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It’s difficult to imagine a wine list in an American restaurant not having a representative sampling of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons on it.  And at steak houses, Napa Cab is practically required by law.

Even so, those of us with long memories can recall such a time, a time when Napa was still building its reputation as a high-quality producer, a time when even fine restaurants in San Francisco felt they were taking a risk in slipping in a Napa Cab among the Pauillacs and St-Emilions.  Those were the days, too, when Napa producers were pretty sure their best varieties were Cab and Chardonnay, but they also produced a lot of Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Napa Gamay, Petite Sirah and even Riesling, just in case.

Of course, Napa Cabs by the ‘80s and ‘90s had made their reputation, but it’s still fun to muse, as I did last week while attending Premiere Napa Valley, on how far the valley has come within a generation or two in becoming one of the world’s two finest producers of Cabs and Cab blends.

The auction gaveled off 225 one-of-a-kind lots made especially for the event by members of Napa Valley Vintners.  At the end of the bidding, $6 million had been netted from retailers, wholesalers and restaurateurs for whom the auction – and the parties leading up to it – was staged.  While there was a good deal of trophy hunting and coup counting, it was still impressive that the average bottle was sold for $286.  Although there were Chards and Merlots in the bidding, I think I’m safe in saying that 99% of the $6 million went for Cab-based wines.

It was another testament to the total Cabernation of Napa Valley, and, while it is fun to remember when tastings were free and every winery made at least 8-10 varietals, it all makes sense.  Cabernet is what Napa does best, and that, fortunately, is where the money is.

It may only be a matter of time until red wines made from the two Cabernets, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec are no longer knows as “Bordeaux blends” but as "Napa Valley blends.”

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