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rainy vineyard

Another damp day in Napa Valley

2011 was a crazy year for Napa Cabs.

California is in the grip of a [link id=”109481″ text=” 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 very bad 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.

To find these wines near you: [link id=”21405″ text=”PLCB Wine Finder“]

Buying Guide for Napa Cab, 2011 Edition

A rainy cool  vintage doesn’t equal bad wine, it just means the wines are going to 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, and that 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.  In fact, most of the best 2011 cabernets in the PA Wine and Spirits Stores are currently less than $40


Top 2011 Napa Cabs under $50

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 with pencil shaving and cedar, wrapped in a  jacket of granite dust and cocoa.  91 points $29.99

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.  93 points $29.99

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 into  with rosemary and tobacco on the finish. 91 points $29.99

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. 90 Points  $29.99

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 in the finish. 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. 90 points $49.99

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. Don’t ask me why that sounds good. I obviously need therapy. 95 points $60-$80

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  $39.99

Clos Du Val 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District  $39.99

Buy the 2012 Instead

The PCLB current has both the Edict 2011  Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and the 2012 vintage. The former is ghastly. The later is amazing. Both are priced at $29.99. I’ll buy both to show vintage variation, but I’m an uber-geek.

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