Scouting unexpected flavors: the Italian wine girl goes to Napa Valley
Harvest time in Napa Valley smells good! The morning marine fog and the midday sun are the perfect combination to spread in the air the damp forest floor smell and the pines aroma. Scents which surround the vineyards at their peak of beauty, full of ripe clusters! “Please leave me here” is the only thought that cross your mind driving (or flying!) along the valley and the hillside.
Poetic descriptions aside, here a few essential information about the area I am talking about:
- The Napa valley floor is flanked by the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the western and northern sides the Vaca Mountains on the eastern side. Several smaller valleys exist within these two ranges
- THE NAPA VALLEY HAS A DRY MEDITERRANEAN CLIMATE, SIMILAR TO SOUTHERN ITALY
- The open southern end of the valley floor is cooler during the growing season due to the proximity of San Pablo Bay while the sheltered, closed northern end is often much warmer
- The soil in the southern end of the valley consists mainly of sediments deposited by earlier advances and retreats of San Pablo Bay while the soil at the northern end of the valley contains a large volume of volcanic lava and ash
- THE NAPA VALLEY WINE INDUSTRY REPRESENTS $50 BILLION DOLLARS TO THE AMERICAN ECONOMY.
- THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY 430 PHYSICAL WINERIES IN NAPA COUNTY PRODUCING 815 DIFFERENT WINE BRANDS
- and growing grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, among others
- 95% OF ALL NAPA VALLEY WINERIES ARE FAMILY OWNED.
- In 1976, the region got a boost from the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which featured a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon besting several famous French labels in a blind tasting format. The results of this tasting cemented the region’s reputation as a producer of world class wines.
- Here an official interactive map https://napavintners.com/maps/
I had a wonderful weekend, tasted a lot of wines and met many amazing people. I selected for your the best, what I considered outstanding, it was an hard choice, since the overall quality of the wines in this area is really high. I didn’t visited all the wineries, so this is the personal selection of an Italian very exigent palate (aka the wine geek I am!).
1.CHATEAU MONTELENA. The Chardonnay.
I already dedicated a post to Chateau Montelena, the winery that made history in that 1976 Paris Competition. I know they are famous for their Cabernet, but to me their best expression is the Chardonnay. I was lucky enough to have the 2011 which is sold out. This was the first Chardonnay to be processed in the new cellar where they can better control the small lot fermentation; the balance of this wine amazed me: rocks, lemon oil, yellow flowers and delicate apple scents, vibrant acidity and lovely almond finish. I think that this wine is entering now the period of maturity. If you find a bottle, share it only with somebody you really love!
2. ST. SUPERY. The Rose’ , the Sauvignon Blanc and the Rutherford Cabernet.
St. Supery winery has been the revelation of the tour: not only one, not two, but three of their wines surprised me with unexpected character.
- 2015 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
I am a Sauvignon Blanc lover, so I tasted this wine with a little bit of prejudge and low expectations. I was wrong: zesty, grassy, lively acidity but with structure and smoothness at the same time. The perfect food white wine. The vineyards are at 600-1000 ft. altitude on a multi mineral soil, the fomentation is partially conducted in barrels, the wine lies on the lees for 7 months before release.
- 2015 Estate Rosé Wine Napa Valley
A blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec mainly this rose’ de presse is aromatic and spicy, the nose is charming: strawberries, cherries, black currant together with aromatic herbs such as oregano and thyme, completed by pink pepper and dill. Lovely and easy drinking. Another good news? The price: 18 dollars retail.
- 2012 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley
If I had to describe this wine with one word I would choose ‘finesse’. Despite 19 months in 81% new French oak, the fruit and the primary aromas are still predominant. The oak is well integrated, is elegant, gives more a toasted scent than a sweet aroma (typical of the French oak are vanilla and cinnamon). No sweet spices: character, backbone, black fruits and a delightful smokey hint, like graphite given by the mineral rich soil of the Rutherford Estate Vineyards. Super!
3. FRANK FAMILY VINEYARDS. The Patriarch.
More than a wine, Patriarch is a story. It’s dedicated to Hy Frank, the 99 years old father of the owner, Rich Frank. Hy was deployed to Normandy when he enlisted and was one of the brave fighters of the D-Day on Omaha Beach. When he returned from the war he started a meat company in NY and he became a successful businessman. The son celebrates his father (passed away last year) with this wine. I don’t believe in score, but I like to look at them if a wine impresses me. I wasn’t surprised when I found out that this is a 98/100 Parker. It’s simply superbe. It’s a Cabernet based bordeaux blend with rich flavors, peppery notes and a good acidity. I had the 2012, I think its best will be in a couple of years. Good way to honor a father, drink it with yours if he’s still with you, to remember how family bonds are unbreakable.