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Napa Valley & California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: Panel tasting results

High scores aplenty confirmed there is very good quality in California’s 2015 Cabernets, with a consistent standard overall, though a tendency to super-ripeness persists, says Stephen Brook...

Dave Allen, Stephen Brook and Terry Kandylis tasted 197 wines, with 10 Outstanding and 63 Highly Recommended…

Entry criteria: Producers and UK agents were invited to submit California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 wines (minimum 75% Cabernet), from any region in California.

The verdict

If there was one thing the judges were in complete agreement about during this extensive tasting, it was that 2015 is an excellent vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon in California.

Scroll down to see the tasting notes & scores

There was, however, considerable regret that some significant regions submitted few or no samples. There were some wines from Sonoma, but far fewer than in previous years’ editions of this tasting; and Paso Robles, often a source of good-value Cabernets for relatively early drinking, was conspicuous by its complete absence.

The excellent performance of the two wines from Santa Cruz showed that tasters are by no means Napa-fixated, and it was good to see two juicy wines from Santa Barbara.

Quick link: See all 197 California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 tasting notes


Cal Cab: The facts

Total wine grape plantings in California: 257,900ha

Cabernet Sauvignon plantings in California: 35,445ha

Cabernet Sauvignon plantings in Napa Valley: 8,771ha (47% of plantings)

Cal Cab: Know your vintages

2016 A cool summer was followed by a warm September that speeded up ripening. Outstanding Cabernet with concentrated and layered wines.

2014 A warm though not excessively hot summer delivered vibrant Cabernets with fine tannins.

2013 A normal growing season, but small berries and thick skins gave ripe but tannic Cabernets that need time.

2012 A year of even ripening and generous yields. A precocious vintage, resulting in supple and generous wines.

2011 A difficult flowering meant a small crop after a fairly cool summer. Rain at harvest required many producers to sort unpicked fruit. Very good but inconsistent wines.

2010 A cool and late growing season, giving wines of fresh acidity and moderate alcohols, but stylistically controversial.

Top-scoring California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 from the panel tasting:

See all 197 California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 tasting notes

The judges

Dave Allen

Allen is director of Californian specialist wine merchant The Vineyard Cellars in Berkshire. He started at Coe Vintners before progressing through sales and managerial roles there and later at Enotria&Coe, and has spent most of his career selling premium-level wines and spirits in the on-trade across London and the southeast.

Stephen Brook

Decanter contributing editor Brook is the author of almost 40 books on travel, wine and more, and has won numerous awards for his writing on wine. His works include The Wines of California (Faber & Faber 1999), which won three awards, and his monumental survey The Complete Bordeaux is now in its third edition.

Terry Kandylis

Kandylis is head sommelier at London’s 67 Pall Mall private members’ club. He earned the title of Best Sommelier in Greece in 2015 and was the UK Sommelier of the Year in 2016. He has passed the advanced level of the Court of Master Sommeliers exam and is currently preparing for his MS diploma.

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