A comparison of two excellent Napa Valley wines; the hillside grown O’Shaughnessy and the valley-floor grown Revana.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers March 30, 2011
An easy way to appreciate the nuances, flavors and structure of a well-crafted wine is to open a second bottle. Side-by-side comparison of wines created from identical varietals but sourced from dissimilar locations often reveals more than tasting them individually. Even wines from the same vineyard might vary widely each year depending upon the weather or the techniques used during a particular season.
Truly great wines maintain an underlying consistency that speaks to the specific site where the grapes are grown. The French term “terroir” embodies this concept of location as a determinant of a wine’s essence. Grapes grown in the verdant California climate are, and should be, different from those grown in less hospitable climes and those differences ideally are reflected in the wines they produce.
The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for Champagne are grown at the very limits of the vines’ survivability and the resulting stress is what creates the flavors that are so prized in the wine. On the opposite side of the world and growing spectrum is Australian Shiraz whose flavors mirror the rich agricultural conditions. In some Burgundy vineyards, the difference in soils between one row of vines and the next is sufficient to change the characteristics, quality and ultimately the price of the wine.
This distinctiveness can be appreciated in California’s Napa Valley by comparing the hillside-grown to the valley floor-grown Cabernet Sauvignons. In 1997, Houston cardiologist Madaiah Revana purchased one of the last remaining unplanted tracts just north of St. Helena after being told by noted vineyard manager Jim Barbour that the well-drained gravel soil was perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. Revana hired Barbour and the legendary wine-maker, Heidi Barrett, to develop the valley-floor property and design its Tuscan-styled winery. The nine-acre property is planted mostly with Cabernet Sauvignon along with some Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec.
The Revana Cabernets have the ripe and rich fruit flavors found in other first-class properties located along the Napa Valley floor. The sultry Revana Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 displays deep dark, soft flavors of blackberries, cassis and dark cherries and is accented with subtle oak and smoke at the end. Even better is the more elegant Revana Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, with tobacco and spice aromas that lead into layers of deliciously balanced dark currants, plums and black cherries that extend delightfully into a long graceful finish.
Grapes grown on the less fertile Napa slopes are smaller with more concentrated flavors. The wines from the O’Shaughnessy Estate demonstrate the significant difference between hillside and floor wines by being more intense and spicier. Betty O’Shaughnessy Woolls built the facility in 2003 on the slope of Howell Mountain overlooking the Napa Valley below. The stone and glass winery that blends in with the surrounding hillside features an 11,000 square foot cave drilled into the mountain to store barrels and to house her husband’s wine collection.
Redolent with floral and spice aromas, the O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is magnificently complex with intense, multidimensional flavors including blueberries, black cherries, cassis, raspberries and spice with a touch of leather and smoke in the impressive length. The lavender-scented O’Shaughnessy Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is silky and dense, displaying gorgeous anise, mint and cassis flavors along with spicy smoked meat, black cherry and blueberry notes that lead into a lingering delicious finish. Also stunning is the O’Shaughnessy Merlot 2007, a full-bodied, intensely chocolate and plum-flavored delight accented with dark berries, strawberries and coffee and a finish that seems to last forever.