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  • Courtesy of Signorello Estate Winery

    Cabernet sauvignon vineyards are part of the landscape at the Signorello Estate winery in Napa.

  • Courtesy of Signorello Estate Winery

    Winery proprietor Ray Signorello Jr., center, is flanked by winemakers Pierre Birebent, left, and Luc Morlet.

Dunne on wine: A fine cabernet we can afford

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3D

As other Napa Valley wineries of longevity and prominence have done, Signorello Estate has staked its standing to the appellation's signature grape, cabernet sauvignon.

While it has also gathered acclaim for its way with chardonnay, semillon and pinot noir since the winery was established in the 1980s, cabernet sauvignon remains the flagship wine.

The current release of its top-of-the-line interpretation, a proprietary blend from the 2008 vintage called Padrone, sells for $155 per bottle.

From the start, however, the Signorello family has been flexible, quick to adapt both to its growing awareness of the nature of its site along the Napa Valley's eastern foothills and to demands in the marketplace.

As to the latter, over the past 12 years it's extended its line of cabernet sauvignons with three additional brands – Edge, Trim and Fuse.

Each is intended to highlight cabernet sauvignon in a different style and price niche. The aptly named Trim 2010 California Cabernet Sauvignon, which carries a suggested retail price of $12, is a youthful and animated interpretation that delivers clean, up-front fruit before finishing abruptly. The Edge 2010 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a suggested retail price of $20, carries suggestions of fresh cherries and damp green herbs on a wiry but balanced frame.

The most impressive of the three is the beefy yet supple Signorello Estate 2010 Napa Valley Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon, distinguished by its smoothness and complexity, which ranges from the sunny juiciness of cherries and plums to an undercurrent of black olives. With each, the influence of oak is tempered to provide distant support without hobbling the delivery of fruit.

But can a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that sells for $28 be taken seriously?

We live in an era, after all, when the Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons that tend to reap the highest praise tend to be priced at more than $50.

"My goal is to make a good wine, not something subpar," said Signorello proprietor Ray Signorello Jr. "True, the cheap stuff in Napa isn't very good. A less-expensive cabernet from Sonoma is a better deal.

"But my distributors said they have a need for a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that tastes good and is priced right. … So I looked for really good-quality fruit here (Napa Valley).

"I can't make the wine for less than $28," Signorello said. "If I did, I'd end up with stuff nobody wants."

The grapes for Trim and Edge are from throughout the North Coast, including Mendocino, Sonoma and Lake counties, while the fruit that goes into Fuse, as the appellation on the label notes, is solely from the Napa Valley.

All three have some syrah blended in, ranging from 8 percent in Trim to 15 percent in Fuse.

The addition of syrah to cabernet sauvignon, said Signorello, was inspired by the Marchesi Antinori Guado al Tasso, a "Super Tuscan" whose cabernet sauvignon in the wine's early formulations was backed with a little syrah.

"I like that blend a lot," Signorello said. (In recent vintages of Guado al Tasso, however, the syrah has been eliminated.)

The syrah, he adds, plumps up the fruity richness of the cabernet sauvignon while adding spice to the blend.

It hasn't hurt, he acknowledges, that plenty of fine syrah is on the bulk market at appealing prices, the consequences of eager planting of the variety in hopes that an enthusiastic market for it would develop. (That hasn't happened to the extent that vintners anticipated.)

"Syrah is one of those varieties that was supposed to be the next hot thing in California, but it just hasn't panned out," Signorello said. "The American public doesn't really grasp the idea of syrah. It's still a cabernet and chardonnay world, though pinot noir has caught on quite a bit. Yet, syrah is a good grape, and the price is right."

All three varietals that go into Fuse – it also includes 13 percent merlot – were aged separately in French and American oak barrels for 15 months before the final blend was determined.

The name Fuse, Signorello said, was chosen to represent the fusion of the three varieties of grapes and to suggest a wine that would "ignite your palate."

Signorello Estate 2010 Napa Valley Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)

By the numbers: 13.8 percent alcohol, 4,539 cases, $28.

Context: Signorello predicts that Fuse will continue to develop for another decade, but he sees no reason why it can't be enjoyed now, especially if it is served with rich but not fussy beef and lamb dishes.

Availability: Fuse is sold at some Safeway stores and at the Signorello Estate website.

More information: The tasting room at Signorello Estate, 4500 Silverado Trail, Napa, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, but appointments are recommended: (707) 255-5999,

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Mike Dunne

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