Overall, the Napa wines reflected the California sun, ripe and bold, fleshy and well-structured, crafted with care by some of the world’s top winemakers. The Ramey Wine Cellars 2011 Platt Vineyard Chardonnay and Rombauer Vineyards 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay are classic Napa Chardonnay incarnate. These wines are big and rich, yet exhibit balance and elegance, framed by smoky oak but nicely integrated, with a creamy texture and full body that glides across the palate and resonates long after the sip is gone.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Chateau Montelena Winery 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay is strikingly beautiful and alive on the palate. In the style of a French Grand Cru Burgundy, nuanced layers of citrus and green apple, framed by subtle honeysuckle and oak aromas, are woven into a creamy textural palate of white peach and pear, that finishes long with a distinctive mineral note. This was my alpha and omega of the tasting, and rightly so, as it is this winery that propelled California Chardonnay worldwide. Chateau Montelena set the wine world on its ear in the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” wine competition, where in a blind tasting, French judges proclaimed this Napa Valley Chardonnay the winner among 9 other wines from France and California. As shocking as that was to serious wine drinkers at the time, it is no surprise that their continued tradition of excellence, balance, and incredible winemaking wows and woos new legions of wine drinkers. A gorgeous, yummy Chardonnay!
Bold ripe Cabernet Sauvignons are the definition of Napa Valley Cab. Wineries such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Silver Oaks Cellars, Grgich Hills Estate, and Spottswoode craft dynamic Cabs, with ripe black fruit, dark chocolate, spice, graphite, black tea, and dried herbs, floral and mineral highlights, with a balance between full body and finessed acidity. It’s important to remember these Cabs all have a splash of other grape varietals to drive the complexity, from Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux blending grapes that round out the palate.
Excitement drove the crowd to taste the legendary Opus One 2010, a Bordeaux blend powerhouse, very complex, with black cherry, cassis, espresso, and a hint of chocolate and earth, well integrated with the acidity and tannin, a promise of a long life ahead. Many wine lovers returned again and again for a sample, a reminder of what Napa Valley is all about.
One of my favorites was the Robert Craig Winery 2011 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, a deeply intense, powerful wine, tons of rich dark fruit, dark chocolate, vanilla, and spice notes. Also the Darioush 2011 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon was enchanting, with its blackberry, dark cherry, and fig fruit, bittersweet cocoa, black olive, nutmeg, espresso, dried herbs, and orange peel, concentrated yet fresh, balanced and bewitching.
These Napa/Sonoma All-Star wines all reflect their terroir, an intense personality study of coastal, mountain, cool climate, and heat driven vineyards that are coaxed to deliciousness by the winemakers. The wines mentioned are a mere drop in the wine bucket, and with prices averaging $40-60 a bottle, and many in the triple digits, they are prime examples of what makes California wine a global star. Many of these wines are sold locally through wine shops such as Wally’s Wine and Spirits, or through the wineries‘ websites.