Is pinot noir the ultimate red wine? (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Michael Tercha/TNS
Photo: Michael Tercha/TNS

The other face of Napa Cabernet

There is little question that cabernet sauvignon is the Napa Valley's money grape. As a stand-alone grape, it produces some of the most expensive and sought-after red wines in America. And, as a blending agent, it is the backbone of most of the Napa Valley's most coveted and traditional Bordeaux-style red blends.

This is Napa's strength. 

But there is another side of the Cabernet story, one told eloquently by Paraduxx, a sister winery to the renowned Duckhorn (where merlot is king). 

Paraduxx was founded on the premise of blending zinfandel with other red grapes from the Napa Valley. The results were often spectacular. In recent years, Paraduxx has expanded its repertoire of blends, and those are spectacular as well. 

That point was driven home to me recently when I sampled two new Paraduxx blends from the 2014 vintage. Both are modestly labeled "Red Wine" with the appellation being the determining identifier. 

The "Atlas Peak" ($80) is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese, the latter being the "money" grape of Tuscany. Long ago, the great Italian winemaker Piero Antinori suggested the Atlas Peak region off the Silverado Trail in southern Napa would be an excellent place to grow sangiovese. 

The "Howell Mountain" ($80) borrows a familiar theme from Australia and blends cabernet sauvignon with syrah. Both varieties do well on Howell Mountain, situated in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley above the fog line, which is important. The southwest sun exposure guarantees optimum ripeness for these two world-class grapes. 

Both wines exhibit exceptional depth and richness, with classic tannin structure that suggests they will age beautifully. I assigned a score of 96 to the Atlas Peak and a 95 to the Howell Mountain. Though pricey, they are still less expensive than many Napa Valley blends of comparable quality. 

What's more, they are not what you've come to expect from Napa. They are different in a very good way. They demonstrate the versatility of the Napa Valley. They are a triumph in every respect. 

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine. 

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