CADE producing great wines in Napa Valley region

Fads always have been a part of wine's evolution. There was a time when a red wine's quality was judged by its tannins. Another age rewarded chardonnays dominated by oak. More recently, critics have bestowed honors on ripe, alcoholic fruit bombs.

We're not one to doubt the popularity of any of these wines -- winemakers should make wines that satisfy consumers.

However, we have found our palates growing weary of red wines -- some perceptibly sweet -- that are so jammy you can spread them on toast. Many of these hedonistic wines do not pair well with food, nor do we think they will age well.

We were relieved to recently taste the wines from CADE Estate Winery, which are anything but jammy. CADE is a partner of Plumpjack, another producer of extraordinary wine in the Oakville region of Napa Valley. The group is headed by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and general manager John Conover, who we met years ago when he was at Lockwood Vineyard.

CADE draws most of its fruit from vineyards 1,800 feet up Howell Mountain, a growing area winemaker Danielle Cyrot credits for her wine's more austere profile.

"You can't get really ripe grapes at that elevation," she said. "Also, it's not a style of wine I want to make."

In a cooler vintage, she still manages to get ripeness at a lower sugar level.

That moderates the wine's alcohol level and its jammy quality.

CADE produces only 12,000 to 15,000 cases a year -- mostly red but also a delicious sauvignon blanc -- and its wine is pricey. Cyrot defended the cost and said she knows what goes into these wines.

"We're not skimpy on any aspect," she said.

The 2012 CADE Sauvignon Blanc ($28), blended with some semillon and viognier, is superb. The additional grape varieties add dimension to the aromas and round off the acidity to provide an ideal balance. Instead of the astringent grassy notes, this sauvignon blanc has more melon, citrus and apple flavors. You won't find a sauvignon blanc more complex than this.

The winery's haymaker is 2009 Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon ($75). It is an iron fist in a velvet glove with CADE'S telltale balance and fresh dark berry fruit. We also liked CADE's cuvee ($60), a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon and the rest made up of merlot, petit verdot and malbec. The black cherry and cassis aromas leap out of the glass, and what follows is no disappointment.

Cyrot, who came to CADE after a stint with St. Clement, said she enjoys sharing notes with winemakers from Plumpjack but insists on making a wine in her own style.

"John Conover said, 'I didn't hire you to make wine taste like Plumpjack. Each winery has its own style,' " she said.

If you're planning a trip to Napa Valley, CADE is worthy of a visit. It is an extraordinary, modern facility with a great view.

Wine picks

* Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2010 ($20). You get a lot of flavor for your money here. Violet aromas give way to dark berry flavors, a dash of spice and balanced acidity.

* Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenere 2011 ($12). This Chilean wine whose name means "devil's cellar" is different for the adventuresome. Made by one of the most popular Chilean wine companies, Cocha y Toro has established a line of simple wines that are uniformly good values. We liked the pinot noir and sauvignon blanc for the same price. Consumers would be wise to check out these excellent values.

* Cline Cool Climate Pinot Gris 2012 ($14). Cline consistently makes some of the best values in Sonoma County. This pinot gris from Sonoma Coast grapes exudes flowery aromas and citrusy fruit. We also like the fresh acidity and pineapple flavors of the 2011 marsanne roussanne blend ($16).

* Don Miguel Gascon Colosal Red Blend 2011 ($15). We know Gascon for its marvelous malbec. Now comes an equally tasty blend that is mostly malbec with the addition of bonarda, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The additional grapes give greater breadth to the wine plus some complexity and soft tannins. Delicious plum and blackberry flavors with a good dose of oak.

* Alamos Red Blend 2012 ($13). Alamos adds bonarda, tempranillo and syrah to its malbec in this smooth, yummy blend from Argentina. Black cherry and ripe plum flavors with a dash of spice.

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column for newspapers for more than 20 years.

marq@atlanticbb.net