10/25/06 – Napa Valley (pt. 2)

By Jesse on October 24, 2006


I really want to share with all of you the inspiring story of how I unceremoniously lost $550 this week.  But I’ll save it for until we’re at least ten bottles in on Wednesday night, I promise. 

Here’s the dank informational shit, for those who missed it last week: 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.

This week, we taste Napa Valley reds.  Once again, we’re dealing with Napa as a region en sum, rather than tasting separately the various subregions within the Napa Valley.  In other words, wherever in Napa your wine is from, we’ll taste them all on one day.  Again, I made that decision based on 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.  It’s a fascinating interview, which I encourage you to read — or, for a map and descriptions of the various Napa Valley regions, check out this page…. also very informative.

Last week we tried the whites, and this week we taste the reds.  (Next week we’ll do one last final “catch-all” Napa meeting, where we taste a limited number of excellent whites and reds).  When shopping for Napa reds, you’ll be likely to find a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon — it’s Napa’s most widely-planted red grape.  You may also find something called “Meritage.”  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.

We will be meeting at our new member Eli’s office in Pasadena. Also, we have a field trip on Saturday!  Thanks to the spearheading efforts of Theresa and Joe, as well as the overwhelming e-mail response in favor of this weekend, we’ll be taking a voyage to Temecula THIS SATURDAY, October 28.  We’ll discuss the details at the meeting and send out an e-mail for those who can’t make it.  Chances are, however, that we’ll be leaving fairly early (around 9 or 10) and returning by 6 or 7, so it’s a very manageable trip.  Hope you all can make it!  Check out the info: www.temeculawines.com

Bring a bottle of Napa red (or a crisp ten-dollar bill) and we’ll see you at 9 PM on Wednesday.