Every growing season—every vintage—is different, and while some are good and others not so good, 2011 is shaping up to be one of the worst in Napa’s recent history.
Early October rains and cool weather create conditions for botrytis—a fungus that can ruin entire vineyards and produce wines with off-flavors. (Unless you’re making Sauterne-style dessert wines which under the right conditions will benefit from botrytis) This vintage is unusual because it is the hardy, thick-skinned Cabernet—Napa’s signature grape—that is affected.
So if this vintage is to be salvaged it will be in the winery, where winemakers employ various tricks to make the wine drinkable.
These tricks require more manipulation of the wine, and we have done things such as add oak chips and tannin while pushing for fast fermentations so that the juice doesn’t have to stay too long on any rotted skins.
Oak chips and tannin to cover up off-flavors? Obviously, we are not going to get quality here. I imagine we will be hearing lots of producers extol the virtues of this wine in an effort to clear their inventories. But skepticism is warranted.
The poor 2011 vintage follows on the heels of three uneven vintages. So if you see any 2007’s around snap them up. That was the last stellar vintage from Napa.