When a Decoy is the Real Thing: Duckhorn Decoy Wines

decoyAnyone who knows even a little bit about Napa wine has heard the name “Duckhorn.” It’s practically an iconic brand, having been around since Napa started to become known as a world-class wine producer. Their Merlot got lots of buzz, and the sophisticated wine drinkers would part with some serious cash for a bottle of their single-vineyard Three Palms Merlot.

Then along comes a fun little bottling called “Decoy.” The duck on the labelĀ  pegged it as part of the Duckhorn family, and it was some kind of fun red blend. It also sold for a much more fun price than the mainline bottlings (like $25 instead of $50). Napa wine fans snapped it up, which may be why it was difficult to keep in stock.

That was a few years ago, when Napa (and the rest of the USA) was flying high. Winesellers like me thought it was normal to have to beg a distrtibutor or a winery to sell us their wine.

Then October 2008 happened, and the bottom fell out of the wine market and every other market. High-end wine sales ground to a halt, and inventory started accumulating in warehouses in Napa, New York, and everywhere in between. All those $50 bottles that we had to beg to buy were now begging to be sold.

And the Decoy line multiplied. The original blend gained several brothers and sisters, and became a line that includes seven varietals, such as Decoy Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the original blend. We heard that the Zin was getting lots of good reviews, so we decided to explore the line, starting with the Cabernet.

The first thing that hit us about theĀ Duckhorn Decoy Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is its restraint. In a wine world where Cabs can hit 14 or even 15% alcohol, Decoy maintains moderate alcohol content and traditional elegance, with well-balanced fruit and acid. Nothing was overdone: mostly two-year-old French oak barrels were used to give roundness without overpowering. The nose is varietally correct, with blackberry and cassis leading the way, and the palate offers black and red fruits with soft tannins, a trace of cigar box and tobacco, and a hint of toasty oak on the finish. Decoy Cab pleases and satisfies without overdoing anything.

The best news of all is that this good-quality Napa Cab is yours for $20 – $25. You don’t have to mortgage the house to buy a case — just sip and enjoy without breaking your wallet. What could be better?

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