A few months back (like 8+), I was sent two samples from Craig Camp at Cornerstone Cellars- The 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet and the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet. Those who know me well, know I don't drink a ton of Napa Cabs. I usually don't eat the food required for them, and I find a ton just really overwhelmingly fruit-tastic. From previous experience with these bottles (from someone else's stash during a Taste Live event), I knew that was not going to be the case (the mongo-fruit-tastic part). I already dug 'em, and I wanted to wait until the right time to open mine up.
Days before my move out to Sonoma, my friends Joel and Elisabeth had their annual lamb-a-thon. Tons of of grilled lamb and good friends. I wanted to share these with friends and let them experience them without any prejudice. No one knew the name, the pricing, etc... Just that I asked them to try them with and without their food.
Without food, the 2005 Napa Valley was the clear winner for the group (I was the sole skipper sailing on the 2004). People loved the presence, the power, and a few said there was a lot "more" to it. 2005 was a ginormous year for most producers, and though more restrained than most, the 2005 Cornerstone is still a big (but balanced) wine. (Without food, the 2004 Howell Mountain was still enjoyed, but most people dug the "stuffing" in the 2005.)
Now with the food- The verdict was almost completely reversed-- The 2004 Howell Mountain was the favorite by about 70%. Higher acidity, more minerality, some herbal notes, and a more delicate wine-- It didn't dominate the food, it worked with it-- For a few, it provided that mini-revelation that what you pick on its own, may not always be what you'd want at the table.
I enjoyed both wines, but I loved the 2004 Howell Mountain.
It is wineries like Cornerstone Cellars and a handful of others that remind me that I can find something I really dig in Napa Cab.
**These wines were received as samples and Craig is a friend. It has no bearing on whether I liked these wines.