Well-balanced, full-flavoured wines from a rollercoaster season. Napa has the edge (4 stars?) on Sonoma and Central Coast regions. Best are built for keeping.
2008 kicked off with one of the driest-ever springtimes in the key North Coast regions of Napa Valley, Sonoma and Lake County. The water table was already low and drought conditions dogged the season. Warmer Central Coast regions of Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo weren’t spared either – dry but intensely hot also.
Record-breaking frosts mid-March to late April – just as buds were breaking – left even later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon as vulnerable as other varieties. Napa’s warmer Oakville and Rutherford AVAs were mostly unscathed, but colder sites suffered, and in Lake County and Sonoma frost was merciless. Sierra Foothills also shivered.
Widely fluctuating temperatures and high winds (battering Central Coast regions in particular) blighted May’s flowering. Mid-summer was more moderate, before a hot August and dry, windy then rainy September heralded perfect picking weather in October. Autumn frosts in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo disrupted the harvest slightly.
While conditions reduced grape quantity, berry size shrunk too – concentrating flavours. Add effortless ripening in a fine October – and best Cabernets promise deep colour, balance, fully developed and varied flavours and aromas. Later-ripening character allowed physiological ripeness at lower sugar levels, with moderate alcohol.
Napa Valley sets the standard: good to very good, with great potential, wines are dark and powerful, full bodied, with plenty of firm tannins for ageing. Sonoma quality is more variable, not just between AVAs but between vineyards: best are balanced and have good fruit concentration and intense flavours. Lake County, too, offers nice balance and clean flavours.
Not all Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon was fully ripe before rising sugar levels demanded picking – forcing in-winery sorting – but the best should have good flavours, colour and intensity.
Not sufficiently tasted as yet – most won’t be released until 2011 – but good bets so far include Caymus, Coup de Foudre, Tor, Riboli Family, Au Sommet, Barnett Vineyard, Cardinale, Château Boswell, Corison Winery, Hall, Hourglass, J Davies Vineyards, Lang & Reed, Larkmead Vineyards, Lew Cellars, Plumpjack Winery, Schrader, Spottswoode Estate, Spring Mountain Vineyard, Staglin FamilyVineyards, Venge Vineyards, ZD Wines, Beaulieu Vineyard, Cain Vineyard, Duckhorn Vineyard, Ehlers Estate, Hill Family Estate, Gemstone, Joseph Phelps, Pride Mountain Vineyards, Saintsbury, Shafer Vineyards, Signorello Estate, Silverado Vineyards