Last summer, this lover of Italian wine ventured to Napa Valley in search of what his peers declared the best wineries to visit. I didn’t take this task lightly as I polled a number of message boards and trusted friends to come up with a list of the “not to be missed” wineries in Napa Valley. What a trip it was, as I tasted with wine makers, took in the beautiful landscapes and toured the vast vineyards of both giants and boutiques on my quest to understand Napa and all it had to offer.
However, there was one experience on this trip which truly stood out and remains, to this day, one of my most memorable tastings. It was my visit with Merrill Lindquist of EMH Vineyards, makers of “Black Cat” cabernet sauvignon.
Black Cat is the culmination of all the things I love about wine. For one, I want a wine that gives me a sense of place. I want the earth and the sky and the world that surrounds the vines to be somehow transcended into the bottle. Each vintage of Black Cat has given me just that. I can almost imagine that I’m back in Calistoga with a dry summer breeze blowing, a glass of wine in hand and a bowl of fresh picked peaches on the table. With each sip of wine showing that, vintage after vintage, the same telltale qualities of vineyard and place shine through. Next, I want to feel that the winery has a true connection to what’s in the bottle, that there’s a sense of love that goes into the farming of the vines and production of the wine. Imagine, if you will, that the vineyard is literally a step off the owner’s porch. She wakes to them in the morning and tends to them throughout the year. Lastly, I want the best of both worlds. Big, expressive wines that seduce the senses yet glide across the palate with finesse and leave a refreshing layer of fruit behind, wines that can stand on their own but are also a perfect complement to what is served at the dinner table. As my notes will show, Black Cat is all that.
I strongly urge you to seek these wines out. Granted, they are not cheap nor are they daily drinkers, however they are relative values when you consider the prices paid for boutique cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley. You could pay $100 and up for any number of cult cabernets that will simply give you the status quo and mildly impress your guests and your palate. Or you could check in on Black Cat and find out what it takes to make the list of wines that fill my cellar.
The Notes: (I'm very happy to be able to provide notes on four consecutive vintages)
Black Cat 2004 (94 points)
The color shows a dark red, almost purple color. The first sniff shows a dark shroud of black currant followed by plum sauce, chocolate and holiday spices with a hint of undergrowth adding a yin to this wine’s fruity yang. The palate shows a full expansive layer of fruit that’s kept in check by vibrant acidity and shows blackberry jam, orange peel and cedar as this cabernet plays a sweet and sour act on the mid-palate. The finish is long with blackberry fruit and still shows a bit of fine tannin that promises life for many years to come. Gorgeous.
Black Cat 2005 (93 points)
This was opened and decanted for two hours before the first glass. The color was dark red, almost purple. The nose showed intense black cherry and licorice, a bit like port but with a creamy milk chocolate that made this intoxicating to smell alone. On the palate the performance continued with an initial rush of black current that was followed by wild red berries, sage, mint and clove on the mid-palate. This cabernet showed wonderful acidity yet was soft with its velvety tannic structure still showing just a bit. The finish was long with black currant. A great performance.
Black Cat 2006 (90 points) (Notes from my visit to EMH July, 2009)
This took the elegance of the 2005 but sheathed it in a cloak of dark, brooding fruit. The nose was full of potpourri, cranberry sauce, cocoa powder and a bit of vanilla. The 2006 was the most closed of the three, but all the ingredients are there for this bottle to turn into a beauty with a little age. I can’t wait to get this bottle in my home and watch it open up over the course of a day.
Looking back on these notes I'm happy to say that I called it right. Check out the most recent tasting notes on the 2006 Black Cat, from 90 points to an easy 93+!
Black Cat 2007 (93 points) (Notes from my visit to EMH July, 2009)
This confirmed what everyone in Napa seemed to be talking about, and that’s the sheer vibrancy of the 2007 cabernets. This bottle will certainly have a long life but, like many of the 2007s, it’s so hard to not drink it now. On the nose, I found sour cherry, confectioners sugar and spice. On the palate, it was refreshing and mouth filling with rich dark fruit complemented by balanced acidity. This is a fun and showy cabernet that should turn some heads at future dinners.
EMH Vineyards website
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