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A Cabernet with Historic Roots
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 11, 2009
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J. Davies, Diamond Mountain District - Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($79):  I do love California’s mountain Cabernets!  They combine power with character, and richness with restraint, pushing the limit of Cabernet‘s intensity without going over the top.  Now I’m adding another Cabernet to my list of favorites in this style:  The 2005 J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon.

J. Davies is a relative newcomer:  The 2005 is only the fifth vintage of this wine.  But the Davies name is rich with history.  The Davies family founded Napa Valley’s renowned sparkling wine house, Schramsberg, in 1965, when it revived the property founded by Jacob Schram in 1862.  Jack L. Davies and his wife, Jamie, were leaders among Napa Valley’s vintners and were champions of the region for several decades.  The Davies family today still owns Schramsberg and this Cabernet, named in honor of the family’s late patriarch, Jack.

This wine comes from three vineyard parcels totaling 42 acres that sit at elevations of 500 to 1000 feet on Napa Valley’s western slopes.  The vineyard land itself is historic:  Two of the three parcels, established in 1862 by Jacob Schram, formed Napa Valley’s earliest hillside vineyard.  The third, contiguous, parcel is part of land that was sold by Schram to Colin McEachran in 1877 and planted to vines in 1878; Schramsberg purchased that vineyard in 1985.

Schramsberg replanted all this vineyard land to Bordeaux grape varieties beginning in 1994; previously the land had grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Jack Davies played a role in the decision to grow Cabernet and other Bordeaux varieties there, but the first vintage of the wine in 2001 came three years after his death.

In the 2005 vintage, J. Davies Cabernet is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec and 8% Petit Verdot.  That it has no Merlot is evident when you taste the wine:  Although the wine has the softness of a great Merlot, its lean, compact and powerful structure says Cabernet, and it seems to me these qualities are only heightened by the Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The wine’s aroma--rich and deep but not particularly intense--suggests dark berries, cassis, lead pencil minerality and the vaguest herbal note.  On the palate, the wine is rich and velvety-soft with considerable tannin that lends substance but is almost an afterthought because it melts so beautifully into the ripe fruit character.  Flavors of dark, ripe fruits and earthy, mineral notes are as just as intense as I want them to be, and continue long across the palate.  The long, rich finish repeats the mineral notes of the aroma and flavor.

The wine’s varietal composition does vary from year to year, but only the 2003 and 2004 contained any Merlot and then no more than 5% (in the 2004).  Malbec, on the other hand, has gained in importance every year, increasing from just 2% in the 2001 to 15% in the soon-to-be-released 2006.  Petit Verdot first appeared in the wine in 2004 and its presence is also increasing.  Associate winemaker Sean Thompson credits Malbec with intensifying the blue/black Cabernet fruit character, and Petit Verdot with bringing structure, spice and black fruit to the wine.

This wine spent 22 months in French oak barrels, 78% of which were new.  That the oak is so beautifully integrated at this point speaks to the quality of the fruit, harvested at just two tons per acre.  The wine is drinking perfectly now, to my taste, but can certainly sustain ten years of cellaring, and probably more.  Power, richness, concentration of flavor, but not overblown:  Why I love mountain Cabs.

93 Points