2012 & 2013 Napa Valley: Too Close to Call


The 2012 and 2013 vintages are among the best in recent memory. Both were met with considerable acclaim. Now that the wines have passed their tenth birthdays, it’s time to look back and see how things have shaped up, to examine which wines met or exceeded expectations and which did not.

This article is the result of two tastings over the last 18 months. I tasted the 2012s back in the fall of 2022. At the time, I planned to publish a ten-year retrospective in early 2023. Josh Raynolds’ passing early last year was an enormous shock to our company and to me personally. By the time we began to recover, the office was full of new releases, so I moved several articles to the back burner, including this one. As the fall of 2023 came around, I started tasting the 2013s and decided to publish reviews of the 2013s and 2012s together. My goal was to cover both vintages for most estates, but some are represented in only one, mainly because of scheduling challenges. Hopefully, regularly scheduled ten-year retrospectives will continue this year. As for the wines, 2013 versus 2012 is too close to call. It’s really a producer-by-producer and wine-by-wine discussion at this lofty level. I find plenty to admire in both vintages.

2013: A Modern-Day Classic, Revisited

Two-thousand thirteen is a special vintage for Napa Valley. “The second year in the current drought cycle and precocious growing season produced powerful, inky wines with huge fruit, massive tannins and, most importantly, extraordinary pedigree,” I wrote in my article 2013 Napa Valley: Once Upon a Time in America…, which was published in October 2015. That’s pretty much how the wines come across today.

When I tasted the 2013s for the first time from barrel, in the fall of 2014, many winemakers commented that the wines extracted easily, so the challenge was to avoid excessively rich, hugely tannic wines. I found many 2013s showing more overt ripeness and stronger oak character than when they were young wines. That may be a factor in how the wines have evolved. But something else is also at play. I revisited the 2013s at the same time I tasted the 2021s. Comparisons were quite telling and informative, as the two vintages share some similarities, most notably drought conditions and low yields. Next to the 2021s, the 2013s come across as pretty bombastic. The reality is that today, we are increasingly becoming accustomed to Napa Valley wines made in a style that focuses on freshness and energy more than in the past. To think this stylistic evolution happened within a decade is truly remarkable. But that is the pace of change in many industries, including wine. As rich and potent as the wines are, 2013 is a vintage to start drinking now. The best wines will continue to mature positively, but I also tasted some 2013s starting to fall apart at the seams.

The Togni family has produced memorable Cabernet Sauvignons from their estate vineyard on Spring Mountain since the early 1980s.

2012: Long and Slow

Two thousand twelve came as a major relief to producers after the highly challenging 2011 vintage. It was a long, cool, dry year with moderate weather towards the end of the season that allowed for extended hang times. This was the first year I started spending time in Napa Valley in September so that I could see the vineyards just before harvest, something that is always so illuminating. It was a good idea for about a year. Since then, climate change has resulted in mostly earlier harvests such that my September trip almost always coincides with harvest.

Spirits were high when I started tasting the young wines from barrel in 2013. To be sure, a good vintage with abundant yields felt good. I have always liked the wines, even if 2012 has never been my favorite vintage. I find that many wines lack the vibrancy and the sheer visceral thrill of the very best vintages. That said, the 2012s mostly have bright acids, which has allowed them to age exquisitely. Some of the best 2012s are outrageously beautiful. Many arrived at their tenth birthdays in great shape. I was pleased and impressed with how the wines showed.

2002 At Twenty

Many producers showed their 2002s alongside their 2012s, not enough wines for a complete article, but certainly enough to merit inclusion here. It’s also a special vintage for me. I tasted hundreds of 2002s in 2012 with Robert Parker. We spent three full days at the Napa Valley Vintners. At the end of each morning and afternoon session, we compared notes on our favorites and even filmed a few videos that are probably still lurking somewhere on the internet. I learned an immense amount over that time. It was my third big tasting with Bob (the others were 2000 Bordeaux and 2001 Napa Valley). I just tried to take it all in. We also visited a few wineries, including Beringer (for all the Treasury wines) and BOND (for all the Harlan wines). Bob was a very solitary critic. He was not accustomed to traveling with another critic, although by 2012, we had established more of a rhythm from the preceding year. From my standpoint, it was the experience of a lifetime.

The 2002s are wines from a rich, ripe vintage. They contrast starkly with the cooler 2001s I reported on a few years ago. I prefer 2001 stylistically, but the best 2002s are gorgeous. Some are a bit mature, so this is an ideal vintage for current drinking. Two thousand-two was the peak of the search for textural richness and extraction in Napa Valley, so many wines carry those strong stylistic markers.

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