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1981 vintage guide for California Cabernet Sauvignon

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An unspectacular year

Weather Conditions

An early harvest was in full swing in mid-August after an intense heatwave which also reduced the crop in Napa and Sonoma. Napa’s Calistoga hit 111 F. In the shade in mid-June. Early overviews of a quick-maturing vintage were soon modified and this much misunderstood vintage eventually gave wines that age much better than expected. Napa Valley Cabernets revealed a supple texture, but with solid varietal character, and surprising balance. Although, typical of the times, even the best showed plenty of tannin in their youth.

Best Appellations

Cabernets grown on hillside vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz turned out to be among the finest from this vintage. Howell Mountain, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley had more than a normal share of successes. Santa Cruz was represented with distinction by Ridge Monte Bello.

Best Producers

Only a few such as Beringer Private Reserve’s Private Reserve, Dunn Howell Mountain, Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill, Caymus Special Selection, and Ridge Monte Bello went into the next century in good shape. Others from Napa that rose above the crowd and may still be at or near their peak are Heitz Martha’s, Opus One, Phelps (Backus), Beaulieu, Burgess, Silverado, Cuvaison, and Robert Mondavi. Sonoma’s best were Silver Oak, Laurel Glen, Clos du Bois, and Kenwood Artist Series.

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