Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – A Truly Exceptional 2018 Vintage
There’s a long-standing joke in Napa Valley that says “every year is a vintage” (think about it for a second). Considering the specifics of the local soils and climate, each year promises something quite special for the Cabernet Sauvignon from this remarkable region; Anyone who has tasted these wines in the past 30 to 40 years (and maybe longer) will agree that they are world class.
Most years in Napa Valley produce very good to excellent wines, those which, with proper storage, can keep beautifully for 15 to 20 years, possibly longer. Then there are some truly remarkable vintages, resulting in wines of superior aging and remarkable varietal purity, with the harmony and structure to drink well for 25 years or more; 2018 is one of these.
Napa Valley winemakers are excited about their 2018 years, given the glorious weather this growing season. Cathy Corison, winegrower and partner of Corison Winery in Sainte-Hélène, shares her thoughts with us. “2018 was an almost perfect vintage. Bud burst was delayed due to a very cool spring and the growing and ripening seasons were mild. This is the darkest and most inked vintage in my memory, the result of an extremely long and cool maturing season with cold nights resulting in the harvest two weeks later than usual. Fortunately, the natural acidity persists during ripening under these conditions and results in extremely complex flavors and aromas. Because the weather was perfect at flowering, we had a bumper crop of delicacies, making everyone happy.
“2018 reminds me a lot of 2016, when the warm April weather kicked off the season early, followed by moderate July and very cool August. Typical of our fall climate, a mild late heat brought the vintage home. There was not a day over 100 F from veraison (when the grapes change color during ripening in the vineyard) until the harvest, my favorite season. Even more important than the daytime highs, the nightly lows have been downright cold all summer, preserving good natural acidity.
Renée Ary, vice president of winemaking for Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, is also excited about the 2018 vintage in Napa Valley. “With balmy spring and summer temperatures and no significant heat events, the 2018 growing season provided near perfect growing conditions for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The temperate climate continued into the fall, which allowed us to pick each block at optimum maturity, with fully lignified seeds at relatively low sugar levels. As a result, our 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is exceptionally juicy and polished, with sumptuous, well-rounded tannins and excellent overall structure.
And at Clos du Val, in the Stags Leap district in the south of the valley, the head of viticulture and third generation owner Olav Goelet had this to say about the 2018 season; “2018 turned out to be an almost perfect growing season, perhaps the best of the decade for us at Clos du Val. Abundant rains in winter and adequate saturation of the soil during bud break prepare our vines for great success. Mild daytime temperatures and chilly evenings at our Stags Leap District estate resulted in slow and controlled maturation, allowing us to create wines of remarkable freshness, acidity and tannic structure.
Here are my reviews of several notable examples of Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2018:
Pine Ridge – Bright purple of medium intensity; aromas of lavender, black plum and cassis. Medium bodied, with very good to excellent concentration. Fairly ripe, it has a very rich mid-palate, silky, medium-bodied tannins, strong oak notes, good acidity and excellent length. It is amply fruity and bright and promises to be an excellent wine in 5-7 years, as it rounds and offers greater complexity; impressive structure, peak in 10-15 years. (92)
Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville – From the Dos Olivos vineyard in Oakville. Bright purple; aromas of black plum, dark chocolate and cassis. Medium bodied with very good to excellent concentration; beautiful ripe fruit, very good acidity, medium bodied, round, velvety tannins, excellent persistence and complexity; well integrated woody notes. Beautiful shiny fruit, excellent vinification and a fine example of the excellence of the 2018 vintage. Peak in the 12-18 years. (94)
Corison – Bright purple; aromas of cassis, black plum and lavender. Medium-bodied with a rich mid-palate, good acidity, young tannins that are not shy and very good length. It is clearly a very young wine which needs time, but there is a good overall harmony as well as an impressive varietal character. Give 3-4 years to settle down; peak in 8-10 years, maybe longer. (91)
Vineyard Corison Sunbasket 2018 – The Sunbasket vineyard, located in Saint Helena, was planted by legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff in the early 1950s. Brilliant purple; aromas of ripe cassis, black cherry and mocha. Medium-bodied, with a rich, layered mid-palate, excellent maturity, good acidity, velvety young tannins and excellent length; the woody notes are retained and support the fruit. Beautiful fruit from this famous vineyard; the winemaking hand is confident and gentle. This will reveal greater complexities over the next several years with a peak in 12 to 18 years. (94)
Corison Kronos Vineyard (Saint Helena, Napa Valley) – The Kronos Vineyard – named after the ruler of the universe in Greek mythology – is located on a bench between Rutherford and Saint Helena on a low yielding rootstock. Light purple; aromas of cassis, black plum and cloves. Medium-bodied with a rich mid-palate, this wine displays excellent maturity and is supported by rich tannins. There is good acidity, a nice varietal character and a nice persistence, while the wine coats the mouth. It takes a long time to round out and lose some of its tannic grip. Peak in 15-20 years. (92)
Domaine du Clos du Val – Bright and deep purple; aromas of black plum, cassis and anise. Medium bodied, with excellent concentration; a richly structured mid-palate. Notes of oak add a sensual sweetness as well as roundness to the whole wine. We find notes of dark chocolate and black plum on the finish. Velvety medium-bodied tannins, very good acidity and excellent length. Beautifully done, this is a great example of the quality of the 2018 vintage in Napa Valley. So delicious now, but that only indicates what’s to come, as it will reveal more character over the next 10-15 years, and it just might show for a few years after that. (95)
Duck horn – Young and deep ruby red; aromas of black currant, tea leaves and a dusty and earthy component. Semi-complete with excellent concentration; the mid-palate is beautifully structured with layers of fruit. An ideal maturity that is extremely well done and not overdone. There are medium-bodied and well-balanced tannins, with good acidity and well-managed oak notes that add a delicate sweet feel to the wine. The finish offers excellent persistence with notes of tobacco and cloves. It is a rich wine that is beautifully balanced and offers exceptional complexity along with excellent varietal character and a sense of place. What a pleasure to taste a young Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley where everything fits together as harmoniously as with this wine! Give 3 to 5 years, then enjoy for a decade or more, peaking in 15 to 20 years. (96)
Stags’ Leap Winery – Bright and very dark purple; aromas of blackberry, cassis and black cough syrup. Medium-bodied with very good to excellent concentration, this wine is very ripe and assertive, with good acidity, medium-bodied tannins and a fruity finish with notes of fig and dates. It’s impressive in its maturity, but it’s pretty showy now and needs a few years to settle in. Peak in 7-10 years, maybe longer. (90)
Vignoble Beaulieu Réserve Rutherford – If the Georges de Latour Private Reserve is the most famous Cabernet Sauvignon de Beaulieu (see below), their Rutherford reserve is another prime example of this historic winery.
Bright purple of medium intensity; aromas of dark chocolate, cassis and a hint of baking powder. Half-full with a well-defined mid-palate. Very good acidity, medium-bodied, round and well-controlled tannins, well-integrated woody notes. The persistence is very good and the elegant finish is loaded with notes of black fruits. At 14.7% alcohol there is a slight touch of heat on the finish, but that’s a minor criticism. It is an impressive wine, well made, displaying the richness of the vintage as well as the beauty of the Rutherford fruit. So attractive now, but give another 3-5 years, peaking in 10-12 years, maybe more. (93)
Beaulieu Vignobles Private Reserve Georges de Latour – Medium-intense brilliant purple; aromas of cassis, blackberry, black licorice and cocoa powder. Medium bodied with excellent focus. The mid-palate is layered and beautifully defined, while the finish is quite long with excellent persistence; there are notes of berry and dark chocolate on the finish. The tannins are rich and beautifully balanced, while the woody notes are well integrated. This is another substantial take on this wine, produced since 1936, making it Napa Valley’s first and longest continuous reserve Cabernet Sauvignon produced. It is best to start using it in 4 to 5 years, peaking in 20 to 25 years, maybe longer. (96)