Thursday, December 01, 2005
A Comprehensive Review of the Finest North Coast Producers
|2003 CABERNET SAUVIGNON HERB LAMB VYD.|
|NAPA||(release date 11/06)||RED||94|
|2004 CABERNET SAUVIGNON HERB LAMB VYD.|
|NAPA(release date 11/07)||RED||(94-96)|
|2003 CABERNET SAUVIGNON TYCHSON HILL VYD.|
|NAPA||(release date 11/06)||RED||96|
|2004 CABERNET SAUVIGNON TYCHSON HILL VYD.|
|NAPA||(release date 11/07)||RED||(95-97)|
|2003 CARIAD PROPRIETARY RED WINE|
|NAPA||(release date 11/06)||RED||95|
|2004 CARIAD PROPRIETARY RED WINE|
|NAPA||(release date 11/07)||RED||(95-97)|
|2003 IX PROPRIETARY RED ESTATE|
|NAPA||(release date 4/06)||RED||95|
|2004 IX PROPRIETARY RED ESTATE|
|NAPA||(release date 4/07)||RED||(97-100)|
|2003 IX SYRAH ESTATE|
|NAPA||(release date 11/05)||RED||92|
|2004 IX SYRAH ESTATE|
|NAPA||(release date 4/06)||RED||(91-94)|
The report, seemingly very comprehensive, lamentably, covers only a small percentage of the wines I tasted from Northern California over the last year. The majority of the wines reviewed were tasted on a two-week swing through the region in late October. As evidenced by the scores and notes that follow, California produces many world-class wines, but there remains an unacceptable quantity of mediocrity. From a wine critic's perspective, there are far too many innocuous, over-oaked, over-acidified, or over-cropped wines emerging from California. While those sins would not be a problem if the wines sold for under $20, many are in fact $75-$150. That's appalling.
With respect to recent vintages, California has been on a roll (at least for the people who are competent in both the vineyard and cellar) since the beginning of the new century. 2001 is a classic, long-lived, impressive vintage for the Bordeaux varietals, and the finest wines have many years of drinkability ahead of them. Most of the Chardonnays and other whites should have been consumed by now. Although 2002 is not as classic in a European sense, it offers extraordinarily exuberant, rich, fruity wines with abundant tannin as well as more flamboyant, open-knit personalities than the more closed, formidably dense 2001s. It was a fabulous vintage for Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Like 2001, 2002 was surprisingly irregular for Zinfandel. Most 2003s are now in the bottle, and the wines are performing much better than they did from barrel or tank. The strong, powerful reds are relatively high in alcohol, but exuberant, rich, and, in the case of Syrah and Zinfandel, better than their two predecessors. I would rank the Bordeaux varietals as well as Chardonnays slightly behind 2002, but there are enough top-notch examples to provide serious arguments on either side of the debate. It appears the 2003s will drink well young, and also evolve more quickly than either the 2002s or 2001s.
The newest vintage, 2004, was a small crop in the north, and because of that, many people, including this critic, were expecting much more concentrated wines than were actually produced. I love the power, richness, and character of the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, but many Zinfandels, Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, and Cabernet Francs, while charming, seductive, and loaded with fruit, are essentially built from the front backwards. Only a few reveal the dense concentration and overall potential of the finest 2003s, 2002s, or 2001s. Zinfandel looks especially spotty, yet the Burgundy varietals did well, and the Bordeaux varietals produced attractive, high alcohol wines that should be undeniably appealing in their youth. However, only the finest will be interesting at 12-15 years of age.
Having purchased and cellared most of the top-rated North Coast Cabernets and proprietary reds produced during the decade of the nineties, it is refreshing to go back and see how beautifully these wines are aging. None are fully mature, but they are aging gracefully. Barring an occasional bump in the road, it was a golden decade for California wine as evidenced by recent horizontal tastings I have conducted of 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995. The finest Cabernet Sauvignons and proprietary reds have another 15-20 years of life remaining. These wines confirm the aging ability of California Cabernet Sauvignons, as we knew from ancient evidence produced by some of the great classics of yesteryear, including Inglenook, Beaulieu Private Reserve, Mayacamas, Robert Mondavi, Ridge, Joseph Phelps, and Diamond Creek.