During my most recent jaunt to Napa, I had the pleasure of visiting a few producers in the Valley to get a feel for just how the hellish 2010 vintage (remember that?) was coming along in barrel (well, for those fortunate enough to get fruit picked and crushed from 2010, that is).
So after that totally loaded intro., you’re probably already thinking “okay, spill it, WTF is going on with the 2010s,” right?
Not so fast, buck-o!
Let’s prolong the agony… and give you a little bit of (important!) context. You see, I didn’t taste every friggin’ barrel of aging 2010 red in the Valley, and to get a firm grip on a vintage, you need to taste a sh*tload more of wines from that vintage than I managed to do that week. In fact, I only hit up three high-end producers during the trip (Chimney Rock in Stag’s Leap; Hourglass’ Blueline estate, where they were aging juice from there and from their mid-Valley estate vineyard; and Cornerstone Cellars, who are aging 2010 wines made from fruit sourced all over the Valley, including St. Helena, Oakville, and Howell Mountain) – so my assessments should be taken with the proverbial grain of vinous salt. One brief assessment does not a vintage chart make.
Having said that… few elements stood out as consistent throughout all of those barrel samples, and so we can wax some preliminary geekiness about what we might expect out of the Valley’s upper-fine-wine-tier in the 2010s (once they get into bottle)…
- Looking for ultra-ripe fruit? Uhmm… well… I’ve got some bad news for you…I didn’t get overripe fruit in any of the barrel samples of reds that I tasted. Not once. While I’m not a fan of trying to make Napa into something it’s not, I’m also no fan of over-the-top dried-prune-juice action in my wine – something that can afflict Napa reds in the warmest of vintages. And so I was (pleasantly) surprised by how much red fruit was shining through on the 2010s – dark red cherry, and red currants especially. This is not austere, shy fruit by any stretch, but it’s nowhere near as showy as the more “storied” vintages of the last decade in Napa. Which leads us to…
- Looking for way-cool secondary aromas? You’ve come to the right place!
Without all of that ultra-ripe fruit screaming at you, the more interesting secondary aroma elements take center stage in the 2010s (or, in the case of faults like Brett, have nowhere to hide!). And for the most part, those secondary aromas are beguiling: tobacco and tea leaf in Chimney Rock’s Stags Leap wines, earth and smoked meats (possibly from Brett, but not obnoxiously so) from Stags Leap and Oakville Cabs from Cornerstone, and black licorice and chocolate notes from all over the friggin’ place. As Cornerstone’s Craig Camp put it during my visit, “those things are always there; you just have a chance to experience them now without all of that fruit.”
- The 2010s could have serious aging potential. And over-top of all of that intense structure you will find… in the words of Peter Gabriel circa 1973 Genesis: A FLOWER?!?? Yes, a flower. As in violets. Lots of them. It’s the stuff that you find in the better Mt. Veeder Cabs, but with the often-obnoxiously-ripe fruit taking a, well, not exactly taking a back seat, but not talking so loudly from the front seat at least, there are softer elements that can be heard above the fruity din. And one of them is violets.I found it in samples of what will become Chimney Rock’s SLD Cab in Stag’s Leap. I found it samples of Cornerstone Cellars’ Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena Cab Franc, and in their Valley floor (Oakville) Merlot. I even found it in a screamin’ good experimental lot of earthy, vibrant, red-fruited 2010 Malbec from the Blueline estate of Hourglass; which is right where you’d expect to find it if we’d been in Cahors – but in Napa? That’s just geekily awesome.The violets are coupled in almost all cases (somewhat ironically) by a deep, dense tannin structure on most of the 2010 reds. They are tight right now, as you’d expect from barrel, especially the juice from the Howell Mountain fruit (again, as you’d expect), and the core traditional elements of those tannins are intact (silky but with a chalky edge in Stags Leap, more open and rounder from Oakville, etc.). BUT… there’s something… else going on in the 2010s. There is something very, very serious – and brooding – about the tannins of these wines, something that previous recent vintages from the same producers simply don’t quite posses.
Three central themes starting to emerge from the 2010 Napa reds – at the high end of the market, of course, where we expect the wines to be good even in an off-year. I am convinced that there will be some crap made in 2010 in the Valley, if only because the bombastic fruit won’t be there to hide any deficiencies in the grape-growing or winemaking. BUT… based on my (so-far fairly-limited) exposure, the 2010 barrel samples are reminding me of the 1998 vintage in Napa – the best of which are more balanced than in crazy hot, ripe-ass years and as a result have aged beautifully in some cases. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.