GDP on Wine

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

Tasting Napa Cabs

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 22, 2013.

Having just returned from a week in the valley, I'm working on pulling together some content focusing on Napa Cabernets. I started tasting through some of the samples I have in the office yesterday and just wanted to mention some of the better examples I found in the $20-$35 range

Top of the heap is the 2009 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone $35, pretty well built and intense bottle of black fruited cabernet. The 2008 William Hill $30 surprised me due to is relative complexity and muscular but elegant structure, a very interesting bottle of wine that shows that some of the investments chez William Hill are beginning to pay off.

In a slightly similar style, ie not fruit bomby but rich, the 2010 B Side impressed and offers good value for those seeking a muscular, dark style around $20 and the 2009 Rutherford Ranch once again proved its worth, albeit in a much more red fruited with  a nice herbal nuance all for $18.

I also enjoyed the 2009 Courtney Benham Napa Valley bottling, $25, for its pure ripe rich fruit and lovely inner mouth tension. Young firm and fun.

Since it's on topic I'll also add that after tasting enough wine to be barely able to make vintage generalizations I'm going to go out on a limb and call the 2007s rich but kind of simple and boring. The 2009s I tasted in Napa were, as a group, more interesting, very pretty precocious wines. Te 2010s seem to be on another level entirely. I think this might go against common wisdom, my thoughts on the 2007s, but I just wanted to throw it out there.

$35 to $60 Napa Cabs are now on deck. I'll report back with my findings!


Reply by JonDerry, Feb 22, 2013.

I'm definitely in agreement, these cooler vintages (09-11) are going to be way better than anyone expected, though it makes perfect sense with RP, and WS preferring a ripe style.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 22, 2013.

Yeah, 09 is really lovely and I think we're really seeing a swing in the style pendulum particularly in light of the style of vintages. I think we might be on to something here and I'm going to write a post about it!

Reply by EMark, Feb 22, 2013.

Greg, there are many times when I do not envy you.  Tasting a room full of Chardonnays sounds aweful to me. 

HOWEVER, tasting Napa Cabs sounds like a pretty good assignment.  For what it's worth I am now sipping a 2006 Chateau Chevalier Spring Mountain Cab.  A truly excellent wine for $20. 

Interestiing that you mentioned the 2009 Courtney Benham.  I was holding that one in my hand as an alternative, tonight, until I picked out the Chateau Chevalier.  I feel that Courtney Benham, along with the associated labels Martin Ray and Angeline, consistently provides excellent cost effectiveness for all their wines--I don't think I've ever had a truly great one, but I've never had a bad one.

Reply by napagirl68, Feb 22, 2013.

Howell mtn would be a good visit next time.  Spend some time there :-)

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 22, 2013.

Stopped by and spent a few hours up at Dunn. One of my favorites!

Reply by VegasOenophile, Feb 24, 2013.

I enjoyed a lot of 07s because of their sweeter, brighter fruit and sweet oak on them.  The 08s I didn't dig as much at first because comparatively, they're dark and broody.  But that said, 3-6 months after their release, I found them to be complex and balanced and interesting in their subtle nuances.  They are darker, but I think inherently structured more for ageability.  I haven't had as many 09s yet to comment on though.  Time to start popping corks!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 25, 2013.

I was just looking in my records and realized that I hadn't purchased a ton of the '07s.  I had a Hall and a couple Robert Craigs that we opened pretty young.  I was kind of disappointed, and now I feel a bit vindicated.  Still have a couple, but that's all. Just found those '07s a little more simple than I expected.

I've got a lot of '06s which have been developing really nicely, so I also felt less pressure to load up on '07s when the hype started.  I even helped friends with a collective buy of a 2006 at distress pricesso we could knock the price down further, and they are all thanking me for encouraging them.  Practically no '08s, then I came roaring back--well, these things are relative--in '09 and '10.  I just picked up a handful of the '10 Waterstone, which is alleged to be a steal at $21.  I also picked up some 2009 "Kalinda Reserve," which is really Nils Venge's Saddleback made in a private label for K and L.  I expect tons of deals like that with '12 because both yields and quality were really high.  I would keep my eyes open for winemakers and assistant winemakers from top producers doing a "busman's holiday" label.  Probably some of that floating around on the '09s, or there will be some late discounting, but having a small '10 supply is likely to bolster the '09 prices.

'10 was a tough year for Napa, and lots of grapes were lost because of the heat spikes.  Because it was cold and cloudy for so long, many growers plucked leaves, and the grapes were exposed.  Folks who were higher up on the hills weren't blistered as badly, and many hadn't plucked as much because they weren't as affected by the cold, foggy air.  But, in general, a lot of volume was lost, so supplies will be pretty low in a lot of areas.  Rockpile in Sonoma also may have benefitted tremendously because the heat spikes were moderated by the lake and it had been cool but fairly sunny up to that point.  If the 2010 Zins I have had from Rockpile are any indication, the cabs will be really good agers.  I'd be interested in tasting wines made from some of the Napa  valley floor's famous vineyards--my guess is they will be good because the wineries did triage on the grapes, but there won't be a ton of wine available and hardly any from folks whose contracts are more iffy--like Provenance might not get much ToKalon, while the older, higher priced wineries are protected a bit more.  But all of them will produce less and wait for their 2012 ship to come in, and milk 2009 for what it's worth. 

Reply by JonDerry, Feb 26, 2013.

I'm sure 07's are better off young like most CA wines...I'm holding some big dogs, including Shafer Hillside, Continuum, Dominus, and Dunn Howell Mtn. Just single bottles, but should make for an interesting horizontal.

Fox I haven't heard so much about 10' being such a thin crop, do you know what kind of % they lost as opposed to a typical year? 11' may be even worse from that standpoint. They're down 40+% in Paso, which should make for a very interesting vintage indeed.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 26, 2013.

'07s should probably be drunk young because the grapes were fully ripe and then some, and the conditions were such that they developed that way.  But almost any cabernet could use a few years, and IMO it's the tendency of that market to drink Cab young that has made the style the way it is, not the inherent tendencies of Cal Cab.  Considering how the same wines from the tasting of Paris killed the Bordeaux in the retastings, of 1986, now that they had upwards of a dozen years of age, I think it's at least a huge overgeneralization to say California Cabs should be drunk young.  Even my '06 bargain bottles from Ramey, Vin de Manies, and Altus are continuing to improve--the Ramey and the Vin de Manies aren't even ready yet. 

'10 and '11 were both likely to produce less wine than years past and '12, but for different reasons.  in 2010, heat spikes destroyed a lot of the crop--grapes were horribly sunburned and raisined in a matter of a few days, many were far from ripe, and so they were dropped to avoid damage to others, or simply stayed on the vine and were dumped during post-picking triage.  Some vineyards lost 90% of their crop--it was there, but it was unusable.  That's the extreme. Mountain vineyards did a lot better, but it's going to be interesting to see how many wineries fill out the product with grapes purchased from outside the area--this is allowed up to 15 or 25%, last I checked.  In theory, that's going to hurt the quality.  The other choice, especially now that 2012 is looking so good, is to preserve quality but take a hit on volume for one year--better financed operations can afford to do that.

2011 was a really strange year, early season conditions kept fruit set down, and berries were smaller, so yields in some places were really low.  On one of his Pinot vinyeards, Fred Scherrer got half a ton per acre where he normally got close to two.  That's 75% off, and that is huge.  The upside is that the fruit was mostly of really good quality and very concentrated.  That means less bleeding off to concentrate, so no rose at pickup for those Williams-Selyem fans, is my guess.  The quality could be really good--although there was less water stress, the vines weren't supporting as many clusters, or as big, so they could pack all the goods into a smaller volume. 

Just went up to DCV this weekend and it was my first real trip since pruning, but with all the mustard between the rows, things look far from dead.  Of course, Mendocino in January really took the cake, because there was still snow and ice in a few shady areas, and there was no new wood yet post pruning.  Still, because we get our rain in the winter, things look green and spring seems ever just around the corner.  We've had early rain and two more pretty good doses, but haven't had any week-long soakers in Jan and Feb, and it looks like we won't.  So, it would be nice to get rain before flowering (rain washes the pollen away, lowering fruit set). 

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