The 2012 vintage for Napa Valley Cabernet is more than living up to expectations. Everyone who makes Cabernet has been excited about this vintage for some time. It didn't hurt that it came on the heels of a most difficult and uneven 2011 harvest.
Aside from overall quality, which is as good as any vintage I can recall, there's another element that makes 2012 stand out: volume.
By many accounts, including the Department of Agriculture's Grape Crush Report, the 2012 harvest was the largest on record for many California varieties—nearly 500,000 tons of Cabernet crushed—and when quality is as high as it is with 2012, the cup spilleth over. As with other varieties (namely Pinot Noir), the size of the crop snuck up on growers and winemakers, and even those who paid close attention were surprised by grape berry size.
The old conventional thinking was that big crops don't produce great vintages. But that theory has been debunked many times in Napa. Some of the super-sized years were stunners: 1974, 1978 and 1986 spring to mind. More recently, 2005 was a huge one.
What makes vintages such as these so special (aside from the quality) is the abundance of juice. These are the kinds of years négociants dream of. They often get a great cut of what's produced, and will even buy unlabeled shiners.
When the 1978 vintage came to market, it followed a drought-plagued 1976 and 1977, both of which yielded unusually small crops and uneven wines. But there were many gems to be had among 1978's large crop. One wine, the 1978 Round Hill Cabernet, stood alongside the top wines of the vintage. The owner, Ernie Van Asperen, and his winemaker, Charlie Abela, knew the valley's top producers and were usually at or near the front of the line when the discarded lots of oversupply were sold in bulk. Keep that in mind as the 2012s from lesser-knowns or négociants ease into the eddy of the mainstream.
And watch the WineSpectator.com Insider newsletter and Tasting Highlights for more 2012 Napa Cabernet ratings to come, and my annual California Cabernet tasting report is due out in the magazine this fall.