2011 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Keith Wallace

rainy vineyard
Another damp day in Napa Valley

2011 was a crazy year for Napa Cabs.

California is in the grip of a massive drought, but that wasn’t the case in 2011. At least in Napa Valley, where rain pummelled vineyards from September to October. By harvest time, the grapes were bloated, and rot was endemic. Many winemakers called it a terrible vintage. The wine critic Robert Parker of Wine Advocate rated it 84 points, the lowest in two decades.

All is not lost, though. Anyone who has taken a wine class with me knows the secret sauce: there is no such thing as a bad vintage. There are only poor choices. Some of those poor choices are made by a winemaker who doesn’t adjust to the necessities of the vintage.  The rest of the poor choices are made by people buying those wines.

Buying Guide for Napa Cab, 2011 Edition

A rainy, cool vintage doesn’t equal bad wine; it just means the wines will be Bordelais in style, not the monster fruit bomb that Napa made famous.  Most importantly, wineries need to change how they make wine in a cool, wet year. Not all could make the change, which means there will be some mediocre wines in stores, especially at the high end of the market. Wines that focus largely on high levels of oak will falter in a vintage like 2011. Those are the wines in Napa that often go for over $100 a bottle.

Von Strasser 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain

Lovely cassis and red berry on the nose with a palate of espresso and oyster shells. There are taught layers of tannins here with classical varietal notes of pencil shaving and cedar, wrapped in a  jacket of granite dust and cocoa.  

Robert Craig 2011 “Affinity” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Classic currant notes intermixed with chocolate and baking spices. Supple tannins deliver black fruits accented with eucalyptus and a bewitching finish of vetiver and jasmine. 

Brandlin 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder Estate

A great balancing act of flavors and components, this wine sports great elegance and energy. There is a dance between the drying tannin and juicy acids here. The wine stays fresh and compelling throughout, introducing notes of cedar and graphite in the mid-palate.  Red fruit and cassis wind down with rosemary and tobacco on the finish.

Whitehall Lane Winery 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

A Bordelais nose of graphite and pepper makes way for a dense and compact version of Napa Cabernet with savory notes along with the classic cassis and cherry flavors moving into notes of burnt wood and Earl Grey tea. Tannins are complex and gritty.

Hall Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

The calling card of cool weather cabernet, black currant, is in the first scent and the final taste. This wine offers layers of berry coulis, roasted coffee, toasted herbs, and chocolate. Densely packed with enough bravado to appeal to any Napa Cab lover. Just with much more balance than usual, the calling card of the 2011 vintage.

The Best Under $100 Bottle of 2011 Napa Cab

This bottle isn’t on the shelves in PA but can be found in DE, NY, and NJ.  The Beau Vigne 2011 “Romeo” Cabernet Sauvignon is more delicious than the distilled tears of a thousand Pomeranians. Could you not ask me why that sounds good? I obviously need therapy.

The jury is still out.

These two may turn out to be good bottles, but they aren’t showing well yet. Thin and weedy, the fruit is thin, and the oak is disproportionate to the body of the wines. That can be a phase in a young cabernet, and if the oak integrates, these wines could turn out great. However, that may not be the case. Buyer beware.

Flora Springs 2011 Trilogy Limited Edition

Clos Du Val 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District

Our favorite Quote from a writer for Wine Advocate Magazine

“Keith Wallace is a controversial figure around here”  Mark Squires, Wine Advocate Magazine.

4 thoughts on “2011 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon”

    • Harlan is great when it’s fully ripe and has the typical napa weight to back up the big oak. If that is your preferred style, my suggestion is to skip the 2011 Napa Cabs entirely. The higher priced cabs, including Harlan, don’t really cut it in 2011.

  1. The Von Strasser 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain definitely has a great price-to-value ratio at $30. The graphite notes move into the palate and pick up dark fruit along the way with a blackberry layered finish combined with mild tannin. It is interesting enough for a Napa Cab lover, while approachable for everyone. “House Cab of the summer.”


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