Weather conducive to realizing California wine-making dreams

Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006






Although grown in almost all the world’s wine producing regions, Cabernet Sauvignon remains California’s best known varietal. The top California Cabs are deep red to purple in color and have intense flavors of currants, plums and other dark fruit, often with a touch of spice, licorice, mint or tobacco. Some cost hundreds of dollars per bottle and can be obtained only via a waiting list. Thankfully, many high-quality less expensive California Cabs are produced as well.

Quality depends in large part upon the weather and in 2001, 2002 and 2003, the growing conditions in California were excellent. Surprisingly, a number of California Cabs from 2001 are still available. Since most wine stores are now offering 2002 Cabernets as well as some 2003s, many retailers are discounting the 2001 Cabernets to clear shelf space. For a careful consumer, many bargains abound.

Following a mild winter, the 2001 growing season began early. Both spring and summer provided first-rate growing conditions, despite an April frost. Most winemakers enjoyed long ripening times that allowed the grapes to develop evenly. The resulting wines are fruit-forward with rich, concentrated flavors displaying the typical Cabernet depth and body. Here are some recommendations.

Produced by the affable Gus Kalaris (also responsible for the first-rate Axios), is one of my favorites: Worthy Sophia’s Cuvee Napa Valley 2001 ($28). Beautifully balanced with floral aromas and spicy red and blackberry flavors, its finish seems to go on forever. It’s hard to find these days, but Gus’ success bodes well for later vintages.

The wines from Mount Veeder Winery demonstrate the beneficial effect of altitude on Cabernet Sauvignon. The Mount Veeder Napa Valley Reserve 2001 ($80) is a blend of Cabernet with Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. It has glorious sage and earthy aromas with concentrated currant, cedar and dark fruit flavors. Also really nice is the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 ($40). The recently released 2002 vintages are equally good.

Flora Springs is a consistent producer of high-quality reasonably priced wines. Still easy to find on shelves is the lovely Flora Springs Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 ($26), which has plum, cherry and blackberry flavors with a hint of cocoa. Another very good example is Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2001 ($20), with complex plum and black cherry notes and a nice finish.

Among the best values are the blackberry and plum flavored Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Vintner’s Reserve 2001 ($16) and the well-balanced Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 ($15), with cedar, blackberry and currant notes. While Napa received most of the attention in 2001, Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma 2001 ($17) is a great example of a value priced Sonoma Cab. It has currant and blackberry flavors with just the right amount of oak and hints of vanilla. The Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Appellation Selection 2001 ($26) is also very good, with coffee, red berry and dark fruit flavors.

Other 2001s worth seeking out include the Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 2001 ($30), with sage, currant and berry flavors, and the Lolonis Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley 2001 ($21), which has black cherry and coffee flavors, softer tannins and good balance. The Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2001 ($48) is silky smooth, with currant and blackberry notes and a beautiful finish. More firmly structured and with more noticeable oak is the black cherry and currant flavored Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve ($23), while the William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 ($22) is softer with black cherry and toffee notes.

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