96 Points: Silverado Vineyards 2012 SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon - Beautiful flavors of both red and black berries with notes of violets and sweet spices. This Cabernet from Stags Leap District is incredibly elegant, complex and balanced, and this vintage is one to lay down for a few decades.Just after the 2012 harvest in Napa Valley, Bart Araujo, former owner of Araujo Estate and now of Accendo Cellars, told me the vintage might be the best for 20 years. “The weather was perfect and the fruit was excellent,” he said. Araujo was not getting carried away – his sentiments were echoed across the valley. Aron Weinkauf, winemaker of Spottswoode, views 2012 is an “idyllic” vintage. “The growing season was easy – there were no huge heat spells, no challenging rain.” The only downside was that it was arguably too easy. “The wines are beautiful but perhaps not exciting,” he says. Most winemakers disagree. Cathy Corison, of Corison Wines, was grateful for the large crop and calls the 2012 “perfect”. Ann Colgin of Colgin Cellars is equally enthusiastic. “The 2012 vintage was a classic – it was generous and the fruit was beautiful.” A vintage will always be compared with what preceded it, of course, and 2012 came after the most challenging of vintages in Napa, the 2011, with its cool temperatures, incessant disease pressure and small volumes. 2012 had ideal bud break and good flowering followed by a long stretch of warm days and cool nights with little rain. What more can a winemaker ask for? Not only was 2012 a perfect growing season, but it also yielded an abundant crop. Philippe Bascaules, who has overseen a change in style at Inglenook with grapes picked earlier and fresher, was delighted. “Big crops in California are good because they dilute the concentration and produce better balanced wines,” he explains. “We want to be the reference for finesse and elegance in Napa.” Not all the changes he has implemented are viticultural though – Inglenook now pays pickers by the hour rather than by the ton, as Bascaules believes workers will be less inclined to rush and over-load bins, crushing grapes. Another French winemaker, Hélène Mingot of Araujo Estate, reduced the output of the Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from 2,000 cases to 1,700 in the abundant 2012 vintage, part of a long-term strategy for stricter selection and greater quality. The evidence is in the bottle – 2012 combines both elegance and intensity. Others employed vineyard CURRENT RELEASE NAPA 2012 Blessed with a near-perfect growing season, the vintage is shaping up to be just about as good as it gets. techniques to keep quantity down. “The 2012 was a big crop,” says Tom Futo of Futo Wines. “We worked hard in the vineyard – taking off the shoulders, the large wings, and going through cluster by cluster.” The hard work paid off; Futo’s 2012 reds are fabulous. The 2012 arrives at a time when many Napa winemakers are looking for freshness and balance. Michael Silacci, winemaker at Opus One, says that since the 2009 vintage there has been a distinct shift. Whereas in the past, 60-80 percent of the grapes harvested were defined as having “ripe fruit”, with flavors leaning toward dark, black fruits, now only 40 to 60 percent ripe fruit is desired, with the rest made up of “fresh fruit”. Because of the generous volumes, there should be plenty of great wines at every price point. Overall, this is classic Napa at its very best. In the right hands, the wines strike that perfect balance of generosity and intensity of flavor; a firm backbone wrapped in plush, velvety tannins; and wonderful freshness and length.