In the Napa Valley, where cabernet sauvignon is king, Oakville is ground zero, home to many of the industry's rock stars, including Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Bond, Dalla Valle and Opus One. The appellation, which cuts a swath across the valley from the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains in the west to the lower slopes of the Vaca Range in the east, is seen by many as the area's sweet spot for cabernet.

Certainly, Robert Mondavi thought so. When he established his eponymous winery in Oakville in 1966, the property included part of the To Kalon Vineyard, which was famous even then. Today, Oakville's most recognizable spot for many tourists is the Robert Mondavi Winery. When Mondavi died in 2008, the winery had already passed out of the family's hands. But its founding is often referred to as the beginning of the modern wine industry in California. So it surely jump-started the reputation of Oakville.

After the Mondavi winery, others in Oakville, like Silver Oak and Groth, gained fame. Success breeds success, and those wineries eventually were joined by others whose wines would be highly sought-after. Some are sold for ultrahigh prices to exclusive (and small) mailing lists. Others are more widely available. None is cheap, though only a few sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle.

There's not really one style of Oakville cabernet sauvignon, because the terrain varies so much. Some argue that the appellation should be divided into two or three parts. On Oakville's west side, vineyards are often planted on alluvial fans, and they're shaded in the afternoon. In the east, rocky red soils dominate, and many sites bask in the afternoon sun. The valley floor tends to have heavier, deeper soils. All of the appellation is far enough south to get morning fog off the bay, which helps preserve acidity, so even many of the more lush, opulent wines also display an appealing freshness. I often find savory flavors ranging from anise to black olive to mint in the wines.


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Other recommended Oakville cabernets include the powerful 2011 Tierra Roja ($140), with its anise and graphite notes;