A brief assessment of 2013 Napa Valley cabernet

The drought has led to all sorts of agricultural challenges, but it doesn’t appear to have hurt the quality of California’s wines. The warm, dry growing conditions have led to a string of high-quality vintages.

That certainly was the case with cabernet sauvignon in 2013. There were excellent wines made all over the state, but you can’t really talk about California cabernet without taking a look at the Napa Valley.

After the difficult 2011 vintage, critics, vintners and consumers raved about the riper 2012 wines. It’s true that some of the 2012s are excellent, but I’ve found that many of the wines lack liveliness and border on being overripe. The best 2013s, however, pair the opulent fleshiness that a lot of wine drinkers love in Napa cabs with a freshness that keeps the wines from being too heavy. Some have an appealing savory note. The wines also have firm tannic structure that should help them age – although some are so tannic that they’re a little brutal at this young age.

The wines from some of the bigger wineries were released a year ago; in many cases, the wineries have already moved on to the 2014 vintage. But you’ll still find some $50-and-under 2013 Napa cabs, like the 2013 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon ($38), which is dark and dense, with lively black fruit, baking spice and firm tannins. (Martini has several cabs; this is the Napa Valley bottling.) Two (relatively) reasonably priced bottlings from smaller operations are the 2013 Hollis Cabernet Sauvignon ($42), with its lively black cherry, savory hint of bay laurel and very firm tannins, and the 2013 Venn Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), a ripe yet fresh wine with black cherry, cassis, mocha and baking spice notes and drying tannins. (Hollis is produced by Stewart Cellars; more on the Stewart cab later. Venn is the second label of Young Inglewood.)

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Many of the pricier Napa cabs are snapped up as soon as they’re released. What follows are some 2013s that I’ve tasted in the past few months that are still in the market and/or on winery websites.

I like the cabs from Yountville, where the temperatures are a little cooler than you’ll find farther up valley. And one of my favorites is the 2013 Napanook ($69), a wine that’s the baby brother to the more famous Dominus Estate. The Napanook is a powerful wine, with ripe black fruit, nice freshness, notes of cedar and anise and a tannic finish. The 2013 Dominus is even more powerful and concentrated, but it’s also around $300 a bottle. For my money, I’ll take the Napanook. Another good cab from Yountville is the 2013 Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($110), which is plump and bright, with black cherry, baking spices and mocha flavors and firm tannins on the finish.

The Oakville-Rutherford section of the valley is home to some of the area’s most famous cabs. The 2013 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon ($64) from Oakville offers lively red and black fruit with hard spices and nice balance. The winery’s 2013 Reserve is also very good and a little fuller-bodied, but it’s also about double the price ($130). And from Rutherford, the 2013 Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($110) is structured and lively, with red and black fruit, some spicy notes and firm tannins.

The 2013 Frias Family Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) from the Spring Mountain District has a piney, woodsy quality often found in mountain cabs. It’s quite aromatic, with ripe yet lively black fruit, notes of lavender and dried herbs and manageable tannins.

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From the Howell Mountain appellation, on the other side of the valley, the 2013 Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) is dense and powerful, with black fruit, an anise note and drying tannins.

The 2013 Robert Craig Affinity Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) carries the broader Napa Valley appellation, but it’s from a single vineyard just south of the Stags Leap appellation. The wine is ripe, dark, a little savory and more approachable than many.

Finally, three Napa Valley-appellation wines from 2013 that are worth a look (or taste). The 2013 Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($69) is fresh and structured, with bright black fruit, notes of anise and pencil lead and firm tannins. The 2013 Stewart Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($68) offers bright black cherry, baking spice, a hint of white pepper and firm but approachable tannins. And the 2013 Rutherford Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($51) is dark, dense, ripe and structured, with black fruit, graphite and spice.

The string of good vintages continues with 2014. Several winemakers I’ve talked to are really excited about the vintage. Cabs from that year are starting to show up in the market, starting with less expensive wines and bottlings from larger wineries.

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