“Love the aromas of blackberries, black olives, stones and tree bark. Forest floor too. Full body with powerful, polished tannins and a long, long finish. Very fine. Latour style of Bordeaux. Muscular. Not on the market until 2016 or 2017. Better in 2019.” 97 Points, James Suckling
In actual fact you can be pretty sure Chris Howell will wish we hadn’t used the above reference to Latour style. All they aim to make are Cain style wines; wines that tell the story of a given vintage in the very particular spot that is the Cain Five vineyard, set high up on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. The reference to Latour presumably alludes to the combination of texture, minerality and dark savoury fruit that Cain achieves. Comparisons to First Growths aside, this is one of the most interesting wines from Napa, regularly producing some of the region’s most complex and intelligent expressions of the Bordeaux blend.
The Cain vineyard is a very special spot, rising to 2,100 ft, right at the edge of the Maycamas range and looking down on St Helena and the Napa Valley. It is high, often windy, and contoured with rows of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Vines face North, South, East and West. It’s a diverse topography that allows for huge differences in ripening. The slopes are steep, the soil is poor and water retention is minimal. Vine vigour is low. Add to this a long running series of replanting and experimental blocks and you start to get an idea of the inherent complexity in the Cain Five vineyard output.
In the winery nothing more is needed than classical, low impact wine-making. Not that this is the easy path. In fact, being gentle, resorting to manual processes, and not relying on technology arguably makes the whole process more involving. You just don’t have anywhere to hide. Tannins are never polished too much, nothing is overly worked in the winery; a little brett occasionally makes its way into the wine. These are real, living, storytelling wines of complexity, balance, harmony and grace. In their own words, “There must also be a sense of energy and of vivacity. Specifically, in wine, we value these attributes: a complex bouquet; a silky entry; a nice balance between the sweetness of fruit, refreshing acidity, mouth-filling viscosity, and finely textured tannins; a graceful exit; and a lengthy finish. There must be a rhythm to a fine wine.”
A recent decanter article about Californian wines listed Cain Five just behind Dunn, Harlan and Spottswoode in a list of top Californian Cabernets from the 2013 vintage. The note said “Christopher Howell deserves more recognition for the amazing consistency, longevity and sophistication that his wines from this striking Spring Mountain site routinely achieve, as anyone with Cain bottlings in their cellar from the 1980s and 1990s can attest." It is a sentiment we entirely subscribe to.
Please find below a pre-release offer of the fabulous 2012 vintage – just released from the estate, being shipped to the UK in November.