To Jean Hoefliger, winemaker of Alpha Omega Winery in Rutherford, Napa Valley is the most consistent climate he’s seen in the world.
It’s true. The climate in Northern California has been remarkably consistent and generous over the last several years. The stretch of vintages from 2012 through 2016 is a run of warm, relatively calm grape-growing years the likes of which even longtime Napans say they’ve never seen before.
Many winemakers will tell you the 2013 vintage is particularly stunning, though not always immediately approachable. Unlike 2012 and 2014, 2013 is a boldly structured, big-tannin year, speaking as much to California’s tenacious drought as the warmth of the sun.
Many winemakers will tell you the 2013 vintage is particularly stunning, though not always immediately approachable.
So far, the highest scoring wines tend to come from the southern end of the Napa Valley, up through the Oakville and Stags Leap District AVAs. This may be because they were able to retain more acidity in the warm, dry year and feel more pleasurably balanced in their youth.
That said, my top-rated Cabernet from the vintage up to now is from Spottswoode (98 points), an estate-grown beauty from St. Helena, one of the warmest appellations of all. Despite concentrated fruit and ample tannin, it retains rose-garden grace. It should age well for decades.
While 2012–2016 looks to be a string of serious successes for Napa Cabernet, other varieties tell a similar tale. Merlot makes its case in 2013 bottlings from Venge Vineyards, La Jota Vineyard and Pahlmeyer, while Robert Biale Vineyards is allowing Winemaker Tres Goetting to try new things with old vineyards, resulting in a lineup of dialed-in single-site Zinfandels; Biale’s 2013 Royal Punishers Petite Sirah is also worth a look.
So don’t be shy about picking up all the Napa reds from 2013 you can find—though they may not be drinking at peak now, they show the stuff that cellaring dreams are made of.
10 Recommended Selections to Try
Spottswoode 2013 Family Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena); $185, 98 points. This remarkable wine from the famed family-farmed, organic estate impresses immediately in its depth of concentration and stately grace, imparting a wealth of rose-garden compost and wild truffle on the nose. Within the vibrant range of sensual flavor is salted caramel, black cherry and chocolate, alongside a twist of saddle and campfire coffee. Its grip of focused tannin suggests years of aging potential; enjoy best from 2023 to 2033.
Ramey 2013 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $200, 95 points. This wine was co-fermented with 15% Petit Verdot from the same rocky, hillside site. The two varieties marry seamlessly in the glass, exuding a distinct perfume of forest mushroom and violet. Though pronounced in structure the wine is also soft and round, with a dotting of dried herb and a considerable length of clove and dust. It’s rich, intense and memorable.
Pahlmeyer 2013 Red (Napa Valley); $175, 94 points. A powerfully rich and concentrated Bordeaux-style blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon with smaller percentages of four other Bordeaux varieties, this wine presents itself as juicy and fresh on entry, with high-toned sparks of cranberry, cherry and cassis. It takes on more strength and structure as it opens, suggesting its worth for the cellar. Hold until 2023–2028. Cellar Selection.
Acumen 2013 Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $60, 93 points. This new project from the heights of Atlas Peak involves Steve Matthiasson as both viticulturist and winemaker, having had to take over the reins from the late Denis Malbec. It shines in bristling acidity, dusty tannin and a beautiful floral aroma of violet. Notes of chocolate, fig and cigar sit atop a pillowy, complex structure, while vanilla lingers on the finish. Editors’ Choice.
B Cellars 2013 Ehrlich Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $118, 93 points. Perfumed in lavender and sage, this vineyard-designate highlights well-crafted flavors of dried cherry and blueberry, the texture soft and interwoven in spicy oak. A bite of peppery tannin storms the lengthy finish, giving the already full-bodied wine an extra hit of richness and concentration.
Pine Ridge 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain); $125, 93 points. This is a juicy, complete and full-bodied showcase for the variety from this mountainous appellation, known for its ability to impart sizable structure and concentration. It delivers that here, integrating firm tannin into a complex, lengthy portrait of ripe, brambly blackberry, black currant and a powerful dose of cigar box.
Vinum Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $42, 92 points. Impressive at any price, but especially notable at this cost, this 100% varietal red is a testament to the power and concentration of the vintage, integrated with a push of tannin on the back of the tongue. Spicy clove and pepper ride a wave of cassis, dark cherry and chocolate, needing time to unwind in the glass. It will do well in the cellar through 2028. Cellar Selection.
Brilliant Mistake 2013 Taylor Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District); $85, 92 points. This is the inaugural vintage for this producer, a husband-and-wife team in partnership with winemaker Maayan Koschitzky, who also works with Philippe Melka. The vineyard-designate is lush and powerful, a full-bodied, tannic representative of an amazing growing year. Mint, black olive, blackberry and cigar highlight the sensual texture, enriched in dark chocolate.
Oakville Winery 2013 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $50, 92 points. This lovely wine from the producer’s Pelissa Vineyard is perfumed in roses, while offering a soft, velvety texture that’s restrained in terms of tannin and oak. Clove, graphite and white pepper develop in the glass, adding to the wine’s classical nature.
Hess Collection 2014 Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $32, 91 points. This full and smoothly soft wine blended with 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot is aged in American oak, a quarter of it new. It pleases in bright red currant, cassis and wisps of blackberry, both approachable and sophisticated. Velvety black licorice meets smoky campfire on the finish.