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A Napa Valley Cab of Moderation and Balance
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 27, 2013
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Liparita, Napa Valley-Oakville District (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($55):  I blind-tasted a group of California Cabernets recently and began thinking about the tasting descriptor, “extractive.”  It is common these days to praise red wines for their denseness of texture, for the sense they give us of containing a particularly high amount of the stuff of the grape and of winemaking.  Extractive red wines taste as if their grapes had soaked up every last bit of sun-blessed ripeness and all of it found its way into the wine in concentrated form, mingled with the gifts of oak.  Extractive red wines can be very good, but I believe they represent a style, rather than a level of quality.  The alternative style -- reds of refinement and elegance -- can also be very good.

As you might imagine, most of the California Cabs I tasted on that occasion were powerful, extractive reds, as dark in personality as they were in color.  And then there was this wine, Liparita Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville--relatively refined and subtle, and my favorite of the lot.

As is the case for many California wines today, Liparita is not a winery per se but a brand.  In this case, however, it is an historic brand that dates back to the late 19th century, when the wine came from an area on Howell Mountain and won awards internationally.  Liparita disappeared with Prohibition and re-appeared in 1987, but in 1996 the vineyard became part of Jackson Family Wines’ vineyard holdings.  In 2006 Spencer Hoopes, a Napa Valley vineyard owner, purchased the brand.  He now uses it for two Cabernet Sauvignon wines made from vineyards that he owns in Oakville and in Yountville.  The label of each wine is a replica of the original label from 1900, with the phrase “Pure California Wine” changed to reflect the wines’ modern Napa Valley origin.

Winemaker and partner Jason Fisher does a splendid job with both Liparita Cabernets, as well as with the Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) and two very good wines under the playful Hoopla label, an unoaked Chardonnay ($18) and a Cabernet-dominant blend called “The Mutt” ($21).  These wines all vary in weight and richness, of course, but to me they seem to share a common chord of moderation and balance -- and a common philosophy of sensible pricing.

The 2009 Liparita Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon is a moderately full-bodied red with lean structure and a fair share of oak tannin.  The aroma suggests fresh blackberry fruit, mixed peppercorns, and a slight toasty note; the wine’s flavors expand the range of the aroma to include blackcurrants, a charry note and a distinct non-fruity character that I’ll call mineral.  These aromas and flavors are a bit reserved, but they show concentration and focus, and they rise above the oak tannin.  Because the wine is not going for power, you can see through the structure to the fresh, intricate fruit within.  The wine ends on a savory note typical of Oakville.

Although this wine is less powerful in style than many a California Cabernet, it is statistically no wimp, with 14.9 percent alcohol, and 32 months in French oak barrels, 65 percent of which were new.  Right now it is terrific with foods that can mitigate tannin, such as juicy steak or cheesy dishes, but the wine will probably soften in the next year or two; I expect it to be drinking beautifully even ten years from now.  And it’s a great buy.

92 Points