What a difference a year makes.
The last time I tasted the ’06 Howell Mountain, it was beside one of my all-time favorite Blocks, the 345 Rutherford. Both these wines were exceptional, far exceeding any expectations of what I would expect from a $20 Napa Valley Cabernet. But these weren’t just Napa reds; these were district-specific wines from where cheap wines don’t originate, bottled anonymously in limited quantities, in one-off releases, most likely never to be repeated.Notes from my September 29, 2009 review:
We started by tasting the Howell, which smelled brighter and riper with a seemingly more approachable nose than Rutherford. Hints of brown sugar, caramel, mixed berries and maple on the nose was followed in the mouth by an acidic juicy nip that settled high in the back of the throat.
Age could easily pull the Howell Mountain Cabernet into equilibrium. It was clear from the start that this wine was showing the essential components of a great mountain Cabernet: leather and tobacco, mixed dark berries (sweet, tart and lush simultaneously confused), cedar and baked goods, spice and dried flowers. Each sip was delicious and unique, confident but still immature.
It was delicious but young—much has changed since then. This is now a big boy; bold and comfortable in its own skin. Spices are intense, chiefly cinnamon. The proud toasty oak/cedar notes are pleasing, but close to the brink of being off-putting to a palate that demands a negligible oak fingerprint. But, for what it’s worth, the oak is damn fine in this case, undeniably delicious. Most importantly, the fruit is not swallowed. There is a tough, natural essence to the fruit, like that picked off a sparse, weed-choked mountain plant. The fruit is black as hell, softly tannic, accented unmistakably with turpentine and plantains. I wish I had more. Huge energy.
p.s. The newly released Block 707 Stag’s Leap Cabernet is to be reviewed in the coming months!