11/01/06 – Napa Valley (the culmination)

By Jesse on October 31, 2006


This week we return to Napa for our third and final installment, and we finally dip into the public funds!  More on that later…

One last time, feast on this Napa Valley primer, compliments of yours truly (and Karen McNeil): the Napa Valley is probably the most prestigious wine region in the United States, and is certainly the best known AVA that we’ve visited (AVA = American Viticultural Area, roughly similar to the French Appellation Controllee that you lifers will remember from last spring).  It’s not the largest wine region in California by any means, nor is it the oldest or most historical.  Napa’s international fame is the result of the arrival of a number of talented winemakers (including Robert Mondavi) in the mid-60s, at which time California’s best selling wines were cheap, sweet “ports” made from nameless seedless grapes, and at which point Chardonnay was so infrequently grown that it wasn’t even recognized by the California Agricultural Service.  A decade later, two Napa Valley wines shocked the world by beating out the top French wines in a blind tasting at the infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, and the region has been in the international limelight ever since.

Those who haven’t yet, prior to this week’s meeting, please read this interview with a Napa Valley winemaker who has started a project to produce and taste identical wine from each of Napa’s smaller AVAs.  His feeling seems to be that, currently, there isn’t enough of a documented difference in terroir (the French term that refers to the microclimate of a vineyard’s location) between the various regions, and that their borders may have been originally motivated by marketing or political concerns.  For a map and descriptions of the various Napa Valley regions, check out this page…. also very informative.

In our third and final Napa meeting, we’re going to taste both reds and whites.  Please bring a bottle that you’re really excited to taste; it could be one we’ve already had, or one you’ve heard was excellent.  I’m bringing a Chardonnay that I had at a tasting once and really liked.  I’ll be very interested to see if anyone brings a bottle of “Meritage” — remember discussing that at the last meeting?  Starting in the mid-70s, a few innovative producers started blending their Cabernet with proportions of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Carmenere — the same red grapes that are blended together (by French law) in the legendary wines of Bordeaux.  As a token of respect, these winemakers refrained from using the word “Bordeaux” on their labels, separating themselves from the unscrupulous California jug producers who’ll use any French word they can think of on their bottles, from “Chablis” to “merde,” as long as it sells.  Instead, these winemakers eventually held a huge contest to pick a brand new title for these California Bordeaux blends, and the winner was Meritage — a combination of “merit” and “heritage” (and it rhymes with heritage as well, so smack your wine snob roommate next time he says “meri-TODGE”).  Anyone who brings a Meritage gets big props.

I can’t stress this enough — please feel free to go in with someone else on a more expensive bottle.  Napa is the one region in which it’s going to be difficult to find great wines at low prices.  Almost everywhere else in California there are great bargains to be discovered, but Napa is always going to be more expensive.  E-mail your friends and coordinate bringing a bottle together.  (As always, you can bring cash instead, but while we’re in Napa please make the donation $15 instead of $10… it’ll be back to normal from next week on.)  Speaking of that, our treasurer Jason is going to dip into the kitty this week and get us a bottle of something good (around $50) from his favorite wine merchant.  It should be a very worthwhile tasting, so don’t miss it.

Ironically, we’ll be meeting at Jason’s house in Brentwood. Don’t forget, we have our field trip to Temecula NEXT weekend (not this weekend).  We’ll discuss this at the meeting.  If you’re bringing whites, please chill those puppies, and we’ll see you on Wednesday night at 9 PM.