Napa Valley 1: My Review

Let’s kick things off with a bang. I am psyched about this. Telling you this is the bucket list stuff. Napa Valley represents the crown jewel of the New World viniculture. We came here, I would argue, at the best of time. Napa Valley is simply heavenly in the autumn. Blue sky provides a contrasting background to the brownish orange grass covered mountains. While still clinging onto their branches, most leaves start to lose their green lushness which has been on display since the late spring. On the valley floor, each role of vines performs a spectacular show of colours from golden amber to vibrant red to classic burgundy. The weather hovers around 50–60 Fahrenheit during the day with a seemingly infinite amount of sunshine. Most importantly, the crowd. It is manageable. I’ve heard that during the high season (i.e. the summer months), Napa Valley is basically a zoo for adults, jam packed, hot, and intoxicated.

With over 400 wineries, one can barely experience them all in a life time (provided that one has limited cash as well as other worldly commitments to attend to). My decision making process was probably as much arbitrary as it is based on reason. The plan was simply to sample different winemaking styles, unique terroirs, and grape varietals representative of the modern Napa Valley. In term of the style, I picked three wineries long regarded as the standard bearers of the classic, and elegant style of Napa Valley. These wines are characterized by long term ageing potential, restrained fruit and oak qualities, and hand-off approach to wine-making (Heitz Cellar, Corison, and Frog’s Leap). On the other hand, Robert Mondavi, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar, and Silver Oak represent the new modern style emphasizing on expressive fruits, round and accessible tannin and overt use of new French oak. We also made a brief stop to Opus One, which to me produces one very confused wine (the 2012 vintage). When I tasted it, my first thought was of an American trying so hard to speak in the British accent or vice versa! I genuinely wish I have an another chance to retry this wine again before dismissing it entirely.

Comparing the Cabernet Sauvignon from the mountain and valley floor was another fun challenge. Falling into the former camp are Hess Collection and Chappellet. Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king of Napa. It’s what makes the region famous and what every winemaker measures herself with. However, I also got to try some obscure varietals. Heitz Cellar’s Grignolino was whimsically pleasant whereas Sauvignon Blanc by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar and Chappellet’s Chenin Blanc represent two great examples of unpopular Napa varietals done right.

All in all, I think we managed to hit every checkbox with a few small caveats. Firstly, some of my shortlisted wineries can only receive guests on weekdays (Dunn and Shafer). Secondly, I wish we could visit a few more small, independent wineries — the good old mom-and-pop operation that was once prevalent in the valley (Stony Hill, Smith-Madrone, Kent Rasmussen and Herb Lamb). Finally, I wish we had more time and money to stay there forever!

— Part 2 coming up on Thursday! —

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