It’s not Bordeaux, it’s Napa 

And just where is Napa Valley cabernet’s place among the world’s best red wines?

The modern-day California wine industry is about as old as it gets in the New World, that is if about four decades of meaningful winegrowing can be considered old.

The renaissance, to coin an Old World term, began in 1966 when Robert Mondavi opened the first new winery in Napa Valley since prohibition. Less than 40 years later Napa wine has developed a worldwide reputation for outstanding quality, led by its superstar red varietal, cabernet sauvignon.

For many cabernet is the Holy Grail of Napa grapes, although most vintners remain as cautious as they are optimistic about Napa Valley cabernet’s place among the world’s best red wines, and who can blame them.

If short by European standards, the history of modern-day Napa has been anything but boring. The tumultuous ride began to bloom with the fabulous, though never repeated 1974 vintage, an especially fine year for long-lived, quality cabernets.

When the valley won big at a 1976 blind tasting arranged by then retailer Steven Spurrier in Paris against the best of Bordeaux, there was reason to think Napa might be so much more than just another New World wine region.

By the mid-80s, many Napa winemakers looked like current-day, free agent sport figures as they abandoned their long established winery ties for new premises and big money.

Then came phylloxera (a root-eating aphid that destroys vines) and the painful and expensive battle that saw most of the valley’s vines pulled out and replanted at an enormous cost. By the 1990s land prices were skyrocketing and viticulturalists, vineyards and appellations were the new kings of Napa.

The sudden appearance of cult wines in the mid-90s once again changed the face of Napa and should the glassy wing sharpshooter, a new and potentially devastating vineyard predator, ever take hold in Northern California who knows what lays in store for the valley the Wappo Indians named "Napa" or the land of plenty.

One thing is for sure, cabernet sauvignon will be at the heart of any future success in the valley and the very latest efforts – post 1998 – may be the first to illustrate the quantum leap in quality Napa vintners will experience as a result of the phylloxera-accelerated replanting program.

Thirty years ago cabernet sauvignon was the be all and end all of red wine grapes. It had an appealing dark colour few other red wine grapes possessed. It was weighty and powerful in the mouth but it was loaded with dry, hard green tannins —- the type that leaves your mouth feeling as if you just pulled a fluffy towel out of it.

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