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Remembering the 2020 Vintage

Robert Whitley on

Who could forget the vintage of 2020? Lightning strikes, out-of-control wildfires, an epic heat wave!

Yep, that describes the wine-grape harvest of 2020, all right, except that it doesn't. While it does describe much of the action in Napa and Sonoma, it's only one piece, a relatively small piece, of the puzzle.

We sometimes forget that wine is produced from New York to California, with other important regions (can you say Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Texas, Oregon or Washington?) in between. What happens in Napa and Sonoma doesn't even begin to depict the overall goodness, or not, of any particular vintage.

All too often, however, what happens in Napa and Sonoma shapes the narrative for all domestic wines across the country, as silly as that is on its face. On top of that, the jury is still out on this vintage in Napa and Sonoma. It remains to be seen whether "smoke taint" becomes a huge issue. Smoke taint is very real and can make your favorite red wine smell and taste like an ash tray.

Because of the recent spike in northern California wildfires around the September harvest, which is frequently the California wine country's warmest month of the year, wineries have become very good at spotting tainted fruit and cutting those grapes from the production line. As for the heat wave, that's fairly typical, and it likely pushed many vineyards to better ripeness following a relatively cool summer. That's not a bad thing.

But looking beyond Napa and Sonoma to the south, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the border with Mexico, California vineyards enjoyed a normal growing season. No one need worry about the wines from Monterey County, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County or San Diego County. The sun never stopped shining; there will be no issues with cork taint; and you should expect the same level of quality and abundance you would in a normal year.


The best thing to remember about the 2020 harvest when those wines come to market in a year or so is that vintage indicators are not one-size-fits-all.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Georges Duboeuf 2018 Beaujolais Villages, France ($13.99) -- When it's good, it's one of the greatest wine values in the world. And the 2018 Beaujolais Villages from Duboeuf is outstanding. This vintage has a distinctly floral nose, excellent palate weight, and inviting red and blue fruit aromas. The tannins are supple and soft, and this Beaujolais is ready to enjoy now. For the best experience, serve slightly chilled. Rating: 90.


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