Among the numerous excesses of the 1990s and early 2000s was the proliferation of pricey Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons. Many of these wines were virtually indistinguishable from one another. They all seemed to follow the same basic recipe – overripe fruit, lashings of new oak – and the end result was a glut of cookie-cutter cabs that had the added demerit of being absurdly expensive. The recession killed the market for these generic concoctions, and more than a few consumers have turned their backs on Napa entirely. That's unfortunate, because there are still excellent, distinctive cabs being made there – and the price has come down some.
One of the best comes from the hands of a Frenchman, Christian Moueix, who, in addition to producing some of Bordeaux's top wines (notably the iconic Chateau Petrus), owns Napa's Dominus Estate. Set on the famed Napanook vineyard, Dominus turns out two wines – one called Dominus, the other Napanook. The Dominus, which retails for around $150, is easily one of the two or three finest wines produced in California. The Napanook sells for around third of that, and among Napa cabs under $100, it is a clear leader. The 2009 Napanook, which is a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent petit verdot, and 5 percent cabernet franc, is a particularly good one. The fruit is ripe, but not excessively so, and there's a terrific tobacco note to complement the fruit. That herbal twang is characteristic of cabernet sauvignon, but it gets lost when the grapes are excessively ripe and is a rare quality these days in Napa cabs. Also, the wine has deliciously ripe tannins. The Napanook can provide immediate gratification, but you can also put a bottle to sleep in the cellar for a couple of years. It is a consistently sensational cab, and if you're among those who've lost faith in Napa in recent years, the Napanook will go a long way to restoring it. [$50; wine-searcher.com]