Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Hey! Isn't this a Scotch Blog?
I know, I know, the title of this blog makes no mention of wine reviews. Nevertheless, I do stumble upon great or note worthy bottles from time to time, and the 2005 Sterling Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is one of them. So, here goes . . .

When I find myself in a restaurant . . .
Whenever I am in a restaurant and unfamiliar with the wines appearing on the wine list, and not in an adventurous mood, I usually choose a Sterling Vineyards wine. With Sterling Vineyards, I am comforted by the knowledge that the wines they produce meet certain fundamental benchmarks of quality. By 'benchmarks' I mean, the wine will have a pleasant nose, decent body and a pleasant flavor profile. The other reason I choose Sterling wines is because they are the number one best selling wine purchased by American restaurants. So, I know it will probably be on the wine list before I even crack it open.

Entry Level Napa Appellation - Reasonable Price
The practice of restaurateurs is to double (at a minimum) the regular price of a bottle of wine and some times mark it up even more. So, ordering a bottle to share with a guest can get pricey. When not partying like it's 1999, the Napa bottling by Sterling wines enables me to stay within some semblance of a budget as they are reasonably priced.

Sterling also puts out another bottling branded as their Vintner's Collection which are also very common in restaurant wine lists. Some good value there too. They are even cheaper than the Napa brand by Sterling. Nevertheless, I'll save my comments on the Vintner's Collection for another review.

Minimal Decanting Needed
In high-end restaurants, if you know the establishment, know what you and your guests will be ordering from the menu (or possibly off menu), you can select a special wine, and they can decant it for 30 minutes or the appropriate time prior to your arrival and so it will be ready for consuming as those lovely appetizers land in front of you. If you are like me, and do not dine in such fine restaurants often, but rather are in more humble haunts where the food is good, but knowledge of decanting is limited, well again, Sterling Vineyards is a good choice. I find most of their wines benefit from a bit of air, let it oxidize in the glass for 10 minutes or so, and you will get more rounded flavors to compliment your meal.

Sterling Vineyards Napa Bottling
Under the Napa brand by Sterling are several different offerings. They are: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Each can be great depending on the vintage, but even in an "off-year" they still work to satisfy.

The 2003 vintage was the first of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon I tried. It was a show stopper! I couldn't believe how great it was and for the price! Since then I have regularly purchased it in restaurants as well as for home.

Thinking of Cellaring? Think Again
I liked the 2003 vintage of Sterling Napa brand for the Cab so much that I bought a case and thought well it's so great, I am sure I will enjoy it for many years to come. I contacted the vineyard and inquired about the aging capacity and they assured me that I would be able to enjoy it for a good ten years from the date of bottling. Well, my personal experience indicates otherwise. While the 2003 was fabulous when I drank it upon release in 2006/7, it started to fade fast in 2008. By fade, I mean it lost its powerful flavor profile, went from concentrated to flat. I have known this to be true of other Sterling bottlings and their respective vintages. Bottom line: These wines are intended for immediate consumption, not cellaring in the hopes that they will improve with age. Now this statement applies only with respect to their Napa and Vintners brands. Their Reserve label has great potential for improvement by way of years of cellaring, but again, that is a subject for a separate review.

Overview of the 2005 Sterling Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2005 vintage delivers what you expect from a Californian cab, which is lots of dark berry fruit, nice aromas, some oak, a little jam sweet, a finish without alcohol or water detectable on the palate. It works! A good middle of the road, mainstream crowd pleaser. When you order a cali cab, you have a certain expectation as to the flavor profile and it meets and maybe exceeds. For the price you will be satisfied.

Now that we have an overview, lets turn to my tasting note.

Chocolate, anise and some vanilla. Very nice.

Sweet, ripe, black cherries/black berries moving into some creamy American oak, silky tannins which do not offer up any resistance, and medium bodied weight in the mouth with a little zing of peppercorns ever so soft.

The length of flavor remaining once the wine has left the palate is moderate. Great cabs will leave the flavor lingering like Big Foots footprint in Alaska. Not the case here, but that is acceptable given the price.

General Impressions
I like this wine. It goes well with food, cheese or on its own. It does what it sets out to do, provide a cali cab at the price point stated. It is not the finest cali cab out there but you are not paying the finest price either. Online this can be purchased for as low as $15 approximately. At that price, it is an absolute steal of a deal!

A truly great cali cab could be distinguished from this effort in terms of concentration of flavors. The great ones like Caymus and Cakebread are very concentrated beams of berries and fruit dancing upon your palate while Sterling's taste profile is a little jammy or a little too sweet. I am now speaking as a serious wine nut. The Sterling is by no means flawed or offensive in any way, but not in the league of the great ones for the aforementioned reasons. Mind you the great ones come at a much greater price too!

Still good stuff, that I will not hesitate to buy when casually dining in restaurants across America! While this review pertains to the 2005 vintage, I think it would serve as a basic guide to subsequent vintages as the wine is fairly consistent year to year.


© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. This is my first time i visit here and I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially it's discussion, thank you. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

    1. Glad you enjoy the posts and discussion. Welcome to the blog!