Italian produces top cabernet

At the top of the Napa Valley, in the picturesque town of Calistoga — mostly known for its outstanding spring water — you’ll find another excellent source for a drink. The drink is wine and the winery is Gianni Paoletti, which sounds like it should be in Italy but is actually here by way of an Italian immigrant who became a successful restaurateur in Los Angeles.

He went back to his roots and bought this magnificent vineyard. Money does buy the ability to plant, grow and nourish vineyards, and in this case it was done well from the old Silverado Trail vineyard land. Production is small and wines are released late after extensive barrel and bottle aging, which adds a level of softness to them. They drink excellent out of the bottle.

The price of the Gianni Paoletti Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 is just under $20 a bottle, about half normal retail for this type of wine. The wine is recommended as a great midrange Napa Cabernet.

In the glass, the wine is a deep blackish red color with an opaque purplish red center going out into a purplish red rim definition and painted high viscosity.

The nose exudes layers of ripe crushed black fruit with dominance by blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, then comes the crème de cassis, vanillin from oak, saltwater caramel, minerals and alcohol.

In the mouth, it coats the palate with powerful black fruit characteristics, followed by cherry and cassis juices, and then ripe firm tannin structure with some degree of alcohol as it comes out a little “hot.” It has an excellent midpalate with loads of fruit and crushed loganberry and finishes very powerfully with chunks of cherry liqueur and crème de cassis.

It should be opened up an hour before consumption to give the wine a chance to “burn off” the initial phenolics. This is great wine that completely transcends what could normally be expected of California wines.

Serve it with crown roast of lamb. It should be good through 2010.

Wine: Gianni Paoletti Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Grape: Cabernet sauvignon (90 percent), merlot (10 percent)

Region: Napa Valley, Calif.

Vintage: 2001

Price: $19.99

Gil Lempert-Schwarz wine column appears Wednesdays. Contact him at gil@winevegas.com.

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