High and Mighty: Schweiger Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

schweigerMountain-grown fruit makes big, bold, kick-ass reds. The depth and structure of the wine, and the intensity of fruit and tannins are unique.

I’ve had the good luck to drink Napa Valley mountain-grown Cabernets the last two evenings. The first was Schweiger Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, which I drank with a great big Filet at a steakhouse in Arizona. The winery was new to me, and I assume their production is too small to warrant distributing their wines in the state in which I live.

Too bad. I’d love to drink Schweiger Cab often.

Schweiger Vineyards is pretty old by Napa standards. Their property up on Spring Mountain was purchased by the family in 1960, when the valley floor was full of sheep and the hillsides were heavily forested. When they began clearing the land for vineyard planting in the late 1970′s, they found redwood stakes that suggested the hillside had been planted to grapes as long ago as the 1870′s.

For several years The Schweigers sold their Cabernet grapes to premium Napa wineries, and then began bottling under their own label in 1994. They grow and bottle the classic Bordeaux varietals — Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

But let’s get back to mountain-grown wine grapes and what makes them different and unique. You may remember from 8th grade geography class that as altitude increases, the air temperature cools. At higher altitudes the sun can also be more direct and intense, as in the case of the Schweiger vineyards, which sit above the fog line. Cooler temps and more direct sunlight produce more intense flavors in the fruit, more acid and more tannins. In the finished wine, this translates into deep, rich, bold flavors, well-structured tannins and more age-ability. In plain language, Mountain Cabs (and even Merlots) can be big and dense, and tight as a drum when they’re young.

We proved mountain fruit’s age-ability last night, when we had the fun of drinking a 1994 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain vineyards, and it was probably massive and tight when it was first released. So 17 years later, did this Cab have any fruit left? It sure did: bright berries, spice and cedar, without the mushroom-y, barnyard-y aromas and flavors I’ve gotten from a lot of wines that old. I’d say it still has a few more years of aging to go.

The Schweiger Cab we tasted was a baby by comparison — only six years old. In fact, it wasn’t even released until it was five years old, because Schweiger gives its reds extra aging time in French and American oak barrels to help round out the palate. The result is spectacular, right from the nose that gave me dark berries, chocolate, and vanilla. The flavors on the palate start gently and then deepen into sweet blackberries, coffee and toasty oak, and linger on a finish that’s still lively and great with a bite of rare steak.

We had a lot of fun drinking this wine, and that’s what it’s all about. If you can find it in your area, you should have fun with it too. Cheers!


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