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Napa Cabernet: Variations On A Theme


Many types of wine are produced in California's Napa Valley, but much of the region's reputation is built on cabernet sauvignon. Fine cabs should be dense blue-black in color and have aromas that include black currants, chocolate, cedar, new saddle leather, and dried herbs. If you detect a vegetal character, say asparagus or green beans, the wine is flawed.

Given cab's popularity--and stratospheric prices--this is a good time to look at how recent vintages are shaping up.

2005

90 points. Because of a long, cool growing season, the acids are brighter and fresher than in previous vintages. That cool weather also resulted in alcohol levels of 13% to 14.5%, which is relatively moderate for Napa cab.

2004

91 points. A ripe, modestly sized crop produced wines with sweet tannins, soft, seductive textures, loads of fruit and purity but not a great deal of body, power, or muscle. This vintage is not one for the ages, but then again, you can enjoy it right now.

2003

92 points. It was a year of numerous heat spikes, and the wines reflect the weather pattern. At the top end of this vintage, the wines are very good: full-bodied and powerful, with high alcohol and richness as well as excellent balance. Outside these efforts, the wines are spotty; some are terrific, others seem hollow in the middle, with too much tannin and scorched, baked fruit. All but a handful of these should be consumed during their first 10 to 15 years.

2002

95 points. These are classic, super-ripe, powerful wines possessing low acidity and gorgeous black currant fruit intermixed with floral and spice notes. They are very flavorful, but their opulence of fruit and magnificent concentration largely obscure some high tannin levels. Such wines can be drunk young (because of their stunning purity and texture), but they will age for 20 or 30 years, too.

2001

96 points. It was a relatively modest year in terms of yield from the vineyards, and that worked to the vintner's advantage. The results: some of Napa's most concentrated, structured, long-lived wines. Built for aging, they are rich, densely colored, fruity, and tannic.

2000

78 points. Average in quality but generous in production, the 2000 Napa cabs lack both complexity in their aromatic profiles and depth in their flavor profiles. Some good wines were produced, but overall they are nowhere near as brilliant as the vintages that followed.

1999

88 points. Some good, structured wines were produced from vineyards planted on the valley floor. The herbaceousness and cooler temperatures in the higher-elevation vineyards have resulted in problematic wines.

1998

85 points. Extremely herbal, vegetal offerings emerged from Napa's hillside vineyards, and somewhat disjointed, light, midweight wines were produced from the valley-floor fruit. This is largely a disappointing year.

1997

94 points. These wines drank well young, but at age 10 they are beginning to really strut their stuff. This is a vintage of super-ripe, fleshy, sweetly tannic wines that are starting to reveal some secondary nuances, with more complex bottle bouquet as opposed to primary fruit flavors.

Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit www.eRobertParker.com to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate

Wines rated from 96-100 are extraordinary; 90-95, excellent; 80-89, above average; 70-79, Average; 60-69, Below average; Less than 59, unacceptable, T=Still tannic, youthful, or slow to mature, R=Ready to drink, E=Early maturing and accessible, I=Irregular, C=Caution, may be too old By Robert Parker


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