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1990 vintage guide for California Cabernet Sauvignon

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A superb vintage in most regions

Weather Conditions

In the north Coast, heavy rains in late May arrived during the bloom period to reduce the crop by 20% to 30% overall. June and July provided mild summer weather that extended into the fall. Most grapes ripened evenly, and because of prevailing drought conditions and the low crop yield, Cabernet often developed intense, rich character and considerably high tannins. Most vineyards were picked before the light rains arrived in late September. This vintage stands out for wines of intensity and complex, deep flavors. Even allowing for some degree of unchecked tannins, many well-established producers came up with one of their best Cabernets; those winemakers able to rein in the tannins made the superstars. By this vintage the number of new wineries making so- called hand crafted Cabernet and Merlot has practicably gotten out of control. With this infusion of new blood, this is the best vintage since 85. For Merlot yields were down by 10% to 15% in Napa and Sonoma which normally signals better quality. Overall, the vintage displays pert fruit and better flavor concentration than either 88 or 89.

Best Appellations

This was one of the rare years in which all the major regions were smiled upon equally. One could argue that the Oakville-Rutherford region yielded the highest-scoring Cabernets, but the mountain sites and the Stags Leap District displayed great regional character as well. The Alexander Valley and Sonoma Valley also fared extremely well. For Merlot, this was the first vintage in which Sonoma County begins to take the lead over Napa.

Best Producers

Caymus, Beringer Private Reserve, Opus One, Cafaro, Spotteswoode, Phelps Insignia, Diamond Creek (all three vineyards), Shafer, Beaulieu Reserve, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Chateau Montelena, Mondavi Reserve rank high among the old guard. Pahlmeyer, Dalla Valle, Hartwell, Viader, Chateau St. Jean, Gallo Estate, and Arrowood headed the list of impressive newcomers.

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