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California Cabernet 2016: Panel tasting results

An increased focus on freshness went down well, with Alexander Valley earning an all-round seal of approval in this smaller than usual line-up of California’s new-release Cabernets. 81 California Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 wines tasted, with 56 Highly Recommended by our panel of Stephen Brook, James Doidge and Ronan Sayburn MS

The 2016 vintage is unquestionably one of the finest for California Cabernet Sauvignon in the past two decades, writes Matthew Luczy. A relatively calm growing season gave wines that exude power, nuance and precision. Ripening and harvest occurred in waves, leaving producers the luxury of leeway with picking decisions.

Yields were down on average, due mainly to the ongoing drought that began in 2012, though this vintage would mark its end.

A warm, dry winter kept frost at bay and accelerated budbreak. Spring temperatures were warm as well, putting winemakers in a similar headspace to that of 2015. While the early part of summer was moderately hot, August cooled sharply – a stark departure from the previous year. This allowed extended hangtime and slowed ripeness, giving the wines freshness and vibrancy.

September brought the return of higher temperatures and consistent weather during harvest. Mid-October delivered some of the heaviest rain in decades, but most picking had already been completed. Grape clusters were significantly more healthy and consistent than in 2015 when heat spikes at harvest caused roasted bunches and spotty wines for some producers.


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California Cabernet: The Facts

Total wine grape plantings – 229,052ha
Cabernet Sauvignon plantings – 36,738ha

Cabernet Sauvignon by major region
Napa Valley –  8,413ha
San Luis Obispo – 5,573ha
Sonoma County – 4,977ha
San Joaquin Valley – 4,927ha


See all of the wines in this California Cabernet 2016 tasting here


The overall California Cabernet 2016 scores:

81 wines tasted

Entry criteria: producers and UK agents were invited to submit their 2016 vintage Californian Cabernet Sauvignon (minimum 75%) reds

Exceptional 0

Outstanding 9

Highly Recommended 56

Recommended 15

Commended 1

Fair 0

Poor 0

Faulty 0


Top wines from the California Cabernet 2016 panel tasting:


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