• Alexander Smith

Napa 2017 vintage

"The problem with the 2017 vintage is that it is surrounded by the 2015, 2016 and 2018 vintages." This is what I have been told by most winemakers when I discussed the 2017 vintage back in February earlier this year in Napa. Is 2017 a bad vintage for Napa? Absolutely not, Napa rarely has bad vintages, this is not like Bordeaux 2013 ;). I have only tasted a few 2017s and I will share my view on the wines below. However first let us look at why 2017 is so controversial.

The growing season actually started surprisingly well with a dry winter with budding and flowering on time, summer was dry with big heat spikes but it was not until September Labour day when it hit 100F when the challenges really started. Like most regions as the end of season arrives; heat spikes are not desired since the phenolics and sugars will develop too quickly, this is what happened during September. I was in Napa on the 1st September, and I will never forget arriving at Opus One sweating my life and looking over to the grapes to see them do the same! I knew at that moment, this would be a difficult vintage. September continued to have heat spikes and by October the fires hit, so most who had not picked by the fires would certainly be at risk of smoke taint in the wines. The valley floor tends to pick a little earlier than the mountain sites, and so the mountain sites got a little worst off. So is 2017 bad? Absolutely not, if you were able to manage these heat spikes through careful canopy management and picking at the right moment then the wines turned out beautiful.

When looking at the style of 2017 I always find them to be a lot more serious, deep and dark coloured than 2016s or 2018s with plenty of tannins and concentrated fruit. This is not a lush and fruit forward year like 2016. Some prefer 2017 to 2016 or 2018. I would certainly buy 2017, yet given the my preference towards 2016s or 2018s I would probably buy them first.

Bevan made some mean 2017s

So below are some of my recent tasting of Napa 2017 Cabernets:

Bevan Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard 2017 - 95 points

This is a powerhouse of a wine for such a vintage with dark, blackcurrant compote, crushed violets, cassis, black pepper, pencil lead aromas lead to a palate which is full bodied and throttled with muscular tannins, big bold fruit along with a round and rich finish.

Bevan Cellars EE Cuvée Tench Vineyard 2017 - 95 points

So Inky in color, certainly more shy on the nose compared to the Ontogeny, with plush dark fruit, black olive tapenade, bay leaves and allspice round these alluring aromas. The palate was medium to full-bodied yet refined and serious, more savoury compared to the Ontogeny, yet with a wonderful integration between the rich and elegant dark fruit and the savoury textures of crushed stones, pencil shavings and pepper which filled the palate and lead to a more precise and elegant finish. A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. This needs time, however shows great potential.

Bevan Cellars Ontogeny 2017 - 94 points

Dark purple colour with explosive aromas of blackberries, cassis, blueberry and a whiff of tobacco, the palate was playful, lush and seductive with bold dark fruit compote, smooth tannins and a rich finish. This is a blend of majority Tench Cabernet Sauvignon and Sugarloaf Cabernet Franc. A fantastic snapshot of Bevan Cellars. 2017 was a tough vintage in Napa, however, this really shows the potential when you put your mind to it.

Dalla Valle Collina 2017 - 92 points

A challenging vintage but Dalla Valle really shone with their entry-level Collina. with bright red and black crunchy fruit, violets, pepper and fresh herbs. The palate was fresh with good structure, fine fully integrated tannins, however, this was all about the purity and freshness of the fruit, this will be enjoyed early on. 43% Cabernet Sauvignon 42% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petit Verdot.

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Lyndenhurst 2017 - 92 points

Deep purple in color, restrained aromas of blackcurrant, mulberries, dark cherries, allspice, bay leaves, and dried lavender. The palate was medium to full-bodied with concentrated ripe berry fruit, a touch sour, along with notes of licorice and sweet spices. The tannins were fine and were well-integrated, the purity of the fruit shone through which led to a long and fresh finish. 2017 was a challenging vintage, and even if this is not as flamboyant as 2016 and 2018, this is a solid effort and will allow for early drinking pleasure.

Frias Family Vineyard Lady of The Dead 2017 - 91 points

Most wines which are aimed at Halloween or Day of the Dead are boring and they spend more time on the label than the wine. This wine is different, this is a premium Napa Cabernet with notes of blackberry, black cherry, dark plum, cassis, dark chocolate, cedar, crushed stones and a little smoke. The palate was full-bodied, lush, rich with sweet black fruit, a little pepper and spice, well-integrated tannins and a full finish. Drinking wonderfully now. Blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Syrah

Bottom Line

The 2017 vintage should not be overlooked and if you look hard enough you can certainly find some gems, however due to the stellar 2016 and 2018 vintages they will unfortunately be placed to one side.

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