Yes, the yields were lower than 2018, and yes, the region was still in the throes of a years-long drought (thankfully over—for now), but make no mistake: the 2019 vintage in Napa Valley was spectacular.
The Cabernet Sauvignons we recently tasted are considerably poised and balanced, marked by brilliant freshness, fruity character and enough acidity to get the wines through years of cellar aging–though they’re damn good right now.
Despite the drought, the region saw enough rain in early spring to cause flooding, which meant vineyard soils captured enough moisture to make it through a growing season that included no major heat spikes. This long growing season meant the vines stayed relatively relaxed, as did the winemakers, who were able to pick (mostly) when they wanted, rather than out of necessity.
For Napa Cab enthusiasts, the advantage of a vintage like 2019, with high yields and down-the-middle excellence across many styles and producers, is that there’s true greatness at the top and solid value to be had at the lower price points. So don’t be afraid to look beyond the single-vineyard, estate-grown offerings. There are many wonderful blends, cuvées and appellation wines to enjoy from skilled producers who understood how to make the most of such a bountiful year.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is not a category one typically turns to for less-expensive wines, but 2019’s combination of yields and across-the-board quality has yielded some actual deals for those who know where to look. Producers with strong showings at lower price points include Steady State, Brendel and Oberon. Though even some of the region’s marquee producers offer more affordable bottlings, like Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Artemis Cab and the Cade Estate Cab from Howell Mountain.
There are reasons some of the most pedigreed producers have such a reputation – their wines perform year after year with impressive consistency. Among those we tasted, several stood out. Groth’s Reserve, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars with its Fay and S.L.V. vineyard-designates, and Louis Martini’s Cypress Ranch all were dependably excellent showings. Shafer’s beloved, rock-steady winemaker Elias Fernandez turned out another blockbuster from the winery’s Stags Leap District estate. Possibly the best of them all might be a Cabernet Sauvignon from a producer better known for making Pinot Noir, Williams-Selyem, whose 2019 Missouri Hopper Vineyard Cabernet will quite simply blow your mind.
Chris Phelps, whose day job is as winemaker for Inglenook, continues to impress with his small, under-the-radar Ad Vivum Sleeping Lady Cabernet from a well-known vineyard in Yountville, that over-delivers on its price point with remarkable structure and grace.
Napa Valley-based Jean Hoefliger, a consultant who makes an array of fine wines around the world, offers several incredible vineyard-designates for The Debate, whose bottlings are wrapped in newspaper highlighting “the debates” of the vintage.
We also found that once again, The Ehlers Estate wines from Laura Diaz Munoz are precise studies in restraint and elegance, yet remain puzzlingly underappreciated by many Napa fans. Not for long.