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
At one point in his life, John Shafer worked in the publishing industry. Now he is responsible for a slew of eye-popping scores from Robert Parker, and the making of one of Napa Valley's greatest Cabernets. Shafer made the big switch from words to wine in 1972, purchasing a 210-acre estate in Stags Leap. The property was a fixer-upper, so to speak; John and his son Doug, who is now head winemaker, had their work cut out for them. After years spent replanting the vineyard and terracing the steep hillside, retribution came as their debut vintage won first place in the San Francisco Vintners Club Cabernet taste-off. These days, Shafer's Cabernet is frying slightly bigger fish. A decade after the first vintage won in San Francisco, another Cabernet won an international blind-tasting competition in Germany, where it stacked up better than Château Margaux, Château Latour and Château Palmer. The flagship Hillside Select bottling, which comes entirely from the Hillside Estate Vineyard, is a flamboyantly ripe and full-flavored example of the Napa Valley expression of the varietal. Other notable bottlings include a lush, round Merlot, with more personality and soil character than most examples of this variety, and a serious Chardonnay from Carneros.
Medium to full-bodied wines with flavors of black cherry, plum, and tobacco
Roasts, hamburgers, other grilled meats
Merlot enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1990s as consumers suddenly discovered that they could enjoy aromas and flavors similar to those of Cabernet in a fleshier, softer wine with smoother tannins. A wave of Merlot plantings followed, frequently in soils and microclimates completely inappropriate for this variety, and the market was soon flooded with dilute bottles from young vines and high crop levels, and weedy, herbaceous examples from underripe fruit. Many of these undernourished wines were overoaked in attempts to mask their deficiencies. Over the same period, a number of Cabernet producers began picking riper fruit and doing a better job managing their tannings during the making and aging of their wines. The result was an upswing of powerful, satisfying Cabernets that were far less austere in their youth -- and a sharp decline in interest in Merlot.
Still, California's best Merlots, some of which predated the vogue for this variety in the 1990s, continue to be some of the finest examples of this variety outside Bordeaux -- in the same quality league with wines from Washington State and Italy's Tuscan coast region. Expect to find broad, supple wines with medium to full body, typically with aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, dark berries, dark chocolate, tobacco, and earth, and suave, fine-grained tannins. Merlot also rules in Pomerol, and nowhere in the world does this variety make more complete wines than on the flat, clay-rich plateau that lies at the heart of this appellation.