Near-perfect conditions on the heels of two challenging years had Napa winemakers smiling as the 2012 harvest came to a close. To begin the season, spring bud break went off in perfect conditions, as did flowering and fruit set, setting the stage for a solid crop in terms of quantity. The summer continued with textbook conditions — warm days and cool nights allowing ripening with good flavors, sugars, and acid. Wines are rich, forward, and concentrated with plush, deep, dark fruit.
The ongoing drought played a role, with careful attention to irrigation causing some preliminary worries. Grapes did show some evidence of the stress with smaller, concentrated berries and higher polyphenols in the skins, but in the end these were more a contributing factor to the concentration and excellent quality of the fruit than a reason for concern.
Harvest started with a moderate September followed by a warm spell (with several days over 100°F) at the start of October, four days of rains to close out the month, and overall excellent conditions.
The results from these terrific conditions is a good-sized crop of very high-quality wines that are well-structured and concentrated with deep colors for the reds, slightly higher alcohols from the long ripening, but also in most cases with enough freshness and acidity to balance. Overall, they are wines with enough seductive fruit to be approachable young, but the best should age and develop for a decade and more.
Early bud break
Harvest starts for sparkling wine
Harvest starts for still wine
Ravenswood Winery has humble origins, beginning in 1976. This was the year Joel Peterson harvested his first crop of Zinfandel. Not from his own vines, however, Joel consistently sourced grapes from vineyards in Sonoma County and Napa Valley. At first it wasn't by choice, he simply couldn't afford to buy land. Now, steadfast relationships have delivered a successful formula. As the old saying goes...if it ain't broke...For over two decades, Peterson's full-flavored Zinfandels -- 'No Wimpy Wines' is Ravenswood's motto -- displayed an admirable consistency, and have continued to do so, even after the sale of the operation to Constellation in 2001. Before he left, Peterson initiated the bottling of vineyard-designated Zins. Ravenswood's best offerings are all of this variety, with Old Hill Ranch at the top. Value is consistently good here, but the most bang for your buck comes with the Vintner's Blend, a reliably supple, fruity wine at a remarkably low price.
Bold, assertive red wines often showing jammy fruits and impressively high alcohol
Grilled meats and barbecue
Zinfandel is not the rage it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, as there are now too many wines made from overripe fruit or from young vines, or overwhelmed by excessive use of new barrels. Today's Zinfandel styles range from elegant, taut, and claret-like midweights to superripe and potty behemoths, with off-the-charts alcohol levels, distinctly exotic character, and, frequently, noticeable residual sugar. Classic Zinfandels are normally medium to full in body, with fruit-driven aromas and flavors of fresh berries, black pepper, and spices, sometimes with notes of citrus zest, chocolate, and briary underbrush; they are rarely overwhelmed by oak notes. Many of the best producers continue to work largely with very old vines (some-times with "field blends" that include other grapes such as Petite Sirah and Carignan), which give consistently low crop levels and make wines with atypical creaminess of texture, aromatic complexity, and aging potential.