Revelations From the Napa Valley Vintage Tasting: 2013, 2014 and 2015

During Premier Napa Valley, the trade have an opportunity to blind taste through three different vintages of 15 Napa Valley producers’ Cabernet Sauvignon wines. This year featured the 2013, 2014 and 2015 vertical. My original interest in attending this tasting in prior years was to see if there was discernible vintage character, but now I also seek out brand styles, consistency and quality as they leap out of the glass vintage after vintage, and back-to-back. It gives me a chance to appreciate producers anew, and I loved the fact that the wines I liked represented so many regions of Napa Valley. Here are the notes I wrote in the margin about the producers’ wines and my own, limited assessment of the 2015 vintage.

Kenefick Ranch Chris’s Cuvee, Calistoga – “Classic”

These wines reminded me of Bordeaux for their finesse and nose. Fresh but beautifully balanced. The 2014 wine ($65) is 85% Cabernet, 7.5% Petite Verdot, 7.5% Merlot from low-yielding vines planted on the alluvial fans on the eastern slopes of Calistoga, not too far from the famed Eisele Vineyard now owned by by Chateau Latour. 1,000 cases.

O’Shaunnessey Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain – “Consistent Quality”

Consistency shines through when one is tasting so many reds, especially in a big Cabernet from what would turn out to be Howell Mountain. The wines showed great balance and structure. The 2014 ($100) is 79% Cabernet plus small amounts of Bordeaux varietals. 3,300 cases.Honig Bartolucci Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Saint Helena – “Polished”

These are fruit-driven, appealing wines ($100) with the personality of a single-vineyard terroir in the foothills of western Saint Helena.

Raymond Vineyards Generations Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – “Age-worthy”

Dark, powerful but well-balanced, these 100% Cabernet wines ($125) originate primarily from St. Helena, plus Oakville and Napa. 1,600 cases.Artesa Vineyards Cask Reserva Especial, Napa Valley – “Elegant”

This 92% Cabernet wine ($90) combines the best of mountain and valley floor fruit. The winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper brings out the fruit with cold soak, whole berry ferments in both vat and large 500L puncheons. 565 cases.

The Vintage Perspective

I have informed opinions about the 2013 and 2014 vintages, but had no preconceptions about the 2015s going in. Speed tasting through 15 separate sets and 45 Cabernets, I wasn’t concentrating on vintage character, just what I was tasting in each glass. When I reviewed my notes later on, I was a little surprised that I came away with a similar opinion about the 2015s for many sets. While the quality was fine on a relative basis, I would note “not as much length”, “not as much depth” as the 2013s and 2014s, and sometimes, less balanced by comparison. The 2015 vintage experienced a cool May which led to uneven flowering and fruit set, followed by periods of extreme heat in the summer. Like any fine wine region, quality rested with the producer in terms of moderating vine stress, severe selection at harvest, careful sorting and diligent winemaking. I think 2015 will be a vintage where the best producers will really stand out.