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2008 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley

Drive about as far up Howell Mountain as you think you can. Then keep driving to reach Black Sears. Their 24-acre estate vineyard sits at 2,400 feet above sea-level. That ties it for the highest in the Napa Valley AVA with the Mayacamas Vineyard on Mt. Veeder. That puts the vines above the fog so sun is plentiful. The altitude and cooling breezes keep them from getting too hot during the summer though.

Black Sears is a small winery. They don’t have a tasting room. But, if you call for an appointment, they’ll be happy to take you on a vineyard tour and finish up with some barrel tasting. The barrel room took me by surprise.

The winery and lab are bucolic. Closed-top fermentation tanks of stainless steel sit beneath big shade trees. A winery dog keeps the vineyard rattlesnakes at bay, though you should step carefully. If you arrive on a rainy day as I did, you’ll want to be wearing shoes that don’t mind mud. But beneath the old farm buildings is a new and extensive barrel cave. In that cave, you’ll see and taste upcoming vintages of the French-oak aged Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend and Zinfandel. You will also see, but definitely not taste, barrels of Schrader and those from some other high-flyers of Napa Valley.

The Black Sears winemaker is Thomas Rivers Brown, Food & Wine magazine's Winemaker of the Year for 2010 and one of the most sought-after in California. Among his other clients are Schrader, Outpost (Black Sears’ nearest neighbor) and Hestan Vineyards. The 2008 vintage was his first at Black Sears, which makes some of their barrel rack space available to others.

Black Sears’ terroir gives their Zinfandel a distinctive black pepper characteristic. In addition to their own wine, the Zin is used by a few other top labels. A Turley version once collected 96 points from Robert Parker.

Black Sears Cabernet Sauvignon is less unusual, but no less enticing. It has the dense black fruit common to Howell Mountain Cabs. The tannins are strong too, as you would expect from Howell Mountain, but finer. I have found this to be the case with Cabernet Sauvignon from nearby Lamborn Family made by Heidi Barrett also.

I purchased a few bottles of the 2008 Black Sears Cabernet Sauvignon for myself after tasting the newer vintages in barrel. Recently, I tasted it blind for this review with another Howell Mountain Cabernet. Appearance alone tells you that this wine is young and intense. In the glass, it’s an opaque purple-black with a narrow purple rim. A rush of blackberry, black cherry, black currant, oak, vanilla, spice and menthol aromas tumble over the rim. The palate is rich. Powdery, drying tannins with dark chocolate flavors slow the onset of coconut and black fruit.

Because of its tannins and the freshness of its oak, the 2008 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that will be at its best after at least three years in bottle. With extensive decanting, it is very enjoyable now though. After my initial tasting, done after the wine spent 60-minutes of breathing in a decanter, I rebottled the remainder. I stopped it up without vacuum and put it in the fridge. 36 hours later, after coming up to temperature gently, the wine had blossomed. The tannins were no longer a barricade but a reassuring frame for the juicy fruit. On my tongue, the wine was a blanket of blackberry-flavored cashmere. Best from 2014 through 2020. Highly Recommended.


2008 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley
2008-Black-Sears-CabernetRating: Highly Recommended

Drink: 2014 through 2020
Release Date: November, 2010

Retail Price: $80.00
Winemaker: Thomas Rivers Brown
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, clones 337 &191
Origin: 100% Howell Mountain

Aging: 21+ months in French oak, 75% new, 25% year-old
Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

Production: 150 cases

The wine above was purchased for review.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.