When people hear Napa Valley, they think big Cabernets.  Which is true, you can get some huge Cabernet Sauvignons there, but they also produce other wines, such as Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir.  Did you know that the Napa Valley is one-eighth the size of Bordeaux and produces just 4% of California’s wine grape harvest, and 95% of its wineries are family owned?  Neither did I till I attended the latest Taste of Napa, hosted by the Arts Umbrella along with the Wine Institute of California and Napa Valley Vintners.

With empty glass in hand, I entered the tasting room to experience the latest Napa Valley wines available, or hopefully soon to be available in British Columbia.  Here are a few of my selections from the evening.

White Wine and Bubbles

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs

Yes, Napa does produce sparkling wine.  One of their premier producers is Schramsberg Vineyards.  Try their Blanc de Blancs.  This is 100% made with the Chardonnay grape.

  • Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blanc, 2008. Light lemon colour.  Vanilla and spice on the nose.  High acid with small bubbles.  Lemons and green apples greet your tongue. A very nice, elegant dry sparkling wine.

Another surprise for you may be that Riesling is produced in Napa.

  • Cornerstone Cellars Riesling, 2010. This wine had a light orange and flowery nose.  Medium body, round and soft in your mouth, but still dry on the palate.  Some acidity to keep it refreshing with orange and flowery flavours.  This is a different Riesling, maybe true to it’s Napa terroir.  It can’t get confused with a German Riesling.

A few other non-Chardonnay white wines you may like.

  • Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc, 2010. Light lemon and herbal aromas.  High acid with citrus and gooseberry flavours.  Medium length.  This is a very easy to drink Sauvignon Blanc.
  • John Anthony Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, 2010. This is a fairly new winery, starting with grape planting in 1996. 10% of the grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French oak, before blending back. The oak aging was meant to round off the corners, or take a bit of the edge off of a typical unoaked Sauvignon Blanc. Nice nose with light flowers and vanilla.  Medium body with light acidity.  Lemon, vanilla and tropical fruit flavours.  Nutmeg spiciness shows up in the middle of the palate and continues to the finish.
  • Signorello Estate Seta, 2009.  This is a premium wine made with the Bordeaux blend of Semillon (60%) and Sauvignon Blanc (40%). Only 460 cases of this wine are produced per year.  This wine had honey, lemon and a slight bit of oak on the nose.  Medium body and smooth mouth feel.  Very flowery flavour along with ripe apples and lemon.  Some cinnamon spice on the finish.  A very nice wine.

Waterstone Chardonnay 2009

And if you are a Chardonnay fan, here are a few for you.

  • Waterstone Chardonnay, 2009. This is my favourite white wine of the night.  Not a typical Napa Chardonnay.  This wine had a medium pear colour.  Vanilla and bartlett pear aromas. Medium body, soft and round mouthfeel.  Cinnamon and tropical fruit flavours with light acidity.  Nice and fruity, some vanilla with a long dry finish.
  • Clos De Val Wine Co. Ltd., Chardonnay 2009. Light lemon with a green tinge in colour.  Light vanilla and tropical fruit nose. Medium body, low acidity with oak/vanilla and tropical fruit flavours.  It’s dry and has a slight bit of sweet spices on the long finish.  A very good quality wine, with a premium price.
  • Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay, 2008. If you prefer wines that are organic or biodynamic, Grgich Hills is both. This wine is all oak fermented.  Pale lemon in colour.  Quite a smoky nose with burnt toast and lemon aromas.  Medium body.  Round mouthfeel with medium acidity.  Vanilla, oak and pineapple flavours and a long finish.  This is a BIG Napa Chardonnay.

Napa Cabernets and Red Blends

Did you know, the Napa Valley Appellation is composed of 15 sub-appellations from coastal, e.g. Los Carneros, to cool mountain climate, e.g. Atlas Peak.  Each sub-appellation has different climate and/or soil and produces different flavours and aromas for the same grape.  So try a Cabernet Sauvignon from different areas in Napa and see what differences you can find.  Here are a few of the red wines I enjoyed and hope you will too.

Blackbird Vineyards Illustration

  • Blackbird Vineyards Illustration, 2008.  My favourite red of the evening.  This is a Bordeaux blend containing 75% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium ruby in colour with lots of cassis aromas.  Dry and meaty with firm tannins.  Dark cherry and dark chocolate flavour with vanilla on the finish. Very plush mouth feel.  A very high quality wine.
  • Cain Vineyard & Winery Cain Five, 2007.  Another Bordeaux blend. This one consists of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are from the Spring Mountain District, which is very well known for producing high quality wines.  Blackish garnet, very deep colour in the glass. Meaty, slightly smoky with a dark cherry nose. Full body and very dry, but with very ripe sweet fruit flavours of cherries and black fruit.  Good balance between the fruit and the dry tannins.  This is an elegant wine, but you should enjoy this one with food, to soften the tannins (or let it age 3-4 years).
  • Dyer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 1996.  This is the inaugural vintage of this wine, and an honor to have the chance to taste.  It is no longer available in stores.  The owner, Bill Dyer, who was also the past winemaker at Church & State in Vancouver Island, brought this wine out of his personal cellar for us to try.  For a 15 year old wine, it showed no sign of aging to me.  Medium garnet in colour.  It has a light “Sangiovese” type nose (to me I get sausages from the Sangiovese grape). Full body with vanilla, pencil leads and dark fruit flavours.  Medium acidity to keep the wine lively and medium tannins to provide just the right amount of structure for this wine. An elegant wine.

Salvestrin Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

  • Salvestrin Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. This could be my runner up for favourite red wine of the evening. Deep ruby colour with nice aromas of caramel, dark chocolate and dark fruit. Medium body with dark cherries, licorice and a streak of minerality running through this wine.  High acidity and dry tannins structure this wine and will let it age, if you prefer.
  • Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, 2007. This is a Bordeaux blend consisting of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot,  and 8% Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby colour.  Ripe dark fruit nose, with some cinnamon and black pepper.  Full body with lots of cassis, ripe cherries and a hint of mint.  Round mouth feel with medium tannins to give it a nice dry finish.
  • Waterstone Study in Blue, 2007. An odd name for an odd blend of grapes. This one is made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot.  Syrah is typically not in a Bordeaux blend, as the Syrah grape comes from the Rhone Valley, so never shall the two meet.  But here in the New World, we do grow different varieties of grapes from different regions together in the same place. This wine had cassis, vanilla and plum aromas. Very fruit flavour with blueberries, vanilla and milk chocolate.  There was also a bit of spice and minerality to this wine.  Higher acidity than in most Bordeaux style wines but this will help in aging, but keep the wine fresh tasting.  The milk chocolate flavour helped make this a memorable wine for me.

Who is the Arts Umbrella?

The Taste of Napa is held yearly with the Arts Umbrella, but do you know about the Arts Umbrella? Read on. The Arts Umbrella is a not-for-profit arts education centre for children and youth ages 2 to 19. Arts Umbrella is committed to delivering the highest quality visual and performing arts education to young people, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances. Arts Umbrella caters to children of all artistic interests and skill levels— from pre-school to advanced pre-professional training. More than 270 tuition-based classes and numerous outreach classes occur each week, with innovative and high-quality instruction provided by almost 200 dedicated artists and arts educators.  If you would like to help the Arts Umbrella or find out more about them and their events, here is their website link.