Friends of Napa wine tasting: Imbibe's top picks

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

16 November 2018

We often see Napa wine country as the world’s stronghold of powerful Cabernet Sauvignons and oaky Chardonnays; but at the Friends of Napa tasting we discovered there’s more to the region than meets the eye


 

Rutherford Hill, Chardonnay 2015

Now owned by the Terlato family, Rutherford Hill was a pioneer in the development of Californian Merlot. Although the Merlot remains the winery’s top product, Rutherford Hill Chardonnay really shone on this occasion.

If you wanted to offer someone a wine that fulfilled the definition of good, stereotypical Napa Chardonnay, this would be it.  It’s got a robust bit of oak and buttery notes derived from the malolactic fermentation, but it’s all balanced and in check. Considering it’s from Napa, it’s a bargain too.

£17.50, The Wine Treasury, 020 7793 9999

 

Cakebread Cellars, Chardonnay 2013

This winery shouldn’t need any introduction – as well as being inherently fun to say, Cakebread is  synonymous with Napa fine wine, now on the second generation of Cakebreads, with Bruce at the helm.

At five years of age, this Chardonnay is still fresh as a daisy.  It’s made in a refined, elegant style. There’s oak, but it’s a seasoning more than a flavour, with sumptuous levels of citrus acidity and a ridiculously long finish. It’s about as good as Napa Chardonnay gets.

£32.50 (2016 vintage), Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2400

 

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Dragon’s Tooth Red Blend 2016

The liquid in the glass is always the most important part of wine appreciation, obviously, and we’ll get to that, but there are several other reasons to like this wine.  We like the Welsh Dragon on the front, and the mythical story that goes with it. We also like that they dedicate it to their nana on the back label.

The perfume is striking.  In a room brimming with pure Cabs, having a Malbec-based blend offered something … else.  There are blue and black fruits, creamy oak and floral characters. It’s big, balanced and long.  It’s also a fifth of the price of some of the other wines on offer, which doesn’t hurt.

£22.34, Daniel Lambert Wines, 01656 661010

 

Gallica, Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Made by Rosemary Cakebread – Bruce’s wife (apparently she doesn’t like chardonnay, can you imagine the rows?) – Gallica only produces hand-crafted, limited bottlings.  Rosemary is not, perhaps, what you would first expect from a Napa producer. She’s humble and softly spoken, but also incredibly knowledgeable and engaging.

This is one hell of a wine.  It’s by no means the biggest and heaviest Cab from the region, but still maintains that classic flavour profile (there’s a limited number of times you can write ‘black fruit, cedar etc’).  The tannins are there in abundance, but velvety, and the whole impression is one of elegance. It won’t be at its best for a few years yet, but we can’t wait to try it when it is.

£84.67, Pol Roger Portfolio, 01432 262800

 

Luna Vineyards, Estate Pinot Grigio 2017

The final pick from what was a truly awesome – as the Yanks would say – tasting is included because it’s important to realise that California is more than just Chardonnay and Cab. Strangely, nearly one in 100 bottles sold in the UK is Californian Pinot Grigio, thanks to Barefoot, but it’s not a grape or style associated with the region.

The wine styles tends more on the Pinot Gris end of the spectrum.  The nose is delicate and peachy, with baked apples and sweet spice.  There’s a stunning balance to it and a length that takes you by surprise.

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