In Decanter magazine William Kelley reviewed the once in a life time 2013 vintage. All his reviews are now going online including some of the best scores given by Decanter magazine.

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2013 California Cabernet Sauvignon

For many winemakers and vintners, California’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage is quite simply the finest of their careers. ‘I can now die happy as a winemaker’, remarked Tod Mostero of Dominus Estate: ‘I’d love to see another year as good as this, but I can settle for just one’.

Up and down the state, the refrain is the same. Even veteran winemaker Ric Forman, who celebrates his fortieth vintage in the Napa Valley this year, contentedly acknowledges that 2013 ranks as ‘one of the good ones!’

  • Scroll down to see the wines scoring 94 – 96 points

Across California, vines suffering through a second consecutive year of drought produced unusually small berries, with a high solids-to-juice ratio. A consistently warm summer and early fall, uninterrupted by heat spikes or rain, made for an early harvest in ideal conditions.

‘The raw material in 2013 was the best we’ve ever seen’, reflects Thomas Brown, one of the Napa Valley’s most celebrated consultants and winemaker for Schrader and Maybach. And Brown’s assessment is echoed by growers and winemakers in other appellations such as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma County.

The result? Wines of extraordinary depth and tannic concentration, built for the ages. As Eric Baugher of Ridge Vineyards reveals, 2013 is ‘undoubtedly the most tannic vintage of the new millennium’, but its structure is complemented by a remarkable wealth of fruit—so much so that Ridge forewent their customary egg white fining, a practice that can refine aggressive tannins but which they deemed unnecessary in 2013.

Unlike the rather facile and fruit-forward 2012 vintage, the 2013s possess, as Mostero puts it, ‘another dimension’ that makes them ‘very, very unique’. Indeed, comparisons with other vintages seem otiose.

‘The vintage amplified everything’, Thomas Brown explains: ‘elevated levels of acidity and tannin cut through the fruit, preserving balance’. The hallmark of 2013 is thus a marriage of ripe fruit with savoury qualities modern California Cabernet Sauvignon so frequently lacks. That makes for striking complexity and sophistication in the glass.

Even a vintage as propitious as 2013, however, can present challenges. For one, Cabernet reached optimum maturity hard on the heels of earlier-ripening varieties across California. Many winemakers accordingly struggled to process so much fruit in so short a time.

‘Never before’, Baugher told me in October 2013, ‘have I had to ferment so much Cabernet Sauvignon at the same time as Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignan, and Chardonnay’. Nick Gislason at Screaming Eagle remembers 2013 as a vintage where he was thankful to preside over such an over-resourced winery. But not all addresses were equipped to face these logistical pressures, so some were forced to harvest later than they might have wished.

To be continued…

Wines Scoring 94-96 Points

97-100 to follow

Verité, Sonoma County, La Desir, California, USA, 2013

Verité, Sonoma County, La Desir, California, USA, 2013

The most exotic and aromatically seductive of the Verité wines, wild red and black fruits marry with nuances of cigar tobacco and incipient floral details. While similarly large-scalled, La Desir's tannic structure is more supple than its siblings and its palate presence appealingly energetic. 62% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot, 11%…

Points 96
Bond, Napa Valley, Pluribus, California, USA, 2013

Bond, Napa Valley, Pluribus, California, USA, 2013

Aromas of briary fruit, rich soil tones, dried herbs and subtle torrefaction are followed by a spherical, firmly structured Cabernet with a nice core of juicy fruit. From a site above the fog line on Spring Mountain which is now dry farmed, the Pluribus is the Bond wine which shows…

Points 96
Cain, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain, Cain Five, 2013

Cain, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain, Cain Five, 2013

A fragrant but savoury bouquet of perfumed blackberry, rich earth, fennel seed and cigar tobacco leads to a wine with lovely cut, vibrancy and concentration, structured around firm but refined 2013 tannins. Christopher Howell deserves more recognition for the amazing consistency, longevity and sophistication that his wines from this striking…

Points 96
Forman, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2013

Forman, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2013

Fragrant black cherry and blackcurrant, wet rocks, pencil shavings, cigar smoke and floral top notes are the prelude to a savoury, beautifully structured wine framed around chalky, ripe tannins and fresh acidity. Ric Forman is not far from celebrating his 50th vintage in Napa Valley, and sums up 2013 as…

Points 96
Diamond Creek, Napa Valley, Gravelley Meadow, 2013

Diamond Creek, Napa Valley, Gravelley Meadow, 2013

Notes of cassis, rich earth and pencil shavings lead into a seamless, elegant but authoratative wine that nods to the Médoc. This is the most refined of the Diamond Creek bottlings, hailing, as its name suggests, from dry-farmed vines growing in deep gravel soils.

Points 96
Bond, Napa Valley, St. Eden, California, USA, 2013

Bond, Napa Valley, St. Eden, California, USA, 2013

Black fruits, sage and mountain laurel preface a deep, juicy wine; ample but savoury. From red volcanic soils in east Oakville, this wine impresses for its vibrancy and cut—which give it the edge over its sibling Vecina on the other side of the valley.

Points 95
Heitz Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, Martha's Vineyard, 2010

Heitz Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, Martha's Vineyard, 2010

One of Napa Valley's classics, Martha's Vineyard is a legendary site in west Oakville at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. Heitz's 2010 rendition opens up with fragrant black fruit, mint chocolate and rich soil tones, revealing supple, layered tannins and bright acidity on the palate. Like all the Heitz…

Points 95
Bond, Napa Valley, Quella, California, USA, 2013

Bond, Napa Valley, Quella, California, USA, 2013

Black cherry, raspberry, herbs and coniferous forest floor marry in the Quella's bouquet, followed by a wine of real energy on the palate, with a vibrant core of acidity and elgeant filigree tannins. The Quella derives from a site not far from Melbury, but poor, well-drained volcanic soils yield a…

Points 95
Diamond Creek, Napa Valley, Volcanic Hill, California, 2013

Diamond Creek, Napa Valley, Volcanic Hill, California, 2013

The most virile and brooding of Diamond Creek's cuvées, a tight-knit bouquet of dark fruit and incense leads into a seriously structured and powerful wine, underpinned by fresh acids and crisp tannins. The Volcanic Hill, which the late, great Al Brounstein liked to compare to Château Latour, always takes the…

Points 95
Cresta Velia, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, Cabernet

Cresta Velia, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, Cabernet

Aromas of black raspberry, cassis, dark sugar and wild Howell Mountain spice inform the aromatics of John Giannini's compelling 2013 Cabernet from Howell Mountain's Eagle Summit vineyard. On the palate the wine is dense, firmly structured and authoratative, underpinned by crisp acids: a classic mountain wine.

Points 95
Araujo Estate, Napa Valley, Eisele Vineyard, Cabernet

Araujo Estate, Napa Valley, Eisele Vineyard, Cabernet

A deep-pitched bouquet of fresh red-black fruit, deep soil tones and floral top notes introduces a youthfully primary wine with a refined, three-dimensional tannic structure and signature Eisele minerality. The first wine produced 'from berry to bottle' by the Pinault regime is thus a great success, with notably superior barrel…

Points 95
Mount Eden, Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013

Mount Eden, Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013

A true classic, bursting with red and black fruit, vinesmoke and pencil shavings, and structured by fine tannin and bracing Santa Cruz acidity. Consistently one of the most ageworthy Cabernets in California, gaining in volume and expansiveness with time in the cellar, always vibrant and intense.

Points 95
Ovid, Napa Valley, California, USA, 2013

Ovid, Napa Valley, California, USA, 2013

A fresh and primary nose of crushed blackcurrant reveals lovely incipient complexity in the form of subtle tar and warm chapparal (the aromatic thorny scrub that grows in Napa's eastern hills), introducing a fresh, bright and refined wine structured around layers of finely detailed tannins. This sophisticated bottling from the…

Points 95
Verité, Sonoma County, La Joie, California, USA, 2013

Verité, Sonoma County, La Joie, California, USA, 2013

The most brooding and massive wine in the Verité portfolio, creamy cassis, plum and graphite are followed by a large-scaled, dense and intensely concentrated, savoury wine which lives up to its reputation as Sonoma's answer to Pauillac. 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.

Points 95
Ramey, Napa Valley, Oakville, Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet

Ramey, Napa Valley, Oakville, Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet

The most exciting of Ramey's 2013s, the Pedregal reveals a classic Oakville nose of plush red-black fruits, licorice and rich earth; the prelude to a modern but relatively restrained Cabernet with good acidity and refined tannin.

Points 94
Bond, Napa Valley, Melbury, California, USA, 2013

Bond, Napa Valley, Melbury, California, USA, 2013

A bouquet of red plum, griotte cherry and cedar introduce a vibrant wine framed by crisp tannins and bright acids. From a site to the east of Rutherford characterised by clayey soils, the Melbury is a more ample wine than the Quella not far away, but retains nice cut and…

Points 94
Diamond Creek, Napa Valley, Red Rock Terrace, 2013

Diamond Creek, Napa Valley, Red Rock Terrace, 2013

Bright blackberry and red cherry marry with scents of mountain laurel and mint, followed by a juicy, supple wine with real cut and energy. This is the most open-knit and accessible of Diamond Creek's cuvées, but don’t let that decieve you: its track record for aging is just as strong…

Points 94
Heitz Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, Trailside Vineyard, 2010

Heitz Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, Trailside Vineyard, 2010

From a vineyard in east Rutherford, the 2010 Trailside is bursting with notes of deep black fruit, burning embers, singed plum and bitter chocolate—or is that the famed "Rutherford dust"? Richly savoury, this wine is structured around velvety tannins and bright acidity and should cruise along in the cellar.

Points 94
Enfield Wine Company, Sonoma Coast, Fort Ross Seaview,

Enfield Wine Company, Sonoma Coast, Fort Ross Seaview,

Winemaker John Lockwood jumped at the chance to make a Fort Ross Seaview Cabernet when he heard about this small 2 acre vineyard perched on Tank Hill in the isolated, fog-swept extreme west of the Sonoma Coast. This region is almost exclusively devoted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but Lockwood's…

Points 94
Screaming Eagle, Napa Valley, Oakville, Second Flight, 2013

Screaming Eagle, Napa Valley, Oakville, Second Flight, 2013

A blend containing more Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Screaming Eagle's second wine is more floral and perfumed, revealing a fragrant bouquet of bright raspberry, rose petal, tobacco and spearmint. Supple and savoury, this wine appeals for its aromatic amplitude and classical profile.

Points 94