On the Trail

Jax's True Napa Value

Bryan Brick

We’ve been talking internally here at K&L a lot recently about what constitutes value these days in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; a conversation that has become more and more difficult over the last few years as the pricing on wines from the most prestigious region of California for this varietal have continued to skyrocket. The bottom line is that there really are not any “cheap” wines left in the valley. When considering value now, we have to look for comparative examples from within the region and talk about their "value" within context, but the truth is if you're looking for true Napa character from any Cabernet-based wine, the base line now starts at about forty dollars per bottle.

I know the truth hurts.

After tasting the 2014 Jax “Estate” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon this past week, we all agreed here at K&L that this was the kind of comparative "value" we were speaking of. Sure, if made a decade or more ago, this wine would have cost thirty bucks, but those days are long over and there is no return in site. Therefore, we look forward and have to realize, whether we like it or not, that this is the new Napa. The good news is that the wines are every bit as good as they have always been.

The 2014 Jax Estate comes from their estate vineyard in northern Calistoga that was originally purchased in 1996 and has seen extensive replanting over the last ten to twelve years (see my colleague Dave's piece from 2016 about Jax's property here). The result is a fantastic, youthful, and pitchy portfolio of wines that really do over-deliver on their respective pricing. The 2014 Estate Cab adds 5% Cabernet Franc (also from the estate) and is aged for 21 months in 70% new French oak. Lots of finely hued green spices soar out of the glass here like olive, bay leaf and tarragon with a base of deeper warm spices like allspice and mace ride over snappy black currant and blueberry fruitiness on the nose. Stuffed to the hit and fully of fleshy, extracted flavors of espresso, hard candy, cola, boysenberry and spice cake this really has plenty to offer and keep even the pickiest of Cabernet drinkers engaged and involved in the wine. Certainly leaning to the modern side in its flashy oak and extract this still has the soul and focus of a classic Napa Valley Cab.

And let's not forget Jax's twenty dollar sensation: the Taureau. Last year the 2013 Jax “Y3-Taureau” set the store on fire. It was one of those K&L E-mail wines that sold out instantly and we were left in full scramble mode to gobble up as many cases as we could get our hands on in response. Customers couldn’t get enough of that wildly drinkable and easy-going expression. This time around we made sure to be much more prepared for the 2014 release. This year’s blend is similar to last year’s with 45% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Zin in the mix. Made by Kirk Venge, who has made such highly sought after wines as Hunnicut, Igneous, Macauley, Bacio Divino, B Cellars, and Trespass to mention just a few and has all the hallmarks of his lush, fruit driven style. Wild, dark, sauvage notes of ink, sweet black tea and dried berry blast through on the nose. Forward and precocious this wine has a myriad of flavors and spice components to offer for such a paltry price. At different points you pick up each of the varietals in the blend. Merlot for pure black fruited mid-palate weight, Cabernet aromatics and tannin, Syrah spice and meatiness and Zinfandel briary juiciness. Certainly more than the sum of its parts this wine has come together with a slick, creamy frame and plenty of intensity. I can’t over play how outstanding this wine is for $20.

But that's always been the story with Jax; you put a bottle in someone's hand and say: "taste this," and they come back a believer. Sometimes you have to taste Napa value before you comprehend it.  

-Bryan Brick