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2001 Napa Cabernets: Ripeness, High Alcohol & Accelerated Maturity

2012 March 31

2001 CALIFORNIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON RETROSPECTIVE – Meadowood, St. Helena, California (2/21/2012)

FEb 2012 Wine Writers Symposium Meadowood
This was one of several tasting events during the course of the three-and-a-half day Wine Writers Symposium this year at Meadowood. At the end of our first full day we gathered to taste a flight that included a total of 31 Napa Cabernets and Cabernet-dominated Bordeaux blends. Antonio Galloni was responsible for some of the higher end Cabs in our flight–like the Shafer Hillside Select and Bond St. Eden–as he had requested them from the wineries for a 2001 retrospective he was writing for the Wine Advocate. I believe Meadowood and the Napa Vintners Association, the latter being a sponsor of the symposium, contributed the rest of our bottles.

While some of these were quite good, I was surprised at the advanced maturity levels of many of these wines, which appears due primarily to their high level of ripeness and alcohol, and relatively low levels of acidity and tannin.

2001 was a much ballyhooed vintage. The growing season was a long, warm one. A bad frost in April reduced yields by damaging fruit set. The remaining grapes were more concentrated as a result. May and June were unusually hot, while July and August were relatively cool. September and October were dry and warm, without heat spikes. Growers harvested at their leisure, many waiting for maximal ripening.

Robert Parker called 2001, “A superlative vintage across the board. 2001 appears to be the finest year for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot since 1994 and 1991.” In a later retrospective, he claimed, “As brilliant as I thought the 2001s were eight years ago, today they have exceeded even my highest expectations.” Steve Heimoff wrote for Wine Enthusiast that, “The California Cabernets from the 1994, 1997 and 1999 vintages were great, as well all know, but the magnificent 2001s are outshining them all,” and “[n]early all 2001 Napa Valley Cabernets are knockouts. They exude ripe fruit and sweet tannins; they’re delicious right out of the bottle, but the best have the structure to improve for years to come.”

Following a very large retrospective tasting of 100 wines, James Laube wrote last year in Wine Spectator that, “2001 [is] one of the modern classics of California Cabernet.” He also reported, however, that 31 of the wines in his tasting had fallen “victim to various maladies” and that “[p]oor storage (or weak corks) caused oxidation in many,” which he found “troubling since all the wines came directly from the wineries.” He also complained that a number of them suffered from brett.

My experience with our tasting of 31 2001s bears out Laube’s report of oxidation, but at this point in time, I did not find much in our tasting to support the glowing descriptions above of 2001 as such a magnificent vintage. This surprised me, as I remember enjoying many of these wines soon after release.

I think there are probably a number of factors that went into accelerating the age cycle for the 2001s we tasted, but the higher alcohol levels and lower acidities in these wines, as compared to very ageworthy Cabernets from the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s I’ve enjoyed, certainly must have played a major role in making many of these wines more enjoyable in their youth than 11 years on. While there was rich, plush fruit on many of the best of these, few of them were showing the kind of structure required for ageworthy Cabernets. Several were also showing the brett issues that Laube had identified in his retrospective report.

Based on this tasting, my recommendation would be to finish drinking up 2001 Napa Cabs within the next few years. The several exceptions in this tasting that were still youthful, and that should continue to age for eight to 10 more years, were the Bond St. Eden, Mount Veeder, Peju Province Reserve, Plumpjack, Robert Keenan, Seavey and Shafer Hillside Select.

FEb 2012 Wine Writers Symposium Meadowood

Among the most advanced in maturing of the wines we tasted were the Cakebread, Cardinale, Duckhorn, Farella-Park, Joseph Phelps Backus, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Pine Ridge Stags Leap, Robert Mondavi To-Kalon Reserve, Stag’s Leap Cask 23, Tom Eddy, Truchard and Viader. Those with brett issues included the Cardinale, Pine Ridge, Silverado Limited Reserve and Truchard.

I didn’t rate any of the wines in this tasting higher than 93+ points. My highest rated wines, with 92+ points or higher, were:
Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve – 92+ points
Beringer Private Reserve – 93 points
Bond St. Eden – 93 points
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard – 93 points
Peju Province Reserve – 93+ points
Plumpjack – 92+ points
Seavey – 92+ points
Shafer Hillside Select – 93+ points
Viader – 92+ points

Another that wasn’t in this lineup that I’ve enjoyed in the last couple years was the relatively youthful Schrader Cellars Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard, 94 points.

For my complete tasting notes on this flight, in alphabetical order, see below:

31 Wine Horizontal

FEb 2012 Wine Writers Symposium Meadowood

  • 2001 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Very dark ruby color; appealing, maturing, berry, ripe plum nose; maturing, plush, mellow, tart black fruit, plum, berry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Very dark ruby color; maturing, tobacco, tart cassis, plum nose; tobacco, ripe berry, cassis, black fruit palate, a very solid Cab; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Bond St. Eden – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Bricking dark ruby color; cedar, ripe cassis nose; plush, a little tight yet, extracted, cassis, black currant palate with refined tannins; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    From magnum – medium dark ruby color; ripe cassis, cherry, caramel nose; one-dimensional, soft, ripe black currant, berry palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2001 Cardinale Red Wine – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; redolent, tobacco, brett, tart plum nose; brett, tobacco, tart black fruit, cedar palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2001 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; redolent, baked plum, berry, cedar nose; cedar, oak, ripe berry, baked berry, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2001 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; violets, blackberry nose; plush, maturing, violets, blackberry palate with sweet, soft tannins; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; ripe berry, black fruit, chocolate nose; plush, ripe black fruit, berry, chocolate palate with soft tannins; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2001 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    From magnum – bricking dark red violet color; maturing, earthy, tart plum nose; very mature, tart plum, earthy, graphite palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2001 Farella-Park Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; tobacco, tart black fruit nose; mature, tobacco, tart plum, cedar palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2001 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    Bricking, very dark ruby color; lifted, menthol, mint, black currant nose; tasty, maturing, mint, black currant, black plum palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    Very dark ruby color; maturing, leather, tart cassis, tobacco nose; mature, tobacco, plum, leather palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Joseph Phelps Insignia – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; maturing, loam, black fruit nose; maturing, loam, black fruit, tar, espresso palate, on a fast track; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc Premier Etage – USA, California, Napa Valley
    From magnum – dark ruby color; mature, tart currant, tobacco, herbaceous nose; herbaceous, tart currant, tobacco, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Bricking medium dark red violet color; maturing, appealing, ripe cassis, black currant, mineral, earthy nose; tasty, poised, black currant, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Peju Province Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Estate Bottled – USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    Dark ruby color; intriguing, black currant, lightly herbal, black fruit nose; tasty, rich, plush, black currant, berry palate with a sense of purity; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District – USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
    Dark ruby color; odd, caramel, brett, berry nose; brett, tart berry, ripe black fruit, caramel palate; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)
  • 2001 Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    Dark ruby color; appealing, ripe cassis, berry, light caramel nose; tasty, baked berry, black currant, berry pie palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Robert Keenan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; baked berry, plum, black fruit nose with lift; plush, ripe black fruit, plum, berry palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    From magnum – very dark ruby color; tobacco, old leather nose; mature, tobacco, leather, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    Medium dark ruby color; focused, ripe black currant, red berry nose; tasty, poised, red berry, black currant palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Seavey Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Nearly opaque red violet color; lifted, herbaceous, weedy, tart cassis nose; tight, black currant, black fruit, black cherry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select – USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
    Nearly opaque purple red violet color; appealing, youthful, berry, black currant, plum nose; tasty, ripe plum, berry, black currant palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; baked berry, brett nose; tart red berry, baked berry palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2001 St. Supéry Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    From a double magnum – very dark ruby color; maturing, baked berry, black raspberry, seaweed nose; tart black cherry, black currant palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2001 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23 – USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
    Very dark red violet color; tart cassis, baked black currant nose with earthy depth; mature, iodine, tart plum, berry, tar, black mushroom palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2001 Tom Eddy Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Bricking dark red violet color; maturing, tart black fruit nose; mature, tart black fruit, iodine palate; medium-plus finish (85 pts.)
  • 2001 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros
    Very dark ruby color; brett, band-aid, plum nose; mature, brett, soft tart plum palate; medium-plus finish (84 pts.)
  • 2001 Viader Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
    Very dark ruby color; intriguing, lifted, tobacco, cigar box nose; mature, tobacco, cigar box palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon 29 Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
    Nearly opaque purple red violet color; redolent, rich plum, berry nose; ripe, sweet black fruit, berry, plum palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2001 White Rock Vineyards Claret – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; tobacco, tart black fruit nose; tobacco, tart black fruit, black currant palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Roberta Rinaldi permalink
    April 1, 2012

    Hi, Richard. I couldn’t have summed up the Napa tasting at Meadowood better! Great job! I’m just working on a new website: barenakedgrapes.com, about the natural wine movement. Let me know when you’re tasting in LA; I’d love to stay in touch.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 2, 2012

      Roberta,
      Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to checking out your new website. And I’ll let you know when I’m next in L.A.–it will have to be after April, as I’m in collective bargaining throughout this month.
      warm regards,
      Richard

  2. Zach permalink
    April 2, 2012

    Richard,

    Thanks for another great write-up. One question… you rated the Beringer PR highly but did not include it in your list of wines with the potential to age 8-10 more years. Do you think it is at or near peak?

    Zach

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 2, 2012

      Zach,
      Thank you. The Beringer Private Reserve we sampled is already fairly mature. I’m sure it will go another four or five years, but doesn’t seem to have the aging potential at this point of the others I listed.
      –Richard

      • Zach permalink
        April 2, 2012

        Thank you Richard. I will try to check in on a bottle soon.

        Cheers,

        Zach

  3. April 2, 2012

    It will be interesting to see which of the leading critics revises their opinion on the 2001′s. Also it will be interesting to see how Galloni weighs in. Good article!

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