Having a friend who has graduated from the San Francisco Wine School is certainly useful. She first tipped me off about Napa Valley’s Cakebread Cellars a while ago, and I’m now a big fan of its award-winning Chardonnay (from about $44). So when she recently insisted that I try its 2012 Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (from about $145, pictured), I was intrigued and splurged on a bottle for a special occasion.
Cakebread Cellars was founded in 1972 by Jack and Dolores Cakebread (their real name), and is now run by the couple’s two sons Bruce and Dennis. This family affair consistently produces prize-winning flagship wines, such as the 2011 Pinot Noir (from about $38) and the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (from about $30). Dancing Bear Ranch is Cakebread’s premium yet lesser-known label, produced on the western slope of Howell Mountain in the northern part of Napa Valley. Here, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietals are planted in rocky, volcanic soil, overseen by master winemaker Julianne Laks. Under her watchful eye, the vines are “stressed” by the tough terrain. This, I’ve learnt, results in fewer but intensely flavourful grapes, which in turn yield fruity wines without overbearing tannins.
The 2012 Dancing Bear Ranch production – a 95 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and five per cent Merlot mix – was aged for 21 months in French oak barrels, adding a spiciness to the dense, complex flavour. Notes of blackberry and cherry – or, as my oenophile friend says, “forest-floor scents” – combine with hints of liquorice and dark chocolate.
We enjoyed our bottle with seared steak, but it would pair well with ribs and roasts as well (you’ll find it served at meat-centric restaurants such as Goodman in London). I’m told that the 2012 Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon will age beautifully in the bottle for a decade or more. Not likely in my house – the full-bodied texture and lingering finish are just too good to pass up.