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  • Writer's pictureV.A.

Understanding Californian wines

California wines is the institution behind They educate people about California wines and spread the word about those fine grape juices from the sunny country.

A few months back, I took the Capstone California education courses. So far, I've completed level 1 and level 2. The theoretical part is completed online, and the tasting part is done in a classroom. I've done the tasting part at Culinary Academy in Oslo (visit their webpage for more information).

Anyway, of course, I got a completely different view of the Cali wines. The Capstone education program uses a very clear and easy-to-learn approach to teaching the theoretical part. Combined with well-guided tastings, like the one provided at the Culinary Academy by wonderful MW Heidi Iren Hansen, it can't get any better.



Napa Valley is an AVA in the California wine-growing region. Inside Napa, there are other AVAs. The biggest difference between them is either they are on the valley floor or the mountain ranges.

The purpose of the tasting was to show the different Cabernets of Napa. We have tasted six wines, which were served in pairs, so we could compare and find differences.

The first pair was:

* 2017 Louis M. Martini Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

- 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the rest is a blend of Petit Syrah and Zinfandel.

- Aromas of oaky notes (American oak), sweet spices, cassis, black fruits.

- Dry at taste; flavors of dark fruit, oaky flavors, cooked black fruits.

- The fruit for the wine is a cuveé sourced from mountain and valley floor vineyards 50%/50%; a minimal % is also from Sonoma vineyards.

* 2017 Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

- 95 % Cabernet Sauvignon.

- Aromas of bell pepper, perfumed, oak, light tobacco notes, strawberry, red currant.

- Flavors of strawberry, red currant, hints of tobacco.

- Dry at taste; medium + acidity; dry but smooth tannins.

- All vineyards are certified - sustainable viticulture.

- The fruit for this wine is harvested early and supplied from different sites; a bigger part of the grapes are purchased from other growers.

The second pair:

* 2018 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

- 97% Cabernet Sauvignon.

- Aromas: very bright tobacco aromas, oak aromas, cooked plums.

- Dry at the taste, smooth texture, cassis, blackberry flavors; well concentrated.

- Oak is quite strong; since it's a young wine, it could use time in the bottle to get more integrated with the oak.

- Mondavi is a pioneer in Napa and Californian winemaking. He did a lot to shape the wine industry in Napa. A lot of famous winemakers learned from him before opening their own wineries.

- The fruit for this wine is sourced from the "To-kalon" vineyard. It's one of the most famous vineyards in Napa. It was planted in the 1860s for experimentation and is currently owned by three people. The fruit from this vineyard has a high price due to high demand (a ton of grapes can be up to 20.000 dollars).

* 2018 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

- Dark plums, dark berries, light oak notes, black currant, tobacco, some spiciness, cherry, earthy (red beat flavor).

- Fresh, vibrant, black currant, oak notes.

- Dry with gripping tannins.

- 50% of new oak is used, 50 % used oak barrels.

- Lady winemaker named Kathy. She studied enology at UC Davis.

- Her wines are classic and well structured with an outstanding balance.

- Usually, early harvest, to retain freshness, and not aiming for higher alcohol.

The third pair:

* 2014 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars FAY Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District

- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

- Stony aroma (don't ask where I got it), nutty?; ripe fruits, strawberry, coconut, vanilla.

- Similar in the flavor as the aromas; vanilla-infused, red ripe berries; oaky notes.

- Dry at taste, velvety texture, well concentrated, great tannin structure.

- Wines from this producer and this vineyard are deep and concentrated, with cassis and blackcurrant dominated.

- 90% new oak is used (no problem for the wine), the well-concentrated wine can handle the oak.

- Excellent expression of single-vineyard wine.

* 2014 Mayacamas Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. Veeder

- Cooked blue plums, ripe blueberry, morello cherry, bright red fruit, tea leaves flavors; capsicum, fresh red fruit.

- Dry, grippy tannins, refreshing aftertaste.

- The vineyard lies at the border of Sonoma and Napa Valley.

- Mountain vineyard, high altitude, the vineyard is in the middle of the forest.

- Considered to be the highest located winery.

- The fruit is supplied from different sites of Mount Veeder; it shows generic AVA expression.

- No new oak, inert vessels are used.


After the seminar, there was a wine fair, with wines coming from California. For tasting notes on those, visit my profile on Vivino (

The seminar and the wine fair were held at the wonderful Grand Hotel Oslo.

As always have a WINEderful day! :)

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