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Cross-Cultural Success
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 11, 2011
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Antica, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 ($55):  If I had not tasted this wine blind, I might think that my reaction to it was influenced by the magical “Antinori” name on the label -- or by the supremely classy label itself, for that matter.  But when I tasted this Napa Valley Cab among a dozen blind reds, most of them Italian, I liked it for its taste.  It was an interesting context for a wine born of Italian ownership from grapes grown high in the eastern mountains of Napa Valley.

The name “Antica” is said to be a combination of “Antinori” and “California.”  It also means “ancient,” an appropriate term for the wine heritage of the Antinori family, now 26 generations strong.  This is the family that 600-plus years ago made wine in the Chianti zone of Tuscany, branched into the neighboring region of Umbria to produce Orvieto and other whites, fueled the super-Tuscan movement with the success of Tignanello and Solaia, saw the future of Puglia and created an estate there, and bought Prunotto, a respected winery in Piedmont’s Barolo zone -- not to mention ventures outside Italy, including the Col Solare winery in Washington.  The word “pedigree” comes to mind along with the expression about not resting on one’s laurels.

The Antinori family became involved in Napa Valley, specifically the Atlas Peak district where the grapes for Antica grow, in 1985, but it was 22 years later that the first Antica wines were released.  In a column for Wine Review Online in 2009 (you can find it in the site’s Archives), Linda Murphy relates in fascinating detail the convoluted ownership and production issues that preceded the current situation -- that today, the 600-acre estate is owned and operated entirely by the Antinoris.  This wine, as well as the three previous vintages of Antica Cabernet, comes from the estate’s 24-acre Townsend vineyard, which the family purchased in 1998. 

This wine is entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, and is a very unusual Napa Valley Cabernet.  The grapes come from a relatively cool, fairly high-altitude site (1460 feet) with volcanic soils.  Besides the altitude, the mild-to-cool 2007 growing season would seem to have accentuated the style of this wine: an elegant, refined Cabernet with California fruitiness expressed through freshness and focus. 

The wine is truly dry, and it is full-bodied, but barely so, with soft, supple texture despite the noticeable presence of oak tannins in the rear of your mouth.  Its alcohol level is relatively low by today’s standards, 14.2 percent.  The wine’s aromas and flavors suggest complete ripeness of fruit without a trace of over-ripeness.  Instead of jammy or baked-fruit flavors that are common in elite California Cabernets today, the wine tastes of pure, fresh fruit -- small black fruits and a bit of plum, and, in your mouth, juicy accents of tart red fruits.  The flavors show concentration and the splendidly long finish echoes this concentration.  This is a wine that can and will age, although you might prefer it in its youth, when its fresh fruitiness is at its prime.

I will have to taste many more vintage of this wine to form a proper opinion, but it seems that Antica Cabernet Sauvignon is something of a cross between Italy’s high-acid, food-friendly sensitivities and California’s overt fruitiness.  This wine could not have come from Italy, but there is something Italian about it nonetheless.

91 Points