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A Good Glass of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-or Three
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 25, 2022
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Brandlin Estate “ThS” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley- Mount Veeder, 2018 ($135):  I do love a glass of good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I love the refined, elegant examples, and I love the powerful examples, provided that alcohol and new oak don’t dominate the wine and the fruit does not taste raisined.  But I’m partial to the Cabs from the Mount Veeder AVA, where vines grow at the highest elevations in Napa Valley; the growing season is the longest, promising slow, complete flavor development; and the crop levels average about half that of other appellations, fostering concentration.  

Three wines from Brandlin Estate (formerly called Brandlin Winery) have me particularly excited.  Two of them are labelled as Cabernet Sauvignon, while the third, called “Henry’s Keep,” is labelled a Red Wine (although Cabernet dominant), and all of them are from the fairly cool 2018 vintage. They are all amazingly smooth and are very flavorful with rich but fresh fruit expression.

The 2018 Brandlin Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) is 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot at 8, 7 and 5 percent, respectively.  The deep, dark-fruit aroma suggests blackberry, black cherry, and cassis, along with smoke, vanilla, fresh herbs, cocoa/coffee and black tea.  The wine is full-bodied and fills your mouth with the flavor of its fruit, while the wine’s structure — its firm but sleek tannin and moderately high acidity — adds character and dimension.  You might not believe how silky and smooth the texture is: it makes the wine rounded, not lean like a typical Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine will improve over the next several years, but frankly, I can drink it right now.

Henry’s Keep Proprietary Red Wine ($115) is a blend of four Bordeaux varieties but anchored by Cab Sauvignon.  Its name honors Henry Brandlin whose family established the estate on Mount Veeder in the 1870’s and who began grapegrowing in 1926.  (In 1998, Henry’s son, Chester, entrusted the property to the Schmidheiny family who, like the Brandlins, are a multigenerational Swiss family of winegrowers.)  The grapes for this wine are drawn from the estate’s most remarkable blocks of vines.  In the 2018 wine, the blend runs to 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with 7 percent Malbec, and Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot at 3 percent each.

The 2018 Henry’s Keep offers a complex aroma combining dark fruit such as blackberry, red fruits such as boysenberry, spicy oak, herbal notes of mint and menthol and a floral whiff.  The wine is darker and denser in your mouth than the 2018 Estate Cab, with particularly concentrated fruit interwoven with firm, tight tannins.  In the mouth, savory mineral flavors such as graphite emerge, along with tertiary notes of leather.  The wine is powerful and cries for several years of aging for its tannin to integrate.  And yet even now it is smooth and inviting. Drink it quickly, and you’ll barely notice those tannins on the rear palate.  But taste it more slowly, and you’ll fully appreciate its minerally suppleness and its dual face of tannin strength.

The 2018 Brandlin Estate “ThS” Cabernet Sauvignon ($135) is named for the estate’s owner, Thomas Schmidheiny.  Winemaker Steve Rogstad notes that ThS is always the first wine that he blends.  “As we taste through every barrel, we are looking for the ‘Wow!’ wines.”  In 2018, all those anointed barrels held Cabernet Sauvignon, and for the first time ever, the wine is entirely from that grape.  All the wine’s highlights and lowlights, its power, and its freshness, are expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon on Mount Veeder in 2018.

This is a wondrous wine.  It is huge, with smooth and silky flesh built around a structure of ripe tannins and acid depth.  Its flavors are as ripe as can be and yet they express fresh fruit — not baked or roasted fruit.  To me, its nose suggests ripe, dark plum, black currant and black tea, with spicy and inky mineral notes.  The wine enters your mouth smooth and full, richly flavorful with almost-sweet fruit and then it builds toward character and power as its tannin emerges to support the fruit, and ultimately finishes with enormous concentration. This wine has a great future, even as it defies you to enjoy it now.

Although the 2018 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is the best bet for earlier drinking, all three of these wines are remarkable.  They are eager to please and yet as solid and characterful as you want a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to be.

2018 Brandlin Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder  91 Points
2018 Brandlin Estate Henry’s Keep, Mount Veeder  93
2018 Brandlin Estate “ThS” Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder  94       

Read more of Mary Ewing-Mulligan's Wine Column:  "On My Table"
More wine reviews:       Wine Reviews