I sat down yesterday with the rest of the wine department to taste through an assortment of 2004 Napa Cabernets, a kind of follow-up to a previous '04 tasting I wrote about in October. On the whole it wasn't the most uplifting tasting I've done recently—there was a depressing sameness to many of the wines, a kind of die-cut presentation of black fruit and oak that made one seem to merge with the next. But the good ones were, as they should be, distinctive and appealing. Out of the 20 tasted, here are my four favorites (in price order) plus an impressive 2005 that snuck into the lineup somehow.

2004 Silverado Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) Part of the appeal of this wine is that it doesn't wow you with gobs of fruit or flashy oak. Instead it's a deftly balanced, classic Napa Cabernet, with direct dark cherry flavors (a lot of Stag's Leap fruit in the blend), a light herbal minty note, and firm, slightly drying tannins on the end.

2004 Ladera Lone Canyon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) Though Ladera itself is up on Howell Mountain, this vineyard is across the valley at the base of Mt. Veeder. The aroma here was a mix of cassis, cherry and earthy notes, along with a moderate dose of French oak; the blackberry and black cherry fruit was bolstered by grippy tannins. I'm not quite as big a fan of this wine as I am of Ladera's Howell Mtn bottling, but it's still impressive.

2004 Rocca Family Vineyard Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) I don't know much about the Rocca family, but I do know that their winemaker, Celia Masyczek, has been the talent behind some top-flight Cabernets in recent years—Scarecrow, DR Stephens, Cornerstone. She's in the same realm with this lush, supple, seductive Cabernet. Lots of sweet blackcurrant fruit, nice spice notes, very much a make-your-tongue-happy Cab.

2004 Sbragia Cimarossa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) Ed Sbragia just stepped down as winemaster at Beringer to concentrate on his family label, which he launched in 2004 (he'll retain the title "winemaker emeritus" at Beringer). This has a fragrant cherry liqueur aroma that leads into lots of velvety black cherry fruit and substantial but gentle tannins.

And that inadvertent 2005:

2005 Groth Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($57.50) Mocha and cherry scents, and then a dense, powerful but also very inviting Oakville cabernet, with lots of ripe cherry and currant notes and tannins that roll in at the end. I particularly liked its seamlessness—nothing out of joint, graceful from start to finish. In many ways, this was my favorite of the tasting.