A master sommelier offers tips for picking out delicious Napa Valley wines at bargain prices.
by Kathryn Jessup
Napa Valley’s reputation for monster Cabs, at equally monstrous prices, can be disheartening for wine lovers. Where’s the zest of the winemaker and the joy of the drinker amid the market pressures of Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow?
An alternative can be found at Meadowood, where master sommelier Gilles de Chambure offers Napa Valley’s Hidden Values, a one-hour lecture and wine tasting. De Chambure agreed to share his cheat sheet, usually only available to guests:
Don’t Catch a Cab
Cabernet Sauvignon has given us beautiful wines, but it’s at the heart of marketing madness. Instead, look for reds such Charbono and Sangiovese. If you must, look for Cabernet in a blend, such as Gargiulo’s Aprile. For whites, try George Hendry’s light-bodied Albariño, or Tony and Jo Ann Truchard’s rich and aromatic Roussanne.
“Second” Wines Aren’t Second Best
Many prominent Napa Valley producers make what’s known as a second wine. For example, Opus One makes a wine called Overture, and Dominus makes Napanook. Second wines are not always available outside of Napa Valley, so snap up the ones you like when you’re at the tasting room.
Consult the Consultants
Most major wineries hire talented wine-making consultants who often get the itch to make their own wine. A case in point is Philippe Melka, who has worked with wineries such as Quintessa and Vineyard 29. Now, he makes wines called CJ and Métisse for his eponymous Oakville winery.
Get With the Growers
Similarly, some of Napa Valley’s top growers are venturing into winemaking. Hendry and the Truchards, in Carneros, are two fine examples.
Your most important tactic may be a mental shift. Instead of showing off your knowledge of the valley’s big names, de Chambure says to emphasize the discovery of Napa’s “hidden gems.”
Napa Valley’s Hidden Values is offered to Meadowood guests for $50/person.