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Napa Valley Surprise

Robert Parker - Wine Advocate
2003 Bordeaux varietals from Napa emerge from the huge shadows of 2001 and 2002

This tasting, which was done during the last ten days of May, 2013, proved to be a strong showing for 2003, a vintage largely forgotten after the great 2001s and 2002s. Frankly, I came into the tasting with much lower expectations than for the two previous years. However, wine after wine turned out to be more impressive than I remembered, having filled out and now showing sweet tannin. While evolving more quickly than either 2001 or 2002, many 2003s were classic, full-bodied, opulent wines loaded with the fruit for which Napa is renowned. The weather conditions that formed 2003 were somewhat unusual. A wet winter and a cool, damp early spring were followed by a hot, sometimes extremely sultry late spring. Then the temperatures moderated and most of the growers I spoke with felt it was a somewhat average growing season in June, July and August, but cooler than usual. However, September brought a few surprises for Napa growers. Temperatures around the second and third weeks of September spiked, hitting 110 degrees in a few places, which is not something growers prefer. It was also relatively dry. Temperatures were described as “stop and go,” but then moderated, and the harvest occurred under reasonable conditions throughout the end of September and October. The cool, wet spring meant the harvest was slightly later than usual. The Merlot crop was small and the other varietals were slightly below normal in quantity. However, they were impressive in quality, although no one compared it to 2001 or 2002.

A constant theme I heard at most of the wineries I visited was that it was a roller coaster harvest, because the heat spikes led to starting and stopping harvesting depending on the physiological ripeness and intensity of flavors, with some parcels showing full ripeness and others being retarded and somewhat paralyzed by the extreme heat. Other producers tended to think their memory suggested an unusual and strange weather pattern, but when the weather was plotted out by the Napa Vintners’ Association, it was not as unusual as many had thought. Perhaps the biggest worries were the heavy rains in April and the heat spikes in the third week of September.

The strength of how well these 2003s performed is a tribute to the producers’ patience, which is ever increasing as the level of knowledge has expanded among the younger generation of Napa winemakers. The panic that was about to ensue because of the heat spikes never materialized, and when the weather moderated and cooled down, most producers patiently harvested their plots as they ripened. That was evident in the high quality of these wines, which at ten years of age are showing personalities that are not far from full maturity. Many of them still have 10-15 years of life left in them.

While it is difficult to find the wines reviewed in these ten-year retrospectives, should you see any well-stored 2003s that have gotten great reviews, you will be positively surprised by how beautifully many of them have evolved.