The 2005 vintage in Napa was one of the best of the decade, with balanced, lovely wines with plenty of depth, richness, and concentration, all balanced by lovely fresh acidity and detail. Classic, structured, and deep, they should age well for decades.
A wet winter was followed in March by a dry, mild spell, then a wet, rainy period that delayed bloom and fruit set. Rains continued into April, May, and even into June. Some parts of Napa Valley had more than 15 inches of rain after bud break, creating problems for growers. Vineyard management costs skyrocketed as the moisture spurred weed growth, and powdery mildew was a big problem.
Summer was moderate, without any real extremes of heat. The cool temperatures and foggy mornings kept ripening moving slowly, and there was some concern with sugar levels and overall ripeness as the harvest began to approach. September arrived with beautiful, warm, sunny days — and an Indian summer allowed winemakers to wait as sugar accumulated at an even pace, while keeping the grapes balanced with good acidity. It was a very late vintage and a very large crop as well, beating out the previous record set in 1997. Many didn’t finish picking until late October and even into November, but the long hang-time was beneficial and the weather held for the most part.
The resulting wines are seamless, elegant yet structured and deep, with lovely well-knit fruit and tannins. They may not have the power and ripe, plush notes of some of the other top vintages of the decade — rather, they will be known for their beautiful balance and focus. The best should age gracefully for decades to come.
Additional 5 inches of rain falls
Harvest for sparkling wine began on schedule
Weather was mild throughout the month, with no heat spikes of any consequence
Harvest for still wine didn’t begin in earnest until October, because of mild September weather. The main Cabernet Sauvignon harvest began in the middle of October and continued until the middle of November
A few inches over the average amount of rain
One of the star estates of the Napa Valley, Araujo owes much of its success to the Eisele Vineyard, located just outside Calistoga. This spot first came to prominence in the 1970s and '80s as the source of the blockbuster Cabernet Sauvignon made by Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Before Phelps, however, Milton and Barbara Eisele cultivated the 38-acre parcel, discovering its potential and leaving their name as a legacy. Since 1990, Bart and Daphne Araujo have carried on the tradition of making monster Cabernets, adding Syrah into the mix as well. Their flagship bottling is dense, powerful and rich, typically with soil-inflected notes of plum, mocha, tobacco and smoke, and very suave tannins. Three-quarters of the Eisele vineyard are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, to accommodate grape needs, while the remainder is divided between Bordeaux varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, and of course, Syrah.
Cabernet Sauvignon Facts
Full, tannic wines with notes of blackcurrant and cassis
Grilled red meats, stews, hard or rich cheeses
Cabernet Sauvignon has been the flagship red grape of the California wine industry for decades, and its popularity shows no sign of abating. Napa Valley is the heart of Cabernet Sauvignon production and is clearly an ideal region for creating world-class wines. If any Cabernet-based wine is capable of giving Bordeaux a run for its money, it's Napa Valley's examples. However, due to the extremely high cost of purchasing and developing vineyards in California, and the cachet of Napa Valley on the label, this has largely become a category for the well-heeled wine lover.
At their best, Napa Valley's Cabernets are characterized by fruit notes of cassis, black cherry, and licorice and sweet oak notes of chocolate, mocha, cedar, and tar. Today, most of the best wines are aged entirely or almost completely in French oak barrels, which tend to produce somewhat more refined wines than do most American barrels. (These latter barrels often introduce exotic and pungent suggestions of scotch, bourbon, tar, coconut, and dill.) But the use of expensive French oak is no guarantee of a good bottle: too many wines today, due to high crop levels or insufficiently ripe fruit, do not have the stuffing to support their oakiness and can quickly be dominated or even dried out by their wood component. The best California Cabernets mellow and soften with five to ten years of bottle aging, developing more complex and less fruit-dominated notes of tobacco, leather, and earth, with mellower wood tones. Compared to the top Bordeaux, however, many California Cabernet Sauvignons merely endure in bottle rather than truly become more interesting. There are no shortage of quality producers, even if these wines are rarely values. And it remains to be seen if today's outsized showstoppers, made from superripe grapes and undeniably impressive on release, will reward extended bottle aging or will turn out to have been best suited for drinking in their youth.
Many wines labeled Cabernet Sauvignon contain small percentages of other so-called Bordeaux varieties -- chiefly Merlot and Cabernet Franc but also Petit Verdot and even Malbec (varietally labeled wines in California must contain at least 75% of the variety named).
Cabernet Sauvignon also flourishes in Washington State, Australia and even Chile. In Washington, prices have been creeping up at the high end, with some producers aiming to compete with cult wines from the Napa Valley. Consider Chateau Ste. Michelle and Woodward Canyon. In Australia, look to the Coonawarra and Margaret River regions. Chile can reveal excellent bargains to those who know where to look: Montes makes a strong range of quality bottlings, as does Casa Lapostolle.
As Cabernet Sauvignon is bold and assertive on the palate, it pairs best with foods like grilled red meats. Taken together, the proteins and fats in the food neutralize some of the stronger tannic qualities of the wine, leading to a harmonic combination that enhances both partners.