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Was Highlands the first ever Napa “Dream Team?” Back in 2000, when the owners of Freemark Abbey were at the top of their game, they linked up with a superstar winemaker and growers of Napa’s finest Cabernet to create a special, exclusive Cabernet project called “Highlands.” It cranked out dark, muscular and exceptionally long-lived wines built on a bedrock of opaque and opulent fruit. Highlands Cabernets were like Clydesdales in a pack full of ponies. Then they retreated to the shadows. A recent discovery of Highlands juice left ears smoking and heads spinning as the taste of real Napa had clearly been preserved at this iconic winery. It’s time to bring the real Cabernet back to the people!
About the wine
Highlands combines all that there is to love about traditional Cabernet in one package. Dark, earthy Cabernet fruit with the aromas of fresh berries and wild licorice. Massive beams of tannin underpinning the complex flavors like bridge supports. A purple-black robe that compels the drinker to swirl the wine all night, coaxing out more and more sumptuous flavor, long after the meal is done. One more glass, it’s just getting good. It’s hitting the sweet spot now, the plateau even…and yet it keeps on going, for a good fifteen years with careful cellaring. That’s how they used to make them – and they didn’t take out full page ads in magazines, and they didn’t hire brand consultants to place the wine in fashionable accounts, and they sure as heck didn’t put in modern art sculpture and bubbling fountains in the tasting rooms. Raw, original, muddy boot Cabernet of the highest order. Many thought it was a thing of the past, but it survives on the fringes, and Cab lovers will be very happy that it does.
Winemaker: Bradley Smith
Appellation: Napa Valley
- 96 pts: Walter Moore, WSET Diploma, CSW
- 96 pts: Vintage Rating (WS & WA)
- 4.3/5.0: Vivino Users (63 ratings)
- 4.2/5.0: Vivino Users, Overall Winery (402 ratings)
Grapes: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot
Cooperage: 18 months in French Oak, 1/3rd new
About the winery
Highlands is a relatively new Napa winery – celebrating just its 17th vintage – but its roots go way back. Dave Cofran has worked in grapegrowing and enology since 1967, and he was brought on as General Manager at Silver Oak, alongside his old friend Justin Meyer. Paul Segas moved to Napa in 1973 and became a renowned grower in his own right, selling fruit to Chateau Montelena, Pine Ridge, Robert Mondavi and Joseph Phelps. In 2000, he met the owners of Freemark Abbey, and together they joined forces to create a new winery they named Highlands, focused on high-end wines sourced from the county’s best Cabernet vineyards. The team brings to bear over 75 years of Napa Valley experience and it shows in their robust and classically structured wines.
About the winemaker, Bradley Smith
After finishing his Master’s in Organizational Behavior in 1994, Smith came to Napa to manage resort hotels. That didn’t last long. Like it does for so many souls, the romance of the vine seduced him and he returned to school to complete an Enology degree at Fresno State. His promising performance there landed him a job at Benessere Vineyards where he learned the wily ways of Sangiovese and Zinfandel. Next up was a stint at the respected Laird Family Estate where he learned much from his exposure to many of Napa’s top winemakers who operated out of Laird’s facility. This gave him the next level of ability to land head winemaking jobs, where he now crafts small-batch wine for Silenus, Danais, and even the high-end Jaeger wineries as well as Highlands.
96 points, Walter Moore, WSET Diploma, CSW
"Right out of the bottle this beautiful Cabernet is ready to drink revealing lush Cabernet fruit layered with tantalizing vanilla and toasted oak nuances. The inky black color and blood red hue herald the intensity of the flavors to come. And on the nose, dark black cassis fruit and and anise build in intensity complemented nicely by hints of cinnamon and cedar. A mix of rich red and bright blue fruit dominate the palate while satiny chocolate tannins cradle the generous fruit. Although able to age for many years, this Cabernet is immensely enjoyable now and will appeal to most red wine lovers."