2011 Napa Valley Cabernet – A Difficult Vintage… Still Some Good Wines Though


The summer of 2011 in California was a cool one.  Not as cool as the previous summer, 2010, but still below average.  Everyone thought it would heat up in September like it usually does.

It did not heat up.  Instead it poured rain.  It dumped.  Winemakers were worried about the grapes ripening.  It stopped raining for a few days.  Then it resumed dumping rain on the 2011 harvest.

The grapes came into the winery wet.  The tonnage was down.  Much of the crop didn’t ripen.  Much was left rotting on the vines.  Much of the mediocre juice was sold off in bulk.  One winemaker I know said it was the “worst vintage ever”.

I remember seeing one vineyard in the Livermore Valley.  They left an entire petit sirah vineyard rotting on the vine.  It was a total loss.

Napa Valley is blessed with some of the best weather on earth.  Winemakers usually have to battle grapes that are too ripe.  In 2011 the grapes weren’t ripe enough and they came in wet.

For 2011 wines from California and specifically Napa Valley, you want to stick to the best producers.  This vintage tested every winemaker’s skills.  Much of the mediocre wine was culled from the herd.  In the end there wasn’t much of the good wine left.

The cabernet sauvignons that made it through the selection process are not your average Napa Cabs.  They seem to be a bit leaner and lighter.  The viscosity or thickness is down.  The wines tend to be thinner.

That being said, these wines don’t suck.  They are different from the normal Napa style but still good.  In this vintage I stick with only my favorite producers.  The wines seem to have beautiful aromas, and plenty of flavor, but a thinness that is unusual to Napa Cab.  The wines should have lower alcohol volumes, but somehow, and I have no idea how, many of the wines seem to have their normal percentages.

Don’t write off the 2011 vintage.  Because there was not much wine made, the supply was low, the prices remained high.  There are some beautiful wines there you just have to be careful.

The wine pictured, a 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Sequoia Grove.  This wine is typical of how I described the vintage.  Plenty of aromas, plenty of flavors, but thinner than usual.  I really enjoyed this wine.

One recommendation for enjoying 2011 Napa Cabs is to respect them and let them breathe.  This Sequoia Grove took at least an hour to really open up.  It was worth the wait.

If you insist on the classic Napa Cab style of the fruit bomb magical mystery juice, then 2011 vintage might not be for you.  This maybe the forgotten vintage, but if you enjoy Napa Valley wines and can also appreciate a little diversity from the norm, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the 2011’s.

That’s my take on the 2011’s.  What is yours?  Am I right, wrong, or crazy?

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