Wine Mining for Napa Nuggets

Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon represents the very best wine that California can produce.

There are lots of Napa Valley wines on the market, from $10 to more than $1000 a bottle. When they’re good, they can be awfully good. The opposite happens, too.

Napa’s geography is divided into 15 sub-appellations covering an area that begins just south of downtown Napa and runs north to the resort town of Calistoga.

A comparison of two wines from the 2007 vintage highlights some of the similarities — and subtle differences — that can occur.

Robert Mondavi Winery and Mount Veeder Winery provided samples of their 2007 Napa Valley cabernets for my informal tasting.

The two wines are made primarily from grapes grown in different parts of the region — Oakville (on the valley floor), Stag’s Leap (on the hilly eastern edge of the valley) and Mount Veeder (on the steep slopes of the western side of the valley).

Up from the Valley

Most of the grapes used in the Mondavi wine ($28) are from the famed To Kalon Vineyard (38%) on bench land near the iconic winery in Oakville. Another 29 percent come from hillside vineyards grown on the opposite side of the valley in the Stag’s Leap region with the remainder culled from other Oakville and Napa vineyards — plus 2 percent fruit from Sonoma.

To Kalon Vineyard

This wine showed a light touch of sweet oak on the nose, which also revealed some blueberry highlights. This is a deep rich red glass of wine. There’s sweet cassis fruit that filled out over the evening and opened up as some of the tannins softened. It’s 86 percent cabernet, 8 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent each of petit verdot and malbec.

I’d hold onto this one for a year or two and then taste it again to check its progress.

Down from the Mountain

The grapes for Mount Veeder’s wine come from steep, hillside vineyards. The vines are grown on the opposite side of the valley from Stag’s Leap. Higher elevation vineyards — planted on minerally depleted soils — often produce intense fruit from smaller berries that struggle against the elements.

Mount Veeder Winery Ranches

The mix of grapes is similar to the Mondavi, except Mount Veeder winemaker Janet Myers used syrah in place of cabernet franc.

I caught a touch of cedar on the nose (very nice) of the Mount Veeder wine ($40). There was a rounder feel to the aromas that suggested some sweetness to follow.

That hint was just a tease. The wine is dense with fruit that will come further forward, over time. I caught plums on the nose and that carried through to the taste, which had to battle youthful tannins for my attention.

This deep purple wine is still a youngster and it needs time to mellow out and for the flavors to knit fully together.

Both wines were decanted and tasted blind over a three-hour period before, during and after a meal that featured a red wine-marinated pot roast with a medley of roasted vegetables (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, brown mushrooms, red onions, red bell peppers and garlic).

Urban Wine Experience Favorites

My three favorite wines tasted at last weekend’s Urban Wine Experience included:


Cerruti Cellars 2009 Mer Blanc, a stylish pink merlot made from Alexander Valley grapes. Nice fruit in a merlot-light style, great for a picnic or enjoy by the pool on a warm afternoon


Dashe Cellars 2008 Dry Riseling from Potter Valley (Mendocino). A tangy, tasty wine for summer sipping.


Ehrenberg Cellars 2009 Lodi Petite Sirah (barrel sample). This is a deep, dark purple wine with gobs of fruit to watch as it matures, is bottled and comes to market later this year.


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