We’re shifting our tasting focus in California from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon and I’m tasting some of the same difficulties with the 2006 Cabernet vintage that existed with the 2006 Pinot Noirs.
The issue with both grapes was uneven quality, which is more evident in the wines than may have been apparent when the grapes were being picked, crushed and fermented.
While I’ve tried some sensational 2006 Cabernets (the various Schrader bottlings come to mind), some of the wines I’ve tried in the past two days show modest to marginally ripe fruit flavors and in many instances the wines were marked by very hard, dry tannins. The 2006 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($200) is a prime example of a tightly wound, deeply concentrated young wine with potent tannins. Yet underlying the structure and density is a measure of finesse and harmony not found in other 2006s. It should age quite well.
The 2006 Pinots were also a mixed bag. There were some terrific, ageworthy wines made that year. But battles in the vineyard with mold and rot led to some sites not being picked and, considering what ended up in bottle, many wines lack the delicacy, finesse and purity of flavor that makes Pinot so exciting. Too many 2006s are dry, herbal and tannic. The 2005 and 2007 vintages are far superior, with 2007 among the best California Pinots I’ve tasted. 2008 Pinots will be highly variable, since a severe spring frost damaged many vineyards and cut the crop by 30 to 50 percent.
Cabernet lovers will face the same challenges sorting through the 2006 vintage. In the past four vintages, 2004 produced ripe, fleshy, complex fruit-forward wines with supple tannins; 2005 produced a huge crop, yet the wines are well-balanced, with lower alcohols, more structure than opulence, yet with deep complexity; and 2007 may end up being the best, as the growing season was long and even and the wines ripened to ideal levels. 2008, by comparison, was far more challenging and a much smaller crop.
That leaves 2006 in a tough spot, sandwiched between two superior years. There will be some great wines. But many will leave much to be desired in terms of complexity and drinking allure. The wildcard, or course, will be prices. It appears that a few top-end wineries have raised prices for their 2006s (Opus One increased its price by $5 to $195, Harlan from $450 to $500 and Phelps Backus from $225 to $250), a few have lowered theirs, yet it appears that most wines being released are at about the same price as they’ve been in the past two vintages. And I’ve seen several new labels priced above $100. More to come on the wines’ quality and prices as they’re reviewed.