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Promising 2009 Cabs and 2010 Pinots

The 2009 Napa Cabernets are rich and structured; Sonoma Pinot Noirs are great again in 2010
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 18, 2012 12:30pm ET

The more I taste the 2009 Napa Cabernets and 2010 California Pinot Noirs, the more I like them.

Despite a pair of October rainstorms, 2009 Napa Cabernet appears to have fully ripened, rendering wines that are both rich and structured. Of all red grapes, the loose-clustered Cabernet can weather the rain. Whatever mold or bunch rot might have existed is removed before the grapes are harvested. That and hand-sorting the berries separates the wheat from the chaff. Finally, any wines that look suspect after fermentation are either sold in bulk or bottled under second labels. High-end Napa vintners can ill afford releasing a less-than-exciting cuvée. Expect both 2010 and 2011 to be more variable.

The 2009 Cabernet harvest in Sonoma was far more difficult, as the rains came at an inopportune time. Cool weather that followed didn't help.

With California Pinot Noir, 2010 looks strong too, and far better than earlier analysis from winemakers. It would be hard to top 2009, a near-perfect growing year with scores of stunning wines.

2010 was more a roller coaster, with a very cool summer and then heat spikes closer to harvest. But Pinot does its own thing. It ripens earlier, and vintners who thinned their crops fared well.

I've been especially impressed by the 2010 Pinots from Sta. Rita Hills. There is much to admire, too, in the wines from Sonoma and Santa Lucia Highlands. So far, Anderson Valley Pinots have been the least exciting. But it's still early. There are plenty of wines that have yet to be released.

On paper, 2010 was hardly ideal from a grower's perspective. But the Pinots that were made and bottled are by and large exciting, perhaps a shade more elegant and refined than the richer wines from 2009. Even when the weather is less than ideal, it all comes down to individual sites and selection.

If you're curious who some of these top Pinot producers are in 2010, here's a hint: You'll recognize a lot of the same familiar names from my list of the Top 20 Sonoma Pinot Producers in the Oct. 15, 2011, issue.

What have your experiences been so far with 2009 Napa Cabernet and 2010 California Pinot Noir?

Dave Reuther
Deerfield, Illinois —  May 18, 2012 6:43pm ET
For me the 2010 California Pinot Noirs are as enjoyable as the 2009s. The 2010s I have had so far are the Calera Central Coast Thirty-fifth Anniversary, the Loring Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vnyd and the Loring Sonoma Coast Durell Vnyd. I agree with your ratings of these wines.
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  May 18, 2012 7:03pm ET

I've been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the 2010 Pinots as well. For us, to make high quality single-vineyard Pinot Noirs we had to do a lot of declassifying of barrels. So, yields were already down, and then we found ourselves putting a higher percentage of barrels from really good vineyards into our lower priced Appellation-blends. That didn't lead to the most profitable year for us....but it certainly made better wines.

Oddly enough, one thing that helped in that process was the down economy. Making more, less expensive wine was actually an easier thing to do when the economy was struggling than it might have been had the economy been booming.


Adam Lee
Siduri Wines
Steve Balmuth
San Clemente, CA —  May 19, 2012 10:30am ET
We're lovin' the 2010 Pinot's. Getting in the Siduri RRV Pinot next week and the Loring Graham Pinot is outstanding along with the Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot. Also sold the Luli SLH Pinot like crazy.

The '09 Cabs are still quite young, but loved the '09 Futo, Stanton, Carter, Continuum, Maybach, Mercury Head and Papillon

Steve Balmuth
DaVine Food & Wine
Chuck Reece
Atlanta, GA, USA —  May 20, 2012 12:25pm ET
Had a lovely North Coast (Anderson Valley) 2010 pinot last week by Lioco. I described it as having a certain unity of purpose. From nose to finish, it progresses logically, gaining depth at each stage. Big nose of fresh berries, which concentrate on the palate and the further on the finish. Drinking great already. Worth cellaring, too, I think.
Robert Lapolla
san diego, CA USA —  May 20, 2012 2:27pm ET
isnt it weird how 1997 and 1999 were great CA vintages and so are 2007 and 2009?
how about 1989 and 1990 vs 2009 and 2010 in bordeax?
do do do do do......
Dave Kiefer
Westfield, NJ —  May 21, 2012 4:19pm ET
2010 Pinots have been impressive so far -- especially the Siduri wines I have tried, good job Adam!
Ryan Sherman
Lodi, CA USA —  May 21, 2012 6:42pm ET
I think most of the 2009 Cabs will be defined by the decisions made regarding whether to harvest before or after the rains. Our 2009 Mt. Veeder Cab was harvested just 12hrs before the down pour, we couldn't be happier, gorgeous wine.
Eric Hall
Healdsburg, CA —  May 24, 2012 3:26pm ET
Yes, I concur, we were very worried in Oct-Nov 2010, but the wines are beautiful. And yes, even richer that the 2009's... Even the Sonoma Coastal Vineyards came out lush...

Now 2011, that's another story...

Roadhouse Winery.
Michael Eacrett
Los Altos, CA  —  May 24, 2012 5:27pm ET
Have loved the 2010 Pinot Noirs I have had so far - The best being the Coleman Nicole Roman's Lot II from SLH and the Robert Foley Hudson Vineyard Pinot Noir (yes he does Pinot now!)
Michael Pek
Springfield, NJ —  May 27, 2012 10:36am ET
Tasted many great 2009 Cabs but the Beringer Knights Valley Reserve stands out. Decant for several hours and it is ready to go. A great bottle for the price. The only problem it is in short supply on the east coast.
Thomas Kobylarz
Hoboken, NJ —  May 31, 2012 12:19pm ET
I just spent the better part of a week tasting in the Napa Valley and have tasted a lot of 2009 Cabernet and I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed by the wines of the better producers. Morlet, Melka, Crocker & Star, Spottswoode, Togni, Paul Hobbs and the new "The Vineyardist" were all exceptional, 93+ easy wines! I find the majority of 2009 wines fresher, with better acidity than 2008, and better fruit. The tannins (generally speaking) in 2008 seem a little harder, with more structure.

From Sonoma I agree the 2010 wines in the hands of better producers like Morlet, L'Angevin/Peirson Meyer, Paul Hobbs and Littorai were on point.
Lisa Sarkisian
Menlo Park, CA —  June 3, 2012 1:06am ET
I've only had a few 2010 pinots to date, but was impressed with a 2010 Drew - Morning Dew Vineyard pinot noir that I tasted at the winery during a recent trip to Anderson Valley.

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