Certain things are quickly visible in Napa Valley: the multi-million dollar wineries, grand homes, gourmet shops, top restaurants, and famous wine labels with price tags in the three digits. It is not inexpensive to be here.
Once you get to know a place, however, you start finding the less expensive shops and restaurants that still provide great quality. Pacifico Restaurant in Calistoga, Azteca Market in St. Helena and Luna Market in Rutherford each offer tasty Mexican dishes at reasonable prices. In Napa you have the Mini Mango Thai Bistro and Backroom Wines for the best $10 wine tasting in the valley.
When you start to dig in, you will also find dozens of wines priced $25 and under whites for sure, but also red wines. Merlot to cabernet sauvignon to zinfandel and syrah are all represented, showing that Napa Valley is making a variety of wines in this price category.
The St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners tasting panel set out this month to answer the main question surrounding these less expensive wines: do they live up to the Napa Valley appellation name?
For the tasting, held at The Culinary Institute of Americas Rudd Center, 24 of the submitted wines were selected for review. The group of 27 panelists tasted through four flights of six wines.
A special guest, Congressman Mike Thompson, sat on the panel to see for himself what the tasting panel was aspiring to do. The St. Helena Stars Dave Stoneberg presented Congressman Thompson with a baseball cap emblazoned with the words CIA Napa Valley, encouraging him to wear it to the next session of the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C.
In addition to having the Congressman at the tasting, another significant event was happening: the Star/NVV tasting panel was celebrating its fifth anniversary. To recognize his dedication to providing readers with news on local Napa Valley wines, Stoneberg was presented with a plaque by Congressman Thompson and Napa Valley Vintners Executive Director Linda Reiff.
Following the blind tasting of the wines, the panel discussed and answered that nudging question were these value wines any good? Bob Skupny of Lang & Reed summed up the answer with his comment, The quality represents Napa Valley even at this price range.
Bill Dyer of Dyer Vineyards stated definitively, No one was dumping poor quality wine! Wayne Donaldson of Donaldson Wines agreed noting, The caliber overall was very good good concentration.
Tom Simoneau, host of a wine program on Sonomas KSRO radio, added, I find many of these wines are easier to enjoy now, and the Napa blends in particular were fabulous.
With respect to the quantity of wines available in the price range, Master Sommelier Bob Bath stated, I am delighted, this is really exciting to see.
From a retail perspective, Eric Carpenter of Dean & DeLuca commented, A lot of people come in looking for wine for bocce or picnics we need more wine at these price points. Sommelier and CIA instructor Christie Dufault added how thrilled she was to learn about wines she can purchase in this price category.
As many panelists noted, there was not a flawed wine in the line-up. While the full range of wines was appreciated, the following received top placement in their flights:
Markham Vineyards 2009 Merlot blend. This is a lot of wine for $23 plenty of red cherry and raspberry fruit with vanilla and other spices. The oak is seamlessly integrated. Mostly merlot (96 percent), this wine delivers 3 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent petite sirah. Kimberlee Nicholls is the winemaker.
The Ca Momi 2010 Rosso di Napa, at $12.95, beat out the other wines in its flights, all twice the price. The wine is a blend of 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent zinfandel, 30 percent merlot and 10 percent petite syrah. CaMomi Momis Home refers to the owners home in Veneto, Italy as well as the local Italian character Momi dea Bionda, who roamed the property, shotgun in hand, just to scare away any potential grape thieves. While there are no shotguns in the Napa Valley vineyards, the grapes are considered just as sacred!
V. Sattui Winery 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). What can we say? Brooks Painter and his V. Sattui team have produced winning wine after winning wine at these panel tastings and have done it yet again. The Rosso di Napa has red cherry and plum fruit with an earthy character. It sips down silky smooth and tastes much more expensive than it is.
Summers Estate Wines, Villa Andriana Vineyard Charbono, 2009, Calistoga ($24.99). As the only Charbono submitted, the wine was placed with zinfandels in the blind tasting. It won out as top wine of the flight with panelists enjoying its concentrated red brambly fruit and white pepper spice, all nicely balanced with the oaks sweeter baking spices.
(Catherine Seda is the St. Helena Stars tasting panel writer and works for Balzac Communications & Marketing in Napa. She holds a diploma in wine and spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and enjoys all things wine. Contact her at email@example.com. Only wines from Napa Valley Vintner member wineries are accepted and tasted. Not all wines submitted are chosen to be tasted as often there are more wines submitted than tasted. The wines are chosen by random. Many wineries offer local residents discounts on their wines through the Napa Neighbor program, visit napavintners.com/programs and click on Napa Neighbor to learn more.)
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