The malignancy that “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” bears with it to most sommeliers these days is a perceived lack of affinity with food. Oftentimes this is a valid perception, with wines that can be delicious but also not particularly versatile: only giant red meat need apply. Prices don’t help. Then there are the exceptions, of which Matthiasson is one.
Trends and Brix
Steve Matthiasson is a pretty trendy winemaker these days (and born in Winnipeg no less), being named the winemaker of the year by SF Chronicle last year and making a range of highly coveted wines, including his famous Napa white blend. Though fame can often lead to price increases, Matthiasson has kept his prices very reasonable. This wine is a case in point, selling for around $65 retail and beating out Napa Cabs that cost twice as much.
The trick is a fundamentally different appreciation of viticulture than most Napa producers. Matthiasson picks far earlier than most others in Napa, deciding that excessive sun is too much for his grapes and that, though it is possible to let them hang longer, earlier picking produces a fresher wine that suits his stylistic preferences. More precisely, each vintage Matthiasson aims to make all his Cabernet Sauvignon using grapes below 24 brix.
This is classic Napa Cabernet made in an elegant style that allows the vegetal and leafy characteristics of the grape to properly balance the fruit without dominating. But the wine is also fleshy and richly fruited, not tart. If you are a fan of old school Bordeaux or the Napa Cabs from the 1970’s, this is a wine for you. I found it a perfect pairing for a range of dishes at Chicago’s fantastic Trenchermen restaurant from fancy tater-tots, to gnocchi to hanger steak with forbidden rice. Each dish brought out something interesting and the wine and the wine helped elevate each dish. This is exactly what you want from great wine, and finally we can say that Napa Cabernet has re-entered the conversation.
Excellent to Excellent+
$108 on the winelist at Trenchermen and around $65 retail