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2012 vintage: a report card



I’ve tasted only about 700 wine for Wine Enthusiast  from the 2012 vintage (the number should eventually rise to several thousand), but based on what’s come in so far, this is going to be a hugely successful year for Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Most of the better red wines have yet to be released. But a few early Pinots show the vast promise of the vintage. Santa Arcangeli made a 2012 Split Rail Vineyard, from the Santa Cruz Mountains, that knocked my sox off, while early ‘12s from Siduri, Reaper, Orfila, The Gardener and Patz & Hall all scored above 90 points. I would expect that, in two years or so when we’ll have the lion’s share of top coastal Pinots in, there will be lots of 95-and-above scores, and maybe–who knows?–some perfect 100s.

Very little 2012 Cabernet has come my way yet, mostly under-$20 stuff, but even this grouping, which can be so mediocre, has lots of scores in the 86-88 point range, with wines showing plenty of vigor and good fruit. Cabernet in tnis price range is frequently disappointing, with thin flavors, so when you get a bunch of nice ones, it bodes well for what’s yet to come. So 2012 could really be a blockbuster Cabernet year.

The 2012 Chardonnays, however, are now pouring in. I would characterize them overall as elegant, well-structured wines. What they may lack in opulence they more than make up for in balance and class. I have a feeling, though I can’t prove it, that vintners are dialing back on ripeness and/or oakiness, in favor of acidity and freshness. A Foxen 2012 Chardonnay, from the Tinaquaic Vineyard of the Santa Maria Valley, typifies this lively style, combining richness with minerality and tartness and alcohol well under 14%. Even unoaked Chardonnays, such as Marimar Torres’ Acero bottling, are so delicious that they don’t really need any oak. So, again, 2012 should prove to be a fantastic Chardonnay year.

It’s not just the Big Three–Chardonnay, Cabernet and Pinot Noir–that show such promise in 2012. A handful of Sauvignon Blancs that have come in (Ehlers Estate, Atalon, Matanzas Creek, Cosa Obra, Capture, Rochioli, B Cellars, El Roy, Longmeadow Ranch) show the ripeness and acidity that variety needs, without any of that annoyingly unripe, cat pee pyrazine junk. And Viognier, which is probably the most difficult white variety of all to get right in California (not too green, not too flabby and sweet), shows real promise, as indicated by bottlings from Pride Mountain, Qupe, Kobler and Nagy. The wines are racy and balanced. I could say the same thing about rarer whites, such as Bailiwick’s Vermentino, Birichino’s Malvasia Bianca, Grüners from Zocker and Von Strasser, white blends such as Vina Robles’ White4, Roussanne (Truchard), Albariño (Longoria, La Marea and Tangent), and dry Gewurztraminers (Gundlach Bundschu, Claiborne & Chruchill)–all these are 90 points or higher, exciting to drink, mouthwatering, ultra-versatile with food. And finally, rosé. Up to now, it’s never been my favorite California wine (too flabby and sweet)–but 2012 could change my mind. The few I’ve had so far (Lynmar, Chiarello Family, Ousterhout, Gary Farrell, Demetria)–wow. Dry, crisp, delicate and fruity, just what a rosé should be.

So here’s to many more magnificent 2012s to come. It will be the best vintage in many years, at least since 2007–and all the early signs are that 2013 could exceed it.

  1. Steve,

    Back when the American distributors of 1988 vintage red Bordeaux were trying to move their inventory, the American wine enthusiasts were hearing early “rave” reviews about the stupendous quality of the 1989 red Bordeaux.

    Those same distributors couldn’t give their 1988 wines away, even by marking them down to cost (so austere and tannic were they).

    Today California wineries and their distributors face a similar dilemma: they have 2008s and 2009s and 2010s and 2011s backing up in their warehouses or on the shelves of their retailers.

    And consumers, hearing the exciting news about the 2012 vintage (and now equally exciting 2013 vintage) will sit on their wallets waiting out the market.

    Underscores these observations of Charles Banks:

    “West Coast Wineries Are Up for Sale — Quietly”
    A wave of recent deals show investors see opportunities in wine, while owners see an exit strategy.



    “… While small wineries can succeed by selling most of their inventory direct to consumers and large producers have muscle with wholesalers, those in the middle — annual production of 5,000 to 15,000 cases, for example — can’t get much attention from distributors unless the brand is hot.”


    “… ‘I’ve never seen more wineries for sale in California than there are today,’ [said Charles Banks, who through investment groups such as Terroir Selections purchased Santa Barbara Syrah specialist Qupé in October and Napa veteran Mayacamas Vineyards in April.] … Banks … estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of California wineries are either in financial difficulty or aren’t as profitable as they could be.”

    ~~ Bob

  2. WE are delighted with our 2012s! Unfortunately you won’t see the Pinot Noirs for a while, since our special vineyard gives us wines that take their time to come around — but then they reward us with a long life! Anyhow, glad you enjoyed the Unaoked Acero chard. Wait til you try the 2012 albariño! 🙂

  3. Katie Bundschu says:

    Thanks Steve for mentioning our 2012 DRY Gewürztraminer. We are excited about our 2012’s as well as what we’ve seen early on with the 2013’s. Stay tuned…

  4. Steve,

    An addendum to . . .

    “West Coast Wineries Are Up for Sale — Quietly”


    . . . is this press release:

    “Over the last year there have been more than $33 million in sales of vineyards, vineyard estates and plantable land in Napa and Sonoma Counties.” – David Ashcroft Real Estate

    Summary: “This doesn’t even take into account confidential sales or wineries.”


    ~~ Bob

  5. Sorry — because of my copy and paste error, the magnitude of the sales has been misreported.

    Once again, with clarity:

    “Over the last year there have been more than $335 million in sales of vineyards, vineyard estates and plantable land in Napa and Sonoma Counties.” – David Ashcroft Real Estate

    Summary: “This doesn’t even take into account confidential sales or wineries.”

  6. “Santa Arcangeli made a 2012 Split Rail Vineyard”

    Make that Sante Arcangeli

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