Mother Nature's mischief

The 2003 cabernet sauvignon lived through some significant history, from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to the rise of Lady Gaga and the inauguration of the first African-American president.

And yet it seems time stood still inside these youthful wines. They tasted of vibrant, fresh fruit when uncorked for our recent Press Democrat 10-year cabernet sauvignon retrospective tasting.

But Mother Nature made some mischief in the vineyards in 2003, and despite the wines' vigor, some developed less depth and complexity as they aged than in past vintages.

Here's a glimpse of the top winners:

First Place, a tie:

Sbragia Family Vineyards, 2003 Monte Rosso Vineyard Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.4 percent alcohol

Shafer 2003 Napa Valley Stag's Leap District Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9 percent.

2nd place:

Burgess, 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.9 percent.

3rd place:

A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5 percent.

4th place:

Duckhorn Vineyards, 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5 percent.

5th place:

Joseph Phelp's Insignia 2003 Napa Valley Red Wine, 14.4 percent.

The 2003 vintage, as one winemaker put it, brought bookended challenges, with heavy rains in April and a series of heat spikes in September.

When the 2003s were released, wine critic Robert Parker Jr. of the Wine Advocate wrote that the challenging growing year “gave headaches to winemakers and viticulturists ... While 2003 can be irregular, at the top end, the vintage has turned out to be very good with relatively chunky, full-bodied, powerful wines. When chosen carefully, the 2003s will offer consumers many rewards.”

California cabernets (and Bordeaux red blends) with good balance and solid structure on release are expected to show well at their 10-year mark, emulating the great wines of Bordeaux that can last for decades in the bottle.

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