A Serious California Cab (Seriously Good!)


My friend, Chuck Caldwell, introduced me to Altamura wines.  Chuck is one of those rare people from Texas who was visiting and enjoying Napa wines during their early Renaissance in the 1970’s.  He has many wonderful stories about some of the valley’s iconic wine makers.  I only wish I could have traveled on those old, quiet, Napa Valley roads with Chuck…preferably in a little convertible.  Chuck has been a wine mentor for me.  He has great recollections of meals eaten and wines consumed with them.  His treasured friendships with people like Frank Altamura are just pleasant chapters in Chuck’s storied life. I always tell Chuck, “I can’t wait to hear the story about when you raced in the Iditarod.”   To me, Chuck’s done EVERYTHING, so running dogs in the Iditarod doesn’t seem too far-fetched.   Of course, there would be wine. It’s Chuck’s wine stories that have made me eager to reach out and pluck the grapes of all these beautiful wines and learn about the vineyards from whence they came.

So back to my serious Red.  I was introduced to Altamura wines by Chuck.    And on my last trip to Napa we visited Altamura vineyards.  The visit, of course, being arranged by Chuck.  He’s such a nice guy and we love his wife, Jane, too.   The Altamura estate is in Wooden Valley, located down an 11  mile woodsy, hair-pin-curve road running northeast out of Napa proper.  Altamura is the only winery in Wooden Valley that is within the Napa Valley AVA.  A word of advice, try to avoid this drive with a hangover or sitting in the back seat of the automobile.  Trust me.  All of us were slightly green on arrival… but we made a splendid recovery!!

The winery  is much further away from Napa in spirit.  The estate and surrounding area is very quiet and pastoral.  It truly is a road less traveled.    The recently built winery appears as though it was transported from Italy. The building is faced with stones ‘harvested’ from the estate.  The big wood doors have an old Italian feel while concealing  a very modern wine making facility inside.    I didn’t see it  completely finished.  I think the construction was done over several years… perhaps dictated by  the success of their harvests.   How very old school!!  Luckily, Napa has fairly predicable harvests.   During our visiting 2014, we arranged the details of our wine shipment of our  wine  in a modest, but very practical, portable trailer next door to the winery.  It was air-conditioned!  No one cared!

Altamura Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  A big, cocoa and coffee infused Cabernet.  Nice structure.  Still with acidity despite its ripeness.  Sublime with my Grass Fed ribeye, mashed Cauliflower ‘potatoes’ and steamed broccoli.  This Cab is lush, sensual, , and a joy to drink.  Soft tannins and polite acidity.     I am glad I have a few more bottles in the cellar.  This Altamura Cabernet has aged well .   Although this vintage is no longer available,  recent Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon vintages run $85-ish.

Altamura also produces several Italian varietal wines such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Negroamaro.  I have been so pleased with all of them.   I have also tried their Sauvignon Blanc which is Fume Blanc in style.  Well crafted and well praised… as long as you like yours oaked.

If you are out in Napa Valley, consider a stop in to Ciccio, the Altamura family restaurant in Yountville.   Inside this old Italian grocery store, we delighted in the casual atmosphere, excellent pizza and salads.  The menu offers everything from pasta,  wood grilled artichokes, to steak.  If you live to have a Negroni, the bar offers seven variations.  Additionally, all of the Altamura wines are available… and they are very, very nicely priced.

Thanks Chuck!!

 Time to catch a Cab

I recently stepped out to have lunch at Ruggles Black with my good friend, Kaylina, a wine rep.  I arrived at the restaurant first!  The blustery cold weather screamed hearty Cabernet!!  First option was a little weak and insipid (but I won’t name names!). Second option appeared pricy, as I don’t normally plunk down $60 for lunch wine.  But my tasting pour said “Yes!”   Perfect for winter weather and NOT so big and over oaked to be…well, boring.   Chateau Montelena 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga was my choice to enjoy while waiting on my friend.  I sent her a text to let her know what wine I had ordered for lunch.  I think it may have hurried her along.

Although this wine had a big blackberry presence, it had both sour and baked pie flavors. The sour acidity kept the oak in check and made every sip a pleasure.  The wine was smooth without being flabby.  I enjoyed teasing out notes of blueberry,  vanilla, eucalyptus, licorice and tobacco.   Perhaps because I had time to sit and relax, I found it to be a wine worthy of contemplation versus mindless consumption.  It kept me in good company until my friend arrived to enjoy it with me.

This solid performing wine can be picked up at your wine or liquor store for $40-50.  So $60 out for lunch is still a bargain.

South African Cabernet Sauvignon

  Pulled this out of the wine fridge.  Happy, because it’s a Cab!  Sad, because I have no recollection as to how I acquired it.  Stellakaya Wine of the Stars Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch in South Africa. 2008.  The wine is named for the bright star Antares in the constellation, Scorpious, and you would only know this if you recognized the scorpian on the label.  

This was a fun surprise.  I had no preconceived notions since I have no idea what I paid for this.  The wine is complex with flavor of rare roast beef, coffee, leather, dark plum, fig and eucalyptus.  Rare roast beef is good.  It’s a savory quality that I enjoy!  My mom always added instant coffee to her gravy for depth of flavor and color.  So all of this is welcomed by me!!

So I’m giving you the wide price range of $25-75.  How’s that??  Google was not my friend when it came to researching this wine!


In Case You Were Asking “Where is the Cab?”

Black  Coyote Reserve 2006 Napa Valley

It is ten years old and it has aged beautifully!  Although this wouldn’t fall into my everyday consumption, this wine is available at Specs in limited quantities (I checked!!).  This is in the $60-$70 range and I feel it was very good for the price.


A big, Napa cab with flavors of dark berry, dark ripe plum, with some cocoa and baking spice.  The flavor was robust and the tannins were smooth and velvety.  It was so darn easy to enjoy this wine.

The label puts the alcohol at 15.2%, but the leeway on labeling alcohol by volume is 1.5% in either direction.  I felt this one was close to 16%.  At that alcohol level, I recommend and advise that you enjoy it with food!  Something hearty such as red meat, whether steak, brisket, roast in red wine, or lamb.  Enjoy.