamboyant personalities, sweet, well-integrated tannins, [and] intense fruit extract.”
The 2012 growing season was exceptionally dry, but also quite mild, absent the heat spikes that often blister Napa Valley clusters during the summer months. These proved to be the perfect conditions for a master like Don to do his thing, according to Three Sticks owner Bill Price: “Don has such a deft touch making and blending Cabernet Sauvignon that it seemed like a crime not to find some of the best grapes in Napa and see what he could do with them.” We’re thankful that what Van Staaveren did, just before retiring, was craft an elegant, classically firm Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle every Cabernet lover’s collection should not go without.