California Cabernet 2012: 10 top wines

Linda Murphy picks 10 top wines from California Cabernet 2012 vintage, and speaks to producers about that successful year.

California Cabernet 2012

‘2012 was an outstanding vintage,’ says Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Jackson Family Wines’ high-end Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, bottled under the Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota and Mount Brave labels. ‘In 2011, we sourced Cab from just three Napa Valley sub-appellations. In 2012, we used seven sub-AVAs. The mountain vineyards [on Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain] did well in the cool 2011, as they got more warmth at the end of the growing season. But the warmer conditions in 2012 gave us more [blending] options from other regions.’

Tim Bell, winemaker for Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma, says: ‘2012 was a blessed relief. 2009 was cool, with rain at harvest. 2010 and 2011 were cool and produced Cabs with a herbal, Bordeaux character. 2012 was just beautiful: no rain at the wrong time, and with armer temperatures that eliminated excessive herbal characteristics.’

In Paso Robles. Steve Peck, maker of red wines for J Lohr Vineyards & Winery, points out that 2012 was the first year of a four-year drought in California, which currently has residents and businesses rationing water.

‘The warm and dry conditions of 2012 caused early budbreak and early veraison,’ he says. ‘We saw greater tannic structure in Cabernet in 2012 as a result. It was an excellent vintage, though 2013 has more body to go with the tannin.’

Aron Weinkauf, winemaker and vineyard manager at Spottswoode Estate in Napa Valley, sums the Californian Cab scene up by saying, ‘Coming on the heels of 2011, which produced quite restrained, aromatically driven Cabernet Sauvignons, 2012 ripeness was decidedly not a challenge. We strived to achieve a balanced ripeness that underscores the density and structure of the vintage, while preserving the aromatic freshness and beauty of the wines. The fact that there were no significant heat spikes was a big factor in helping us to achieve this goal.’

Long-time contributor to Decanter, Linda Murphy is the author of American Wine: The Ultimate Companion with Jancis Robinson MW.