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The Cellar: Napa Valley Deals Under $20

Saturday, July 07, 2012


Napa Valley was the official wine region of last weekend’s 34th American Cup in Newport. A couple of days prior, I attended a tasting held by members of the Napa Valley Vintners trade association at The Chanler located along the Newport’s scenic cliff walk. Built by Civil War-era New York Congressman John Winthrop Chanler in 1873, this beautiful summertime retreat made for the perfect setting to try some great wines.

Napa Valley Vintners

The Napa Valley Vintners is the non-profit trade association responsible for promoting and protecting the Napa Valley appellation as the premier winegrowing region. From seven founding members in 1944, today the association represents more than 430 Napa Valley wineries and collectively is a leader in the world-wide wine industry. The Mission of the Napa Valley Vintners is to promote, protect and enhance the Napa Valley appellation and its wines.

Sauvignon Blancs

The tasting featured, among other stellar wines, some great Sauvignon Blancs. My favorite under $20 representation was the 2010 St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc. St. Supery Vineyards & Winery is owned by the Skalli family of Southern France, who founded the winery after traveling through Napa in the 1970’s. The grapes for their 100% Sauvignon Blanc are sourced from their two vineyards - one in Rutherford at the heart of Napa Valley and the other, Dollarhide, in a serene corner of the region. This is a great wine with aromas of citrus fruit and lemon zest. On the palate, this stainless steel tank-fermented wine has tons of bright grapefruit flavors and acidity to boot.

Another great Sauvignon Blanc was Duckhorn’s 2011 release ($30). At Duckhorn they make their Sauvignon Blanc a bit differently. For starters, they blend in Semillon. In the 2011 vintage they blended 24% of Semillon, adding body and increasing the complexity of the wine. Instead of using stainless steel during the fermentation process, Duckhorn barrel-ferments 15% of the wine in oak casks and leaves the wine to rest on the dead yeast cells for 5 months before bottling it. The result is a wine with a lot more body and with flavors that ranges from citrusy to tropical with hints of herbs.

Pinot Noir

For me, one of the great surprises of the tasting was the $35, 2009 Pinot Noir from Cuvaison Estate. Founded in 1969, Cuvaison Estate Wines makes hand-crafted Napa Valley wines sourced from their two vineyards in Carneros and Mount Veeder. While I sometimes find Californian Pinot to be a little big and over-ripe, this Pinot Noir made from grapes are sourced from Cuvaison’s cool-climate Carneros vineyard, hits the mark for me. It strikes that perfect balance between light with bright fruit and spice, all wrapped into a dense and earthy blanket. Great stuff!

Cabernet Sauvignon

The other red star varietal of the tasting was, not surprisingly, the most widely planted red varietal in the region: Cabernet Sauvignon. Any fan of Napa Valley Cabernet will tell you that finding a good example for under $20 is nearly impossible. Unfortunately, this tasting was no exception. Choosing from the many good examples I tasted, the best value was probably the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($49) from Chappellet Estate. Located at 1,800 feet, Chappellet’s Estate Vineyards on Pritchard Hill have been hailed as ‘Napa’s Grand Cru’ and recognized as one of the world’s preeminent sites for growing Bordeaux varietals—in particular Cabernet Sauvignon. Their signature Cabernet is actually a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot and 9% Merlot. This deep and velvety wine has layers of black current, plum and espresso flavors. It has great structure indicating that this is an age-worthy wine. The wine is full and massively complex.


Steffen Rasch CSW is ready to answer any wine-related questions, comments or concerns you may have. Feel free to email him at [email protected].  You can also sign up for one of his tastings through the Providence Wine Academy.


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