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A Taste of Oakville
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 15, 2013
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Nickel & Nickel, Napa Valley-Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon, Branding Iron Vineyard 2009 ($100) and Martin Stelling Vineyard 2009 ($155):  Last year I attended a seminar and tasting spotlighting the Oakville district of Napa Valley, which was organized by the Oakville Winegrowers Association.  It was an eye-opening experience, thanks not only to the superb wines but also to the commentary of expert panelists such as geologist and author David Howell, Master of Wine Mark deVere, Master Sommelier Paul Roberts and winegrower Tor Kenward, who together described and explained what makes Oakville a special terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon.  Two months later, with a taste of 2009 Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet in my mouth, the whole experience came back to me:  I was again tasting Oakville.

One of the points that the seminar made clear is that huge diversity exists within the Oakville district in terms of soil origins, soil types, and climate factors such as fog and sunshine.  “Think of Oakville like Burgundy,” Roberts remarked. He also advised that we pay attention to how the wines feel in our mouths in terms of their tannins and dry extract.  What resonated for me in the Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet in fact was the very fine but very condensed tannins that run though the wine like an earthy minerality.

Nickel & Nickel produces 13 single-vineyard Cabernets, six of which are from vineyards in Oakville.  Compelled to compare the Branding Iron Vineyard 2009 with another Nickel & Nickel Cab from Oakville, I opened the 2009 Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet.  This was something of an unfair comparison because the Stelling is one of the winery’s flagship wines, only 445 cases produced and, at $155, significantly costlier than the Branding Iron, which is $100 a bottle for 1565 cases produced.  Both vineyards lie in the western reaches of the Oakville district, but Stelling vineyard is closer to the Mayacamas Mountains.

The 2009 Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a superb Cabernet, majestic in size but very graceful, with concentrated fresh-berry fruit character that holds its own in the face of the wine’s still-youthful oak tannin.  The wine is big but not at all overblown.  In time, its subtle notes of mineral earthiness, mint, chocolate and spice will meld with the fruity flavors, the tannins will melt and the wine will be even more impressive than it is now.

The 2009 Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a less imposing wine and very nuanced even at this young age.  I returned again and again to the nose to find tart berries, perfume, black cherry, or delicate, near-floral notes.  In the mouth the wine is full-bodied, of course, but it is lean of structure, almost taut when first poured, with lively flavors that include fresh berry, herbal nuances, and earthy mineral notes.  With air, the wine flows easily in the mouth, and fruit floats above very fine and delicate tannins.  The wine covers the mouth completely and thrusts rearward to a savory herbal, minerally finish.

Both wines are entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, and both spent 18 months in French oak but the new oak component was only 43 percent for the Branding Iron, compared to 63 percent new oak on the Stelling.

Both wines will give you a glimpse of the special terroir of Oakville, where power combines with earthiness, and fruit flavors make room for mineral, savory, and herbal notes, especially on the finish.

92 points, for the Branding Iron Vineyard
94 points for the Martin Stelling Vineyard