Annual grape harvests determine the quantity and quality of wine. No surprise there. The real surprise was the 2011 California wine vintage. Depending on who you listen to, it was very bad to challenging. What was the problem? Weather. Too cold and too wet.
So how does this affect thirsty wine drinkers who don’t pay much attention to vintages? We’ll stick to California for this article, although 2011 was tricky at best for several locations, including France. You may want to avoid some 2011’s altogether, and others will be pretty good. You should expect higher wine prices.
Napa Valley: When we think of Napa, many of us think of Cabernet Sauvignon. Many other grapes are grown there, but this is where much of California’s best Cab is grown and made. The abnormally cool weather slowed down the development of the vines, and many grapes did not get ripe. Mold and rot were a problem, and many wines taste green and unripe. You won’t find much powerful, in your face Cab from Napa in 2011. Yields were down 25% to 35% for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I have heard stories of some wineries not making any Cab at all in 2011. Alcohol levels are lower in these wines, and the best ones will feature elegance and finesse. These are not qualities normally associated with brawny Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The success of 2011 will be Sauvignon Blanc, the crisp white wine. Also, a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon will likely have higher portions of Merlot and Cabernet Franc blended in. These other two red grapes typically ripen earlier, so they had fewer problems. Bottom line – be careful when choosing 2011 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot could be a better choice. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll be OK.
Sonoma: Sonoma is less well known for Cabernet Sauvignon, although some good ones are made there. I have read that since Sonoma is normally cooler than Napa, Sonoma Cabs should be somewhat better. Having said that, there was widespread mildew and rot there, and yields are down in Sonoma as well. Sauvignon Blanc was a winner there also, and Pinot Noir did reasonably well on average. Chardonnay will vary widely. Bottom line – If you like Sauvignon Blanc, don’t ignore Sonoma. Pinot Noir was good, and be choosy about your Sonoma Cabs and Chardonnay.
Central Coast: This includes Paso Robles down to Santa Barbara. Yields were down and there was a lot of rot. Beginning to sound familiar? Grenache grapes had big problems, but Syrah did much better. The problem is these two grapes are often blended to make a California version of a (French) Rhone blend. We might see a little more 100% Syrah. Bottom line – Yet again, we are finding that Sauvignon Blanc is probably the best wine of the vintage in the Central Coast as well. Reds will not be as fruity and jammy as usual from this area. These characteristics come from ripeness, and ripeness was in short supply in 2011.
I tried a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Bogle, one of my favorite Value Wineries. They are actually in Clarksburg, which is a little south of Sacramento. I don’t know right now how Bogle’s 2011 reds will fare, but the Sauvignon Blanc, which received an 85 from Wine Spectator and an 89 from Wine Enthusiast was quite good. Initially very citrusy, with lime, lemon and grapefruit. You’ll find a bit of characteristic grassiness as well, but not too much. The grapefruit flavor is also held in check. The wine got better as it stayed open, and some melon flavors began to show up. This is why Bogle is one of my favorite Value Wineries. Balanced and delicious. You can find this wine for less than $10.