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California Cabernet 2013 vintage is quite simply the finest – part 1

In Decanter magazine William Kelley reviewed the once in a life time 2013 vintage. All his reviews are now going online including some of the best scores given by Decanter magazine.

2013 California Cabernet Sauvignon

For many winemakers and vintners, California’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage is quite simply the finest of their careers. ‘I can now die happy as a winemaker’, remarked Tod Mostero of Dominus Estate: ‘I’d love to see another year as good as this, but I can settle for just one’.

Up and down the state, the refrain is the same. Even veteran winemaker Ric Forman, who celebrates his fortieth vintage in the Napa Valley this year, contentedly acknowledges that 2013 ranks as ‘one of the good ones!’

  • Scroll down to see the wines scoring 94 – 96 points

Across California, vines suffering through a second consecutive year of drought produced unusually small berries, with a high solids-to-juice ratio. A consistently warm summer and early fall, uninterrupted by heat spikes or rain, made for an early harvest in ideal conditions.

‘The raw material in 2013 was the best we’ve ever seen’, reflects Thomas Brown, one of the Napa Valley’s most celebrated consultants and winemaker for Schrader and Maybach. And Brown’s assessment is echoed by growers and winemakers in other appellations such as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma County.

The result? Wines of extraordinary depth and tannic concentration, built for the ages. As Eric Baugher of Ridge Vineyards reveals, 2013 is ‘undoubtedly the most tannic vintage of the new millennium’, but its structure is complemented by a remarkable wealth of fruit—so much so that Ridge forewent their customary egg white fining, a practice that can refine aggressive tannins but which they deemed unnecessary in 2013.

Unlike the rather facile and fruit-forward 2012 vintage, the 2013s possess, as Mostero puts it, ‘another dimension’ that makes them ‘very, very unique’. Indeed, comparisons with other vintages seem otiose.

‘The vintage amplified everything’, Thomas Brown explains: ‘elevated levels of acidity and tannin cut through the fruit, preserving balance’. The hallmark of 2013 is thus a marriage of ripe fruit with savoury qualities modern California Cabernet Sauvignon so frequently lacks. That makes for striking complexity and sophistication in the glass.

Even a vintage as propitious as 2013, however, can present challenges. For one, Cabernet reached optimum maturity hard on the heels of earlier-ripening varieties across California. Many winemakers accordingly struggled to process so much fruit in so short a time.

‘Never before’, Baugher told me in October 2013, ‘have I had to ferment so much Cabernet Sauvignon at the same time as Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignan, and Chardonnay’. Nick Gislason at Screaming Eagle remembers 2013 as a vintage where he was thankful to preside over such an over-resourced winery. But not all addresses were equipped to face these logistical pressures, so some were forced to harvest later than they might have wished.

To be continued…

Wines Scoring 94-96 Points

97-100 to follow

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