Photo: Fran Miller

Stellar Napa Valley Wines to Please the Oenophile on Your Gift List

Nov. 2nd, 2020

Forget the cashmere, the cologne, and even the sports car. If you’ve got a wine lover on your gift list, give him/her what he/she really wants: a bottle of the good stuff. And we mean the REALLY good stuff. Each of these stellar Napa Valley wines is sure to wow even the most superior palate. Beneficiaries surely will be grateful. And bonus, these are gifts that are meant to be shared, ideally with the gift giver. Salut!

Photo: Jimmy Hayes

Brand Napa Valley 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ($300): This Pritchard Hill winery’s flagship wine is the highest expression of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Sourced from Brand Napa Valley’s stunning 110-acre estate vineyard overlooking Oakville, and featuring their best barrels, this 100% Cab is crafted to reflect the power, opulence, and finesse of the famed vineyard’s uppermost and rockiest plot. At 1,400 feet, the low-yielding vines struggle, producing small, intensely flavored berries with great color, concentration, and structure. Farmed with great attention to detail, these blocks produce Brand’s richest Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 400 cases were produced.

Photo: Bob McClenahan

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2017 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon ($285): Perhaps no wine showcases the stunning quality of Cliff Lede’s estate terroir and winemaking better than its Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, the crown jewel of Napa Valley’s Cliff Lede portfolio. The fascinatingly mosaic 2017 Poetry (a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot) possesses a deep garnet color and is front-loaded with crushed black currants, warm slate, violets, and Luxardo cherry aromas. An extraordinarily velvety texture pulses with notes of rainier cherry, espresso roast, molasses, paprika, and hoisin. The remarkable finish is layered with unsmoked cigar, new cast iron, and melted black licorice aromas. This one will age gracefully for 20+ years or more.

Photo: Fran Miller

Yao Ming Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($259): NBA Hall-of-Famer Yao Ming, formerly with the Houston Rockets, has been quietly making critically acclaimed wines since 2010 from some of the most renowned vineyard sources in Napa Valley. Each year, winemaker Tom Hinde and Yao do final blending trials together, looking for finesse and elegance over power and brawn. This is his flagship red, sourced from vineyards from the Ming ranch in Oakville to their benchland vineyards in Rutherford. This elegant, fruit focused wine is a deep dark purple color with intense hues. The fruit is framed with barrel notes of toast and baking spice. The palate has rich yet supple, lush depth from integrated tannin structure. It is approachable now and will age for many years.

Photo: Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Joseph Phelps 2017 Insignia ($300): This proprietary red Bordeaux-style blend has been a signature Joseph Phelps bottling for forty years and is recognized as one of the world’s most iconic wines. The 2017 vintage is the rarest offering of Insignia in twenty years. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc from estate-grown Napa Valley vineyard, this fresh and focused wine is plush and velvety in texture. It opens in the glass with heady aromas of mocha, cedar, roasted espresso, blueberry, and ripe plum, followed by black cherry, blackberry preserve, spice box, and vanilla essence. Seamless tannins culminate in a lengthy, lingering finish. Wine critic James Suckling gives this one 96 points: “A beautiful, focused wine with a tight center palate of blackberries, blueberries and dark chocolate. Very subtle. Hints of mint and sage, too. Medium to full body and fine, racy tannins. A reserved and very pretty Insignia. Fresh finish. Hard not to drink now, but better in 2022.”

Photo: Fran Miller

Melka Estates 2016 Métisse Martinez Vineyard, Napa Valley ($225): As proprietors of Melka Estates, Philippe and Cherie Melka are a tour de force. Wine critic Robert Parker considers Philippe to be one of the top wine consultants in the world, while Cherie, a self-taught enologist, is equally impressive. The duo produces four distinct brands that reflect their philosophy of soil-driven wines. This Métisse selection is the second vintage from the Martinez Vineyard located on the famed Pritchard Hill at 1200 feet in elevation above Saint Helena. The iconic wines from this area are noted for their complexity. A blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 23 percent Petit Verdot and 17 percent Cabernet Franc, Métisse features aromas of minerality and crushed rock along with dark cherry, strawberry, and toast. It is an incredibly multi-dimensional wine with great length and refined tannins.

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TOR Napa Valley 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Melanson Vineyard ($225): After retirement from a distinguished career at Beringer, Tor Kenward took his expertise and with his wife Susan started TOR. The plan was simple; his wines would come from only the best blocks in great vineyard sites that he knew and revered, such as Beckstoffer To Kalon, Vine Hill Ranch, Tierra Roja, Hyde, Beresini, and Melanson, where this wine originates from atop iconic Pritchard Hill. Higher elevation and afternoon breezes from the Pacific cool the vineyard in the warm afternoons, creating ideal real estate for world-class Cabernet. This 2018 is a darker version of Melanson than Tor typically produces; it is plush, rich, and soft, showing minerality and intense dark fruit. The drinking window for this wine will be very long.

Photo: Fran Miller

Stags' Leap 2017 Audentia Cabernet Sauvignon ($200): Established in 1893, Stags’ Leap Winery is one of the oldest wine estates within the acclaimed Stags Leap District. Using the finest grapes from their 80-acre vineyard and from quality-focused growers, Stags’ Leap wines embody a natural balance, exhibiting both intensity and finesse. This beautiful, intense, multilayered, rich and indulgent wine has incredible depth of color and balance. On the nose and palate there are lush dark berry flavors. Blackberry and blueberry compote, black cherry and strawberry liquor notes are present alongside floral notes of violet, hibiscus leaf, star anise, clove, ginger and candied orange peel, giving the perception of mulled wine spice – an influence from the well-integrated subtle oak aging.

Photo: Theorem Vineyards

Theorem Vineyards 2017 Voir Dire ($145): Perched on the northern slope of Diamond Mountain at 1100 feet above sea level with sweeping views of Mount St. Helena, Theorem Vineyards is the result of Kisha and Jason Itkin’s many years of restoration and renovation. The site’s unique location, with its special blend of minimal fog, abundant sunlight, and volcanic soils, yields greatness in the vineyard and in their wines. This, their flagship wine, is made by Thomas Brown from the oldest vines on their beautiful estate. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is complex and captivating and built to age. Power and intensity mark the rich layered aromas of ripe plums, fresh blackberries, and notes of baked strawberries, Tahitian vanilla bean, milk chocolate and black licorice. On the palate the wine is broad and structured. This is an opulent vintage that can be enjoyed now or cellared for years to come. 

Photo: Fran Miller

Sullivan Rutherford Estate 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($110): Situated in the heart of Napa’s Rutherford AVA, Sullivan Rutherford Estate has produced Cabernet Sauvignon gems for nearly five decades. This wine, made by Sullivan’s winemaker Jeff Cole, exhibits classic savory Rutherford Dust characteristics, and strikes the perfect balance between power and elegance. It is refined, with an intensity of aroma and structure, and notes of blueberry and dark chocolate. Cole considers this 2017 vintage to be the best quality yet in Sullivan’s history due to the culmination of perfect growing conditions, farming and winemaking execution. It was also the first vintage to undergo a new aging process developed by Cole, in which significant portions of the wine were sealed in barrels with a wooden bung for 18 months, resulting in enhanced richness and concentration.

Fran Endicott Miller

Fran Endicott Miller is a luxury focused freelance feature and travel writer for a variety of lifestyle publications and websites, editor-at-large for, senior contributor to Napa Valley Life Magazine, and a California editor for luxury travel concierge service Essentialist, specializing in the Napa Valley. Prior to her journalism career she held positions in the fields of politics, television, and professional sports, and is proud to have established the Golden State Warriors’ first community relations department and programs. Principled and genuine, she is known for thoughtful and thorough coverage, and for the quality of her writing. When not traveling with her husband Dan, she can be found walking her neighborhood with her beloved Golden Retriever Nate. ...(Read More)