Napa Valley Wines
American oenophiles seeking wines of boldness and top-notch character need look no further than their own back yard. California’s Napa Valley reigns supreme as the finest jewel in America’s crown of wine growing regions. There, winemakers innovate with the latest viticultural and enological techniques to create wine that is big and bold with lots of fruit. The greatest wines of Napa Valley exemplify what has become known as the International Style of wine: Herculean in nature and unabashedly extracted, they create a mouth-filling, entrancing experience.
Commercial wine production in Napa Valley began in the nineteenth century with the founding of Charles Krug in St. Helena in 1861. By the end of the 1800s, there were more than a hundred wineries in the area. Many of the names of these early pioneers are familiar to wine consumers today, including Beaulieu (or BV, as it’s known to many people), Chateau Montelena, and Schramsberg. However, the introduction of Prohibition in the 1920s dealt a serious blow to the wine industry of California, and few of the original wineries were able to weather the storm. Despite this setback, the area blossomed in the later 20th century; since the 1970s it has become the epitome of an American wine region, and the pride of California winemaking.
Today, the wine country of Napa is flourishing. Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is known world-wide as arguably the greatest wine produced in America. Collectors clamber for such distinguished producers as Opus One and Darioush, while value-conscious wine drinkers know that they can find quality everyday bottles from Castle Rock or Louis Martini. The Cabernets of Napa Valley are full-bodied and succulent, with much riper flavors than those of Old World Cabernets such as Bordeaux. Consumers looking for lush fruit flavors tend to love these wines for their approachability and easy enjoyability. Napa Valley Chardonnays are loved by palates both refined and unpretentious for their creamy texture, toasty oak flavors, and delectable citrus fruits. Those looking for great value can turn to the classic producer Robert Mondavi, while shoppers seeking a decadent experience find great pleasure in the Chardonnay from Cakebread.
Of course, the dual gems of Cabernet and Chardonnay are not the only grapes grown in Napa; producers here have had great success with a wide range of varieties. For decades Merlot has done very well here, as is made evident by great examples from Clos du Val and Duckhorn. These wines are sultry and silky-smooth; they satisfy the craving for a wine that is plump in the mouth, but are not as heavy and tannic as many California Cabernets. In recent years there has been a movement to grow top-notch Rhone grape varieties in Napa as well; this has resulted in some of the world’s finest Syrahs, especially from producers such as Failla or Skylark. These wines are grandiose in nature; bombastic and powerful, they dominate the senses and encompass the palate with massive, entrancing flavors.
Though it might surprise people used to the big flavors of most Napa wines, there are areas of Napa Valley that are well-suited to grow the delicate Pinot Noir. Most of these are further south in the AVA, in the Napa side of the Carneros district. There, cool breezes from the San Pablo bay create a microclimate that mitigates the normally warm summers of California and allows thin-skinned Pinot Noir to thrive.
The flavors found in Napa Valley wines are forceful; consumers of these wines have come to expect a sturdiness of character that is hard to find outside of California’s North Coast. The finest examples combine ultra-ripe fruit with protracted extraction, then surround this stalwart expression with a voluptuous layer of creamy, toasty oak to create an experience of incredible, staggering intensity and undeniable enchantment. When pairing these considerable wines with food, try to match their ample flavors and textures with equally massive dishes. For instance, the delicious fats and salts inherent in a charcoal-grilled New York strip marry harmoniously with the boldness of a Napa Valley Cabernet, while a Napa Chardonnay accentuates the richness of a lobster tail with butter.
Many wine-drinkers see Napa Valley as the pinnacle of American wine country. These enthusiasts were validated in 1976, when a panel of French wine experts selected Napa wines as higher in quality than French wines in a blind tasting. Since then, the dedication to quality and vibrancy has only increased. Consumers world-wide know that there are few places they can go for consistently pure fruit and top-notch quality, and often at a very reasonable price.
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