California 2012 vintage
Generous yields and a warm, uneventful growing season produced open-knit, ripe, fruit-driven wines which sometimes lack depth and complexity.
After the challenges of cool and unpredictable weather in 2010 and 2011, 2012 offered winemakers across the state of California a welcome respite: above-average yields, and a warm, uneventful growing season. Many growers and vintners paid tribute to the ‘ideal’ conditions. Indeed, the vintage’s principle challenged were logistical: a generous crop meant it was sometimes a challenge to find space in vinification tanks for fruit that was ready to harvest. In assessing a vintage’s stature, however, convenience and quality are only loosely correlated, and it seems that the year’s easy conditions may have led to excessive enthusiasm on the part of vintners and critics alike.
The ensuing wines are generally rich, ripe and laden with fruit. In many respects, 2012 might be described as the quintessential modern California vintage. The wines’ low acidities and open-knit structures have already won them many friends, and they seem unlikely to shut down. Sceptics might question whether yields were on average too generous, resulting in a lack of depth and real character. And in their heady, fruit-forward style, many 2012s—and especially Napa Cabernet Sauvignons—will certainly strike more classically-minded tasters as facile and superficial, best suited to comparatively near-term and uncritical consumption. Of course, California is an extremely varied, multifaceted wine region, and there are exceptions to every general picture. But what seems clear is that 2012 is clearly overshadowed by the magical 2013 vintage, and in all likelihood by the 2014 vintage too.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon bears the stamp of the vintage most clearly: ripe, fruit-forward and easy-going, but not especially complex or built for the long-haul. Indeed, overripeness was a problem, so proceed with caution. Cooler Sonoma performed better, in particular for Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, juicy acids marrying appealingly with ripe fruit. Santa Barbara did well with the same varieties, and Santa Cruz Mountains may have produced the Cabernet Sauvignon of the vintage in Ridge’s Montebello, but the rest of the Central Coast produced generally less interesting wines, succumbing to the temptation of overripeness. As ever, there are exceptions, so producer and style may be a better guide than any generalisation.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Ridge Vineyards, Corison, Philip Togni, Forman, Dominus Estate, Screaming Eagle, Paul Hobbs
Chardonnay: Ridge Vineyards, Rhys, Varner, Sandhi
Pinot Noir: Rivers-Marie, Rhys, Domaine de la Côte, Joseph Swan
Rhône varieties: Arnot-Roberts, Piedrassi, Rhys, Edmunds St. John, Wind Gap, Donelan, Peay