This could be an inflection point, a moment when circumstances conspire to fundamentally change things. We’ve gone through one as recently as 1997, when wines made from super-ripe fruit, fruit that would have been thought of as defective a decade or two earlier, garnered breakthrough scores for tons of wineries. In subsequent vintages, producers intentionally went for super-ripe fruit since it seems to be the key to super high scores, and we know what those scores do.
The world has changed since then. The share of voice among critics is different, and that extreme wine geek attitude, as narrow minded as it may be, has pulled open the range of wines considered acceptable, i.e. successfully marketable. And lets not kid ourselves: wine remains a business, so in the big picture, that’s what’s important. I bet there will be plenty of people celebrating the lighter style of the very pretty and accessible 2009 and 2010 vintages. Truth is 2010 is already being hailed as excellent by many writers—I am just a bit late to the game.
My point here though is not to proclaim that 2010 is so great; I am much more forgiving when it comes to vintages, and think we need to do a better job promoting and appreciating vintages for what is unique about them as opposed to holding them up to some arbitrary benchmark. Just take a look at a vintage like 1999 if you disagree. Not exactly exalted on release, they are drinking remarkably well today.
My point is that 2009 and 2010 are a different style of vintage, and very successful ones at that: vintages that will allow drinkers to experience Napa Valley Cabernet as it once was, on a wide scale. My hope is that they will enjoy the style, talk about the style, praise the style, and then go back to the marketplace looking for more wines in that style. It will be up to the producers to respond, and things on that front are all pointing in positive directions as well.
There is a growing backlash to formulaic wines even in the Napa Valley and talk is once again returning to producing wines that one likes; the fact that the marketplace, both consumers and critics, may be aligning with that direction bodes well for the future of Napa Valley wines. One thing I want to make perfectly clear here is that I am not saying that almost all wines need to change, not that that would be a bad thing in and of itself, but it’s not necessary, at least for me.
Having a dozen or two producers return to making wines that don’t need to be watered back, acidified and otherwise transmogrified would be enough for me. Will it happen? All signs point to yes, but who knows? Me, I’m a dreamer; one with a decades-long love affair with Napa Valley Cabernet, so I’m sure hoping so. And here are some tasting notes to help explain why.