User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Friday Fishwrap
2011: The Lesson Of Good Results From A Lesser Vintage

By Stephen Eliot

It is no secret that 2011 was a difficult vintage hereabouts, especially for the late-ripening red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. Despite the flip claims of some that winemakers need only pick early to ensure success and that 2011 was a wonderful gift from nature meant to put California back on the right track after years of being enslaved to excessive ripeness, the evidence thus far in bottle warns against unconstrained excitement. We have become accustomed over the years to winemakers beaming when talking about most every vintage, but 2011 has been one of half-hearted, not-quite-convincing smiles and equivocal comments about doing one’s best.

Oh, that is not to say that disaster lurks just behind every cork, and there are, in fact, a good many fine wines to be found, but it seems like the range of quality and styles will be broader than ever, and it is a good time to think in specifics rather than sweeping generalities.

It is a vintage that invites winery by winery consideration instead of one that gives rise to absolute conclusions about varietal and appellation. We have a long way to go and many hundreds, more likely thousands, of wines to taste before saying with confidence that this or that grape in this or that place is worth high praise or damnation. In this vintage, more than most others, the quick rush to judgment is certain to bury the real truths about individual wines.

We have tasted plenty of 2011 reds from the barrel, but we are concerned with the stuff in the bottle, and they are only recently beginning to make their ways to market. Some are thin and anemic, while others are delicate, bright and bursting with life. Some are so ripe as to be wholly defined by dried-grape desiccation, and yet others manage to marry ripeness with a wealth of deep and well-focused fruit.

The biggest danger about the 2011 vintage, and for any other year when it comes right down to it, but more so for 2011, is lapsing into a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down thinking wherein everything is seen as successful or inherently flawed because of the date on the bottle. Just yesterday, in fact, that point was made manifestly clear at our tasting table. Having just finished a randomly selected flight of new 2011 Zinfandels that left us less than enthralled, we were surprised at just how good a second, and again randomly selected flight of the same fared. I confess that the opening round of wines had me thinking the day would be long and difficult, but there were reasons to smile before we wrapped up work for the day. We have always said and believed that fine wine must be evaluated one glass at a time, that each one has its own story to tell should you care to listen. The stuff on the label, whether it be a designation of place, how and by whom it was made, alcohol levels and the vintage date, is never absolutely predictive of what is inside the bottle. For us, it is has always been about one wine at a time, and that is the very best advice we can offer as more and more 2011s make their ways to the market.


The CGCW Experience - Take the Tour

Meet the New CGCW

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.


Amen to That
by Z
Posted on:7/1/2013 9:47:32 AM

Excellent comments...America's preoccupation with scores has evolved past the point of truth - what it is all about...the experience in each bottle.  There are 1000's of great wines that many wrote off based on some initial tastes - take '98 and '99 Cali Cab as an example - where many wines are fab today (and great values).  Sure, some dawgs as well...and more in a tough vintage like '11...but many solid offerings. 



Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.