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A Cab That Stands Apart
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 17, 2011
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Phifer Pavitt, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Date Night” 2007 ($75):  Wine names can be misleading.  I had a bottle of this Cabernet kicking around for a few months and maybe would never have gotten around to tasting it, had my husband (a.k.a. house sommelier) not presented it to me blind.  My issue had been the name, “Date Night.”  Another  “lifestyle” brand, I thought, remnants of  “Little Black Dress,” “White Lie” and similar female-directed names stuck uncomfortably in my mental craw.  But in fact this is a serious wine.  And seriously commendable.

I had just finished a blind tasting of six Merlots and Cabernets from Napa Valley and Columbia Valley in Washington State.  I found those wines almost indistinguishable: here a softer wine, there more oak on the finish, here $40, there $75, but a wine drinker could be happy (or not) with any of them.  Frustrated and ready to postpone the quest for a commendable red to another day, I agreed to try this wine, also blind.  I encountered liveliness of aroma, freshness of flavor, and -- for lack of a more orthodox word -- more energy than the other wines.  It was so different that I considered whether it might be French or Italian, with the reservation that it’s immediacy of appeal in the mouth was more characteristic of the New World.  I thought: I want to drink this.

Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and her husband Shane Pavitt initiated their dream of having a small winery in Napa Valley a decade ago, and last year opened the winery itself, which is located in Calistoga.  The grapes come from Pope Valley, in the eastern part of the county, on the other side of Howell Mountain from Calistoga.  (Pope Valley is not one of the 14 sub-AVAs of the Napa Valley AVA, and the wine thus uses the straight “Napa Valley” appellation.)  The couple decided to call the wine “Date Night” because it was over several years of date nights that they nurtured their dream for the winery.

This 2007 is the third vintage of Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is the product of a largely hands-off winemaking regime on the part of winemaker Ted Osborne, who ferments the grapes via ambient yeasts and allows the malolactic conversion to occur via ambient bacteria when the wine is in barrels.  The grapes cold-soak before fermentation and the wine spends three weeks in contact with the grape skins before going into barrels.  The wine contains 3 percent Petite Verdot.

Here’s what to expect from this wine:  The aroma is vibrant, expressing fresh red and black berries, a bit of mocha, an ink-like minerality, and tingling spiciness.  In your mouth the wine is dry -- no “sweetness of fruit and alcohol but technically dry,” as my tasting notes so often read these days.  Despite being dry, it is not austere, because it has immediate flavors of ripe, fresh dark berries and a soft texture that caresses your tongue.  As with most New World wines, the wine’s impact tails off towards the rear of your mouth, but here it doesn’t die short, and you are left with a lingering impression of dark berry fruit, concentrated stuff-of-the grapes, and a tangy mineral note.  Such is the balance in this wine that I find the 14.8% alcohol declaration surprising: it seems less.

I would not hesitate to drink this wine now, but it can surely age for five-plus years, probably losing some of that energy that I love now, but gaining even more complexity.  Choose a fairly large Bordeaux-style glass and drink the wine with grilled sausages, grilled poultry, or other moderately-flavorful dishes.

93 Points