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The 2014 Perfectly Reflects Terroir
Although Napa Valley produces some of the greatest wines in the world, a common complaint has been that California Cabernet tends to be too fruit-forward and oaky in style, which can mask the essence of the terroir in which the grapes are grown. This is where the best 2014 Napa Cabernet truly shines; this vintage brings a sense of terroir back to Napa. It’s similar to legendary vintages from the 1950s and 1960s in that the soil and the climate of the vineyard are very easy to identify in the final wine blend. Wines that come from vineyards where minerality is a key component of the soil, for example, will have a steely, rocky character. Screaming Eagle wines from this vintage display intense notes of graphite and gravel that make reference to the rockiness of the estate’s Oakville land. These wines’ sense of place makes it easier to taste the subtle differences between, say, 2014 Screaming Eagle’s gravelly minerality and 2014 Scarecrow’s loamier, sandier personality. While these subtle differences are usually difficult to identify in a blind tasting, in the 2014 vintage they’re relatively easy to spot. This quality makes 2014 Napa Cabernet an excellent choice for blind tasting parties. It’s the perfect year to use if you’re looking to train your palate to identify the unique, signature personalities of each producer.
What Was Unique About 2014?
What makes the best 2014 Napa Cabernet so much more terroir-driven than other high-quality modern vintages, like the 2013? It all comes down to temperature and harvest times. In 2014, California was still in the midst of a drought, but drought conditions had less impact on the quality and concentration of the grapes than it did in previous vintages. The warm summer months never got overly hot, which allowed the grapes to fully and quickly ripen without becoming too intensely sugary before harvest. By comparison, the 2013 vintage is far richer and bolder than the 2014 because summer temperatures were much higher. If you prefer a softer, more delicate Cabernet, then the 2014 is a better choice for you than the 2013 vintage.
However, milder temperatures alone can’t explain 2014’s refined, elegant personality. Instead, some winemakers claim that an August earthquake is responsible for the balanced nature of 2014 Napa Cabernet. On August 24, a massive earthquake affected the underground water table at some vineyards, releasing extra water to the deepest roots. This last-minute splash of water gave the grapes a bit more acidity shortly before harvest, preventing them from becoming too raisined and sugary. The result is a well-balanced wine that retains Napa’s signature fruit-forward style without being too syrupy or intense on the palate.
Early harvests also prevented drought conditions from making 2014 Napa Cabernet overly bold. Most winemakers were wise enough to pick all of their grapes in late August, nearly a month earlier than usual. Had winemakers waited for the grapes to hang for even a week or two longer on the vine, they would have ended up with a much more fruity, overwhelmingly powerful wine. By picking the Cabernet grapes at the same time as some of their earlier-ripening white varieties, winemakers ensured that their wines would be complex in flavor and not overly ripe.
Investing in the Best 2014 Napa Cabernet
Because the 2014 vintage is both supple and highly structured, you can choose when to drink these wines based on your preferences. Normally, a vintage that receives near-perfect scores is designed to spend decades in a cellar, however, the best 2014 Napa Cabernet is unique in that it has the potential for long-term aging yet is already easy to drink. High-quality, ageable Napa Cabernet tends to be too tannic and intensely alcoholic for drinking before it has spent at least ten years in the cellar, yet the 2014 vintage has silkier tannins than usual. While its tannins and alcohol are still relatively prominent and will certainly play a role as the wine ages over the next 25 years or more, they’re already beautifully incorporated into the final blend, making the 2014 a truly enjoyable tasting experience. I recommend buying a few bottles from the same producer and drinking some young (but wait until at least 2020 to uncork most of these wines) while keeping the rest in professional storage until 2035 or 2040.
To invest in the best 2014 Napa Cabernet, choose producers that harvested as early as possible. Here are just a few of the wines produced in 2014 that are worth an investment:
- Joseph Phelps Insignia: Full-bodied, with a great balance between the oak and the fruit. Hold this wine until at least 2020, or wait to resell it until 2030.
- Opus One: Fragrant, with very fine tannins. Drink this wine now, or wait to resell it until 2025.
- Scarecrow: A long finish and intense depth of flavor. Drink this now, or wait to resell it until 2030.
- Heitz Martha’s Vineyard: Layered fruit flavors. Drink this now, or wait to resell it until 2025.
- Schrader: Notes of dark chocolate and a long finish. Drink this now, or wait to resell it until 2030.
- Corison: Harmonious and smokey. Hold this wine until at least 2020, or wait to resell it until 2035.
- Colgin: Textured, pure, and flawless in structure. Hold this until at least 2020, or wait to resell it until 2035.
The bottom line is that the ‘best’ 2014 Napa Cabernet will vary from collector to collector depending on taste preferences and what you ultimately would like to do with your wine. Because quality is so high across the board, though, you can pick wines based on your preferred taste profile (such as tobacco-heavy or more fruit-forward) without worrying whether the wine you chose will be worth storing long-term. Moreover, since most of these wines are ready to drink now or within a couple of years, you have the freedom to choose what to do with your wine once you buy it. You may decide to pull this wine out of storage next year in order to celebrate an anniversary dinner, or you can choose to age the wine over the next 30 years. Regardless of which option you go with, a high-quality 2014 Napa Cabernet will taste elegant, balanced, and refined at every age.