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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I bought a 2011 second label Cabernet from a noted Napa winemaker a while ago, and it was delicious. When I saw it available again as a 2012, I grabbed it, but it was nowhere near as good. I know that 2011 was not a great year for these wines, and 2012 was. Are bad years better for second label wines?

—Thomas K., Northbrook, Ill.

Dear Thomas,

Good question, and I imagine that might be the case for some bottlings. 2011 was a tough vintage in Napa, with cool and damp weather. There were good wines made, but it was harder to do than in a vintage with more ideal weather. As a result, we heard many stories of wine being “declassified”—that is, being sold on the bulk-wine market or bottled at a lower price point.

I can imagine a hypothetical situation where a picky winemaker could have declassified a fair amount of 2011 wine that would typically go into a $200 bottle of wine, and that wine ended up in their $20 bottling. In better vintages, that same picky winemaker might try to maximize their $200 bottlings and not their $20 ones. But I don’t think that is the case across the board, as there were certainly many rough wines made in 2011. There could also be other reasons for the vintage variation—like changes in winemakers, or just winemaking decisions.

—Dr. Vinny

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