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Go Big This Holiday

For the Big Cab Lover on Your List, a Napa Valley Region is Size Appropriate

When I was a kid, I loved big presents at Christmastime. Didn't really matter what was in the package, so long as the package was huge. While that's certainly no longer the case (very often a big box can contain, say, a vacuum cleaner), there are some things I still prefer big. Chief among them is Cabernet. I know it's not necessarily in vogue these days to like cabernet just because the tannins curl your toes. But for me, a big cab is a sure-fire way to satisfy my wine craving.

If you've got a Big Cab fan on your Christmas list — honestly, this is not an open request for presents — there is no better place in Napa to shop than Oakville. Like a mall for cab lovers, the area is ripe with cabernet sauvignon houses that year in and year out set the bar for wines made in the unapologetic cabernet tradition. Gifts from any of these great cab houses will surely please the Big Guy (or, Girl).

For a young winery, Nickel and Nickel (164 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville; 707-967-9600;, established in 1997 by the partners of Far Niente, makes a cab that is rich with tradition. The Oakville winery is established on the philosophy of producing 100 percent varietal, single-vineyard wines that express the personality of each vineyard. Last year, Wine Enthusiast said of the 2002 Dragonfly Cab, “Decadent, hedonistic, all those adjectives don't do credit to the fancy way this Cab hits the mouth. It's Renoir in a glass. Soft but firmly structured… Pure Napa Cab…” The Cab-lover on your list will appreciate the winery's Three Cabernets gift pack, which includes three single-vineyard wines: 2003 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville; 2003 Dragonfly Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena; and 2003 Vogt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain. The box sells for $260.

With a reputation that, for better or worse, rabidly precedes it, no conversation about Napa cabs is complete without Silver Oak Cellars (915 Oakville Cross Rd., Oakville, 707-944-2817; This legendary cab-only house has a cult-like following, perpetuated by their limited release schedule and a rigid practice of aging its wine 24 to 30 months in American oak barrels, then cellaring them another 18 months in the bottle. The wines are sufficiently hard to find. But for the season, Silver Oak offers some nice gift packages, including the Three Bottle Collection, featuring older Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ('98-2000) re-released just for the holidays. Packaged in a collectible wood box, these library wines sell for $240. Silver Oak this season also features a rare chance to buy a magnum of the 2001 Alexander Valley cab presented in a wood gift box for $130.

Despite the prevailing whimsy onsite, they take their cabernet seriously at PlumpJack Winery (620 Oakville Cross Rd., Oakville; 707-945-1220; a gorgeous winery tucked away off Oakville Cross road and protected by fifty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. It's not their only varietal, of course, but aficionados will undoubtedly be pleased by the well-crafted cab produced by an establishment Wine Enthusiast has ranked the No. 1 Winery in the World.

This season, PlumpJack is offering a two-bottle gift pack that includes the 2003 Screwcap Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Cork Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Robert Parker wrote in The Wine Advocate, “The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ratchets up the power and concentration, but remains remarkably well-focused and balanced. Inky purple with notes of blue and black fruits intermixed with minerals and vanilla, this concentrated, impressively endowed wine will need 3-4 years of bottle-age. It should evolve for 12-20 or more years.” The pack sells for $370.