The three-year stretch of great quality and quantity came on the heels of a couple of rough years, especially the 2011 vintage. That year was difficult due to bad weather, including unseasonably cool temperatures and rain at the worst possible times, which created rot and other issues. More cold weather during harvest made the vintage all the more challenging.
In 2012, the clouds literally parted and warm, consistent weather throughout the growing season gave winemakers a Goldilocks situation: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. You can almost feel a sense of relief and relaxation in that vintage. It offered exuberance and approachability upon release.
Those wines remain stellar in the glass and are now ready to drink, the fruit upfront and the tannins relatively supple.
A healthy growing season also took place in 2013, but Northern California was locked in a second year of extreme drought. The resulting wines were more structured, tannic and closed off in their youth, signs of their struggle. However, that also makes them just about ideal to drink right now.
The 2014 vintage, a year during which California went from extreme drought to exceptional drought, as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor, was somewhat of a tweener. The wines displayed 2012’s opulence and approachability, but with some of 2013’s power and tannin. That period of exceptional drought would last until 2017.
These growing conditions were fairly consistent across both Napa and Sonoma, though each region contains a wide array of climactic conditions. Areas closer to the Pacific Ocean enjoyed the cooling effects of nighttime temperature dips along with morning and afternoon fog, while higher elevations tended to see less of a day-night swing.
Still, for any that remain in your cellar, whether Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages from most of Napa and Sonoma are of superior quality and ready to be enjoyed now.
Napa and Sonoma Vintages To Open This Year, By Grape
* Indicates the highest-rated vintage(s) of those currently in their peak drinking window.
Napa Chardonnay: 2012, 2013, 2014*
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: 2012*, 2014
Napa Zinfandel: 2012, 2013*, 2014*
Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon: 2012*
Sonoma Pinot Noir: 2012*, 2013*, 2014
Sonoma Zinfandel: 2012, 2013*, 2014*