2013 Napa Valley: A First Look…
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-based reds continue to impress
with a combination of richness and energy that is compelling. Although it
is still quite early, the best 2013s are viscerally thrilling wines full of
From the Vineyard to the Bottle
One of the things I enjoy most is following wines along their entire arc of development, from the vineyard to the bottle and then many years beyond in retrospective tastings. A few years
ago I started visiting Napa Valley in the spring, as I wanted to get an early
look at the prior year’s vintage. Unlike Bordeaux, where blends are put together by April for en primeur, in Napa Valley virtually none of the wines are blended by the spring. Many have not even been racked. Wines can be tasted from barrel in their separate components, variety by variety and often block by block. These tastings provide
a level of insight that I find invaluable in making later assessments about
vintages and specific wines. What follows are general notes on the 2013 vintage based on barrel tastings done in April, 2014.
2013 Vintage: Early Observations
several weeks in Napa Valley during the 2013 harvest. The growing season was characterized by drought-like conditions
and warm weather throughout the year. Harvest was early, but then two small,
unexpected rain events relaxed things into mid-October at a number of estates. In
most places, yields were lower than 2012, which was obvious and easy to observe
just by spending time in the vineyards. The berry size was especially small in
2013. Most growers attribute the small berry size to warm weather and lack of
rain in late May and early June, adding that irrigation compensated only to a
small degree. Small berries mean high skin to juice ratios, which is generally
favorable for intensity of flavor and structure. One of the unique attributes
of the year is that even though the grapes were concentrated, the fruit
retained good acidity and structure. The 2013s are deeply colored wines
with superb depth and plenty of acidity to match. My first impression is that
2013 is shaping up to be more complex and interesting than 2012, a year with
high yields and more than a few wines that are lacking in concentration and
Experience the 2013 Harvest in Multimedia
For more on 2013 growing season and harvest, readers might
enjoy videos shot at Beaulieu Vineyard, Bevan, Colgin, Futo, Hourglass, Kapcsandy, Kongsgaard, Robert Mondavi, Montelena, Opus One, Ovid, Pahlmeyer, Joseph Phelps, Screaming Eagle, Spottswoode, and Turley last fall.
Ongoing Coverage of Napa Valley
My goal is to bring readers the most comprehensive and
timely coverage of Napa Valley wines available anywhere, starting with first impressions of the new vintage. In the spirit of our
ongoing commitment to revisiting older, reference-point wines, we will publish comprehensive verticals of
Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon and Dalla Valle Maya in the next
few weeks. Reviews of the 2012s from bottle and 2013s from barrel will follow this fall. There may also be a few surprises along the way…
Cabernet Sauvignon at Madrona Ranch, St. Helena, fall 2013
Effortless. That is what comes to mind when I think of
Abreu. Winemaker Brad Grimes is a natural, like the kid you went to high school
with who never studied yet got the best grades. Everything is intuitive. This
is the only cellar in Napa Valley I know of where wines in barrel are subdivided
by lots that correspond to pick dates. Fruit is harvested when it is ripe, regardless
of variety, which means all of the lots are co-fermentations. Not surprisingly,
co-fermentation is an approach that is beginning to gain traction in other
cellars as well. The early blending of grapes allows for an amalgamation of
flavors and textures that is quite different from what is achievable through
blending later, although naturally that comes at the expense of
flexibility. In the 2013 vintage there
are a total of 17 separate picks, all of which I was able to sample.
We start with Cappella, always the most open and supple of
the Abreu wines. I particularly like the lots with high percentages of Cabernet
Franc and Petit Verdot. There are seven picks of Madrona Ranch, each of them
incredibly distinctive. Here, too, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot play
important roles. In my opinion, the Howell Mountain is the most improved wine
at Abreu. There is a level of richness here that is not found in the other
Abreu wines. Specifically, the lots with a high percentage of Malbec are
magnificent. Thorevilos is the most structured wine in the range. As we move
through a series of four picks the tannins become nearly buried by the sheer
richness of the fruit. So far, 2013 is shaping up to be an epic vintage at
Blankiet Estate, Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon
Proprietors Claude and Katherine Blankiet have an eye for aesthetics
that is evident throughout their property. The art collection alone is
incredible. But Blankiet is more than just Napa Valley glamor. Blankiet is just
as committed to offering consumers an affordable, entry-level wine, Prince
of Hearts, which is one of the very best values in the valley today. That same attention to detail carries over to the pristine
cellar, where nothing is overlooked.
Trying to get a better, clearer understanding
of the role of cooperage is a lifetime’s study. I spent several hours tasting
multiple lots of the same wines from different barrels with Claude Blankiet and
Winemakers Denis and May-Britt Malbec, a fascinating and insightful exercise,
to say the least. Suffice it to say the 2013s at Blankiet are shaping up to be
terrific. The 2012s, which I also tasted from barrel, are quite pretty, supple
and layered, in other words very much in the style of the year. I also had a
chance to revisit the 2010s and 2011s. The 2010s are full of potential, but
closed today and should be cellared for at least another year or two. In 2011,
both the Prince of Hearts and Proprietary Red are huge overachievers.
BOND's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Quella
It’s always an education to taste the BOND wines straight
out of barrel, as the personalities of the five single vineyards are in some
ways most transparent when the wines are at this very early stage of their
lives. Winemaker Cory Empting gave the 2013s 30-40 days on the skins, which is
on the long side. The wines had not been racked yet when I tasted them.
The 2013s are striking. As is often the case, I find the St.
Eden compelling for the purity of its fruit and overall voluptuousness. The
Vecina, another personal favorite, introduces more mineral and savory-inflected
notes. My impression is that over the last few years the Pluribus is the wine
that has changed the most, as the mountain tannins seem to have acquired a
level of polish I don’t recall always seeing in the past. I also had a chance
to taste all of the 2012s from barrel. The 2012s are showing beautifully today.
While I don’t think the 2012s will reach the level of the stratospheric 2010s
or the hugely promising 2013s, they will deliver more pleasure and joy earlier
than either of those two vintages.
Casa Piena is another small estate that is continuing to
step up quality. The property is owned by Carmen Policy, while Thomas
Rivers-Brown makes the wines. Tasted from barrel, Casa Piena’s 2013 Cabernet
Sauvignon offers plenty of potential in a layered, opulent style. The wines off this site have always showed quite a bit of character and personality, which is
remarkable considering that in 2013 the vines were just ten years old.
Tasting the 2013s from barrel at Colgin
It is always fascinating to taste wines from barrel with Ann Colgin, her husband Joe Wender and their Winemaker Alison Tauziet. In addition to her own Tychson Hill and IX Estate, Colgin sources fruit from a number of David Abreu's properties, which makes for some pretty interesting comparative tastings in the cellar.
Two lots of Cabernet Sauvignons from Tychson Hill are both
highly expressive. The second wine, which emerges from a more recently
developed parcel on the upper slope of Tychson, is co-fermented with dollops of
Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Here the interplay of textures and flavors is utterly
compelling. We move on to the wines from David Abreu’s properties. A Cabernet
Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc from the Lucia Abreu vineyard on Howell Mountain is
dazzling. Two Cabernets from Madrona Ranch are both incredibly distinctive.
Coincidentally, I walked that site just a few hours after the fruit was picked.
The wines from IX Estate on Pritchard Hill are all their own. Merlot shows
distinct ferrous and mineral notes, while two lots of 337 Cabernet Sauvignon
boast incredible perfume and pure texture. And then there is the Syrah, which
finds magnificent dimensions of expression on these steep, mountain vineyards. For more on the 2013 vintage, readers might enjoy this video I shot with Tauziet last fall.
I have been drinking Cathy Corison’s Cabernets since the mid
1990s, but this is the first time I have tasted the wines from barrel as such
an early stage. It is fascinating to taste the vineyards that go into the Napa
Valley Cabernet Sauvignon separately. In particular, the 2013 Cabernet from
Hayne is compelling for the striking purity of its fruit. Some of the other benchland sites display
more ferrous, mineral notes that add complexity to the blend. Kronos, is well,
Kronos. This parcel of head-trained vines on St. George rootstock yields
complete, layered wines endowed with expressive perfume, voluptuous fruit and fabulous overall balance, all elements that are found in the 2013 from barrel.
Dalla Valle's 2012s and 2013s
I can’t think of too many properties that have been on a
roll like Dalla Valle has over the last few years. With each passing vintage
the wines seem to keep getting better and better. Proprietor Naoko Dalla Valle
has endured more than most, starting with the loss of her husband, Gustav, in
1995, to a devastating series of vine diseases that resulted in a complete re-planting
of her estate, one of the most pristine sites in Oakville. For her patience,
perseverance and dedication to the land, Dalla Valle has been rewarded with a
number of fabulous wines, the best of which are truly stratospheric. Winemaker Andy Erickson deserves quite a bit of credit as well for helping shepherd the property through a challenging period during which Dalla Valle has been reborn.
In 2013, Erickson opted for shorter macerations than normal,
as the extractions of color, fruit and tannin were fast and relatively easy.
Dalla Valle is always one of the later properties to blend and bottle,
especially true of the flagship Maya. I tasted two 2013s, both from the Maya
blocks, that had been racked about three weeks before my visit. The Cabernet
Franc here is always superb, but its quality is never more obvious than when it
is tasted like this, alone. Cabernet Sauvignon is equally magnificent,
explosive and intense to the core. During this visit I also tasted the 1999
Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maya blocks, a superb and very rare wine Dalla Valle
made only once for a charity auction. There is clearly something totally alluring about this land,
whether it is expressed through
Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. As for the 2012s, well, they are
shaping up to be gems.
I was fortunate this year to stop by Dominus before the
blends had been assembled, so I had the opportunity to taste the 2013s variety
by variety with Christian Moueix and Winemaker Tod Mostero. The harvest took
place between September 9 and 26, quite early by Dominus standards. Like many
Napa Valley winemakers, Mostero identifies the lack of late-season heat spikes
as one of the signatures of the year. Mouiex is one of the most outspoken
critics of irrigation in Napa Valley, a position that by definition places
extreme importance on the age of vineyards. That is evident in two Cabernet
Francs in this tasting. The first, from vines planted in 1994, is terrific, while the
second, from vines planted in 2010 is much more bombastic and less finessed.
Both Petit Verdots are insanely beautiful. Of course Petit Verdot is a blender,
but one has to wonder what happens with the leftover juice after the blends for
Dominus and Napanook are created.
The four Cabernet Sauvignons are all distinctive. Block 7
A/B boasts exotic aromatics and a feminine, sleek personality. Block 24N is
much more explosive, but it is Block 6N, where the oldest vines on the property
are planted, that is the most impressive. Here the sensation of tannin is
totally covered by the pure depth and resonance of the fruit. There is a lot to
look forward to at Dominus.
The 2013s at Futo across the Stags's Leap and Oakville properties, block by block
I tasted a wide range of 2013s from barrel with Tom Futo and
Winemaker Jason Exposto when I stopped by a few weeks ago. The first Merlots
were brought in on August 28, while the Cabernets followed from September 9 to
23, all on the early side for the year. None of the 2013s had been racked at the time of this
Futo’s new Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon continues to
improve. The Merlot and four lots of Cabernet in this tasting are all loaded
with personality. Exposto opted for gentle fermentations, as the fruit and
tannin extracted easily and he did not want to overdo things, a view I heard
often with regards to the 2013s. The best lots of Stags’ Leap Cabernet have
incredibly appealing dark blue/purple fruit allied to graphite-infused mineral
notes and savory overtones. Three lots of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oakville
property are all impressive. This property has always excelled with Cabernet
Franc, so it is hardly surprising to see two Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot
co-ferments showing so beautifully. Readers might enjoy this video with Futo and Exposto shot just after my tasting last fall, when some of these wines were already dry.
The Grade Cellars
Tom Thornton and Brenda Mixson’s property sits at the
northern edge of Calistoga, near Jericho Canyon. Thomas Rivers-Brown took over
winemaking in 2012, but 2013 is the first vintage he and his team have overseen
farming and winemaking from the beginning of the year through the harvest.
Tasted from barrel, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is terrific, and most
importantly, full of promise. The Grade is going to be a fascinating project to
follow over the coming years, and hopefully, beyond.
The snaking contours of Oakville at Harlan Estate
I could spend all day in the cellar at Harlan Estate just
trying to get a better sense of the property, what has been planted, when and
why. A sample of 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the oldest remaining
blocks on the property planted with the Phelps Backus clone, is all about
texture, breadth and volume. A second Cabernet, from a combination of
Inglenook, Backus and Heitz Martha’s clones, captivates all of the senses with
its sheer beauty and depth. I also tasted the 2012 Harlan Estate from barrel,
but it seemed a bit shy from its recent blending and not in the mood to reveal
much at this stage, something I saw in a few other wines as well.
Harris Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon Treva’s Vineyard can
often be fierce when it is young, but in 2013 the tannins are impeccably balanced
by the sheer intensity and voluptuousness of the fruit. This barrel sample is
impressive. Hopefully it is also indicative of the overall quality of the year
here. Winemaker Thomas Rivers-Brown and his crew are doing some pretty amazing
Cameron and Bahaneh Hobel’s Cabernet Sauvignon emerges from
the Engelhard Vineyard, which sits on the lower slopes of Diamond Mountain in
Calistoga. Thomas Rivers-Brown is the winemaker. Hobel’s 2013 Cabernet
Sauvignon presents a gorgeous balance between the deep, rich style of and more
savory, mineral-driven notes that are typical of this site on Franz School Road.
Kapcsandy's State Lane Vineyard, Yountville
At the time of my visit, Lou Kapcsandy and winemaker Denis
Malbec were still in the process of creating their 2013 pre-blends, as the
malos were slower to finish than normal. The 2013 Grand Vin is 100% Cabernet
Sauvignon at this stage, although eventually there may be dollops of other
grapes in the final blend. All of the explosiveness, tension and power of the
year comes through in a super-exciting, structured wine endowed with energy and
class. Much the same is true of the 2013 Roberta’s Reserve Merlot, a wine that
boasts magnificent richness and vibrancy. I can hardly wait to taste the 2013s
again in the fall.
Kapcsandy fans will want to be on the lookout for a series
of gorgeous, small production still whites that pay homage to Kapcsandy’s
Hungarian roots. The three 2013 whites are Furmint, Muscat Blanc and Hárslevelü. Of the
three, I prefer the Furmint, followed closely by the Hárslevelü and then
the Muscat Blanc. At $30 a bottle, all three wines are a steal. For more on the 2013 growing season and the the new whites, readers might want to revisit this video shot at the tail end of the harvest. Lastly, the
2012 reds are shaping up beautifully. The 2012s are silky and polished. Whether
or not they will ultimately turn out to be viscerally thrilling as the very best vintages here is still an open question.
Outpost has been on a roll in recent years. The wines keep
getting better and better as the team lead by proprietors Frank and Kathy
Dotzler and winemaker Thomas Rivers-Brown fine-tunes their approach. These
wines once again highlight just how unique Howell Mountain is within the
broader context of Napa Valley. While harvest was quite early elsewhere, things
didn’t wrap up here until October 23, when the True Cabernet Sauvignon was
brought in. Both 2013 Cabernet Sauvignons are impressive. Outpost’s Immigrant,
a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend made from co-fermented fruit
features a little more Merlot and less Franc than previous years, a decision
made to soften some of the contours in the wine. It, too, is hugely promising.
Ovid's Syrah block, Pritchard Hill
It’s great to be back at Ovid. I tasted some of the 2013s
from tank last fall, just as the wines were finishing their sugars, so it’s
interesting to see where the wines are now, six months later. For more perspective, readers might
enjoy looking back at the 2013 harvest at Ovid in this video we shot last fall.
Proprietor Dana Johnson and Winemaker Austin Peterson show
two Cabernet Francs; the first done in oak, the second in concrete. Both are
gorgeous. Cabernet Franc does so well up here on Pritchard Hill. The first
wine, the Franc done in oak, is pure tension and power. A spicier profile and
more forward fruit are the signatures of the Franc done in concrete. Clone 4
Cabernet Sauvignon emphasizes power and minerality, with plenty of savory
overtones, while the Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon is more sumptuous in texture,
but with less of the overt aromatics often found in 337 Cabernets. Two 2012
base blends are striking. The 2012 Ovid is rich, dense and powerful. Today, it
looks like one of the high points of the year, the 2012 Syrah, which is nearly
impossible to find, is explosive and resonant from the very first taste.
Joseph Phelps Estate, St. Helena
I have been deeply impressed with Phelps, especially over
the last few years, as the winery has moved to estate-grown fruit for their
flagship wines. The 2013s, which I tasted with Head of Winemaking Damian Parker
and Winemaker Ashley Hepworth, are shaping up to be real beauties. The harvest
started on September 2013 and lasted four weeks. As opposed to 2012, there were
no late season heat spikes in 2013. Like many of her colleagues, Hepworth opted
for gentler extractions by employing lower temperatures in fermentation, fewer pump
overs and slightly less time on the skins overall. For more perspective,
readers might enjoy this short
video I shot with Hepworth during the harvest. I also tasted the 2012s,
which are sure to be crowd pleasers, even if a comparison between 2012 and 2013
makes it quite clear what the relative merits are of both vintages.
A deep, inky wine, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a
drop-dead gorgeous beauty. Black cherry compote, cassis, crushed rocks, mint
and white flowers hit the palate in this sumptuous, impeccable wine. In 2013, Insignia
has a higher percentage of Stags’ Leap fruit than is often the case, which
means it will almost certainly take a bit longer in bottle to fully come
together. Its potential, though, is both significant and evident. Another
superb wine, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Backus wraps around the palate with
gorgeous finesse and pure texture. The tannins are present, but they are nearly
buried by the sheer intensity of the fruit.
It is amazing to see the progress Bill Harlan and his team have
made at Promontory over the last few years. Harlan brought in renowned soil
scientist Claude Bourgignon to help restore the soils to a more healthy
balance. Given the culture of introspection, analysis and thoughtfulness Bill
Harlan has instilled among his team, I would not be surprised if some of the
lessons learned at Promontory are also incorporated at Harlan Estate and BOND,
where experimentation is far riskier given the high profile of those properties
and wines. In particular, it will be interesting to follow views on irrigation
as they develop over the coming years at all the Harlan properties. One of the
important issues at Promontory – perhaps the most important – is managing
tannin, which can be incisive and piercing. With each passing vintage, though,
that seems to be less of an issue.
I tasted four 2013 Cabernet Sauvignons off the property, all
of which capture the essence of these rugged hillside vineyards and the
vintage. According to Winemaker Cory Empting the cold winery where Promontory
is currently made contributed to long malolactic fermentations. At the time of
this tasting, in April 2014, malos were 95% completed at Harlan Estate and
about 60% finished at Promontory. Still, I found the 2013s impressive.
The most beautiful of the wines is the second wine, which
emerges from one of the cooler, isolated sites on the ranch with volcanic,
basaltic soils. This unique site could very well produce a single-parcel wine
in the future. Savory and graphite-inflected notes wrap around a core of intense,
deep fruit in a wine with huge potential. The third Cabernet, from a
high-altitude parcel planted on a mix of volcanic and sedimentary soils, is
super-intense, deep, compact and hugely intriguing. Firm, incisive tannins and
expressive aromatics burst from the glass in the fourth wine, a Cabernet
Sauvignon with tons of intrigue and complexity. The 2012 Promontory is the last wine of the tasting. Young wines from this
hillside property have typically shown much more biting, focused tannin, but the super-finessed 2012 appears to have a very bright future.
According to Proprietor Thomas Rivers-Brown the key
attribute to 2013 is a growing season with an extended period of 90+ days, but
no heat spikes. Brown reported that malos were slow to finish in 2013.
Unfortunately I was only able to taste two 2013s from
Rivers-Marie, but both are new and likely to be bottled as vineyard designates.
Lore Vineyard (formerly Oakville Terraces), is a steep site on the western edge
of Oakville. The 2013 is an ample, resonant Cabernet Sauvignon built on pure
volume and breadth that shows the natural concentration from thick-skinned
grape with very little juice, something that is typical of the vintage.
Rivers-Marie fans can also look forward to a new Cabernet Sauvignon from
Larkmead, one of the most historic and renowned vineyards in the valley. The
2013 is beautifully layered in the glass, with impeccable balance, nuance and
More recently, Brown has taken over one of the best Petite
Sirah parcels in Denis Sutro’s Palisades Vineyard for his new project with
Outpost’s Frank Dotzler. It will be interesting to see what Brown does with
that fruit, as the Carver-Sutro Petites have long been terrific and often
It’s always fascinating to taste the component wines
directly from barrel at Screaming Eagle block by block. Of course, a
tasting like this can only provide a cursory overview of a vintage. In 2013,
Screaming Eagle vinified more than 40 different lots, so the eight wines I
tasted represent just a fraction of the production.
I am impressed by the two
Merlots, not just by their overall quality, but by how different they are. The
first Merlot is bright and punchy, while the second Merlot, from a block rich
in iron and gravel, is much more ferrous and aromatically high-toned. Both Cabernet Francs are also super-expressive, but it is
the Cabernet Sauvignons that are really singing today. Clone 6 Cabernet
Sauvignon stands out for its intense aromatics and depth. The first Clone 7
Cabernet Sauvignon is all about silkiness and perfume, while the second Clone 7
Cabernet Sauvignon boasts extraordinary color, power and richness. The tasting
ends with a magnificent See Clone Cabernet Sauvignon harvested on October 2nd,
very late within the context of the year. The 2012 Second Flight and Screaming
Eagle have just been blended, but even so, they are shaping up to be gorgeous. For more insight on current vintages readers might want to take a look at this video interview with winemaker Nick Gislason shot in October 2013.
Cabernet Sauvignon at Togni, Spring Mountain
Philip Togni’s wines are always slow to reveal themselves,
but it is undoubtedly fascinating to watch their evolution from baby wines into
bottled wines. There are basically two lots in the cellar, A and B, with
free-run and press components kept separate. The 2013 barrels all show
remarkable depth and concentration, with plenty of black fruit and spice notes
supported by the mountain tannins that are such a big part of the signature
style here. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, also tasted from barrel, presents a
much more red-toned profile, with sweeter spices and silkier tannin vis-à-vis
the 2013. Both vintages are going to be fascinating to follow, although I
expect to see more intensity from the 2013 when the wines are ultimately
bottled. Togni remains a small, family-run operation much like what one might
see in Burgundy or Piedmont rather than what is more typical in Napa Valley
these days. The focus has always been on handcrafted, artisan wines. It doesn't look like that is going to change anytime soon under Lisa Togni.
Vine Hill Ranch
The 2013s from Vine Hill Ranch, block by block
It’s hard to believe just how far Bruce and Heather Phillips
have come in just a few years. Of course, the Phillips family has been
supplying grapes to some of the Napa Valleys top wineries for decades, but that
is not the same as making wine. Ever since their debut vintage 2008, the Phillipses have quietly but
surely staked out a place for themselves among the top producers in Napa Valley.
Vineyard guru Mike Wolf and Winemaker Françoise Peschon bring an
extraordinary level of passion to Vine Hill Ranch that is evident in every
Vine Hill Ranch currently produces just one wine, which is a
blend of six separate blocks on the property. The 2013 harvest was a full three
weeks ahead of 2012. Peschon opted to leave the wines on their lees as long as
possible. The 2013s were racked in March, right after the malos finished. The
five blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon in this tasting are all vivid and remarkably
different. Block 6L, the single largest component, is drop-dead gorgeous. Petit
Verdot has yet to be used in a final blend at Vine Hill Ranch, but the 2013 is
beyond beautiful. The 2012, tasted just prior to bottling, could turn out to be
one of the wines of the vintage. I also
had a chance to re-visit the 2010 and 2011 from bottle. Both wines confirm
their place among the best wines of their respective years. Readers who haven’t
tasted Vine Hill Ranch owe it to themselves to do so. This is without question
one of the most exciting properties in Napa Valley today.
- Antonio Galloni