While Napa Valley has reportedly been making and selling wine since the 19th century, it was only in the 1960s when it started to really get going. And some would argue that it wasn’t until 1976 that Napa showed the world just how serious and special its wines were. Any oenophile worth his or her salt knows the movie Bottle Shock that recreated the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” when Napa’s darlings beat out stodgy, established French wines in a blind tasting. Napa Valley would never be the same again.
Since that time, Napa winemakers have indeed faced many challenges to their craft – phylloxera vine disease, climate change and the Great Depression, to mention a few – but seem to only rise above and continue to find ways to bring a smile to our face as we too move from oaky Chardonnay to unoaked and from brash, unruly Cabs to refined, yet bold ones. We all grow up. We all change. And thankfully, Napa continues to be by our side along the way.
2011 Mt. Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
So here’s a Cabernet that immediately evokes the sense of being in a charming library full of mahogany leather chairs and cherry wood tables. It’s beautifully dark, with appropriately dark cassis, blackberry and cherry tones accented by anise, tobacco, vanilla, black pepper and even rosemary. James, fetch me my pipe, now, please! The complex palate provides layers of flavors that really make this a tremendously elegant wine with supple, approachable tannins. Yes, this wine would sip well in that library setting or in front of a roaring fire at the hearth. But it is also a fine companion for a Sunday roast beef or cherry-accented roast venison with a creamy potato gratin.
Folie à Deux 2012 Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Don’t let the name of this wine fool you into thinking it is merely a playful little white. The Folie à Deux 2012 Chardonnay, in fact, is rich, complex and definitely seductive. With aromas of warm shortbread, cinnamon, pear and melon, one might be surprised when its flavors of Fuji apple, tangerine, and pineapple citrus charm the palate. Almost buttery, the wine is brought into balance with its lush fruit and acidity. Elegance personified, this wine only serves to augment any occasion dressed up with poached salmon or sherry-kissed, pan-seared scallops.
Oh, Shiraz, how we loved you. And then we didn’t. Australia has had quite a roller coaster ride from being the wine darling du jour to suffering from a market with an abundance of new wines, prices that made it hard to compete and then at least one disastrous vintage. Now the good news: Australia is coming back. We grow more convinced of this every day. And Hinsdale’s Inspired Wine Club members have a first-hand chance to see for themselves this month with an AMAZING Shiraz Grenache blend sure to overwhelm the senses. That seemed perfect to make for an extra-special “sensuous” Valentine’s Day. However, with a wine this romantic and dramatic, we knew we needed a bit of counterbalance. The perfect equalizer became clear: a sophisticated California Chardonnay poised enough to remind us that fine wines can’t always be so bold. Not so different from the realization that we can’t have every day be Valentine’s Day.
2010 Wallace, Shiraz Grenache
Deep garnet-purple colored, this wine has alluring jammy black berry and black cherry notes, violets and baking spices with just a touch of pepper. In short, it’s sexy. Full-bodied and richly fruited in the mouth, the generous flesh is well balanced by a medium level of velvety tannins, finishing long. Though approachable now, this wine is like a fountain of youth—still very youthful and should stay that way until 2018+. This wine will capture your lover’s heart, perfect for that romantic steak au poivre or with a platter of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie.
2010 Lamplighter Chardonnay, California
The 2010 Lamplighter California Chardonnay benefited from a wonderful vintage in California, both in quantity and quality. Beautiful citrus flavors balance against slightly softer tropical fruit and honey apricot notes, creating an interestingly delectable creamy wine with acidity that makes this a standout wine. We’re not big fans of heavy oak or butter on our chardonnay, but we do think it is part of a classic California style. The fruit and balanced acid are the heroes in this enjoyable wine, but there is just enough vanilla oak and creaminess to please everyone at the party. Chill before serving, and see how this wine helps showcase an elegant butternut squash soup or roast stuffed rainbow trout.
The roads are icy. The snow is deep. And the wind chill cuts right to the core. While some might think this is the perfect time to travel south, or find some hot springs and sunshine, maybe the best way to warm up is with some heart-warming wine blends that have done the traveling for you. This month’s Inspired Wine Club offerings are here to revive you on the coldest winter days: a gorgeous Merlot blend demonstrates classic Bordeaux; a wonderful Napa Valley impersonation of one of France’s most reputable wine regions shows how “new world” winemakers can add flair as well. Remarkably, both wines are exactly what the doctor ordered on the most blustery winter day. So, find those bunny slippers, light a fire in the fireplace and draw your quilted comforter a little closer. You’ve got some wine that will bring in the cozy on January’s frostiest days.
2011 Chateau Le Bergey, Bordeaux
With 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine brings out the best of the Merlot grapes. Right from the start, you’ll notice the nose of raspberry and wild bramble. On the lips comes a silky, medium-bodied wine with impeccable structure. This is a fantastic example of why Bordeaux is such an important hub for wine. And as an organic wine, the pure, unfettered flavors and experienced winemaking become quite obvious after the first sip. And this is a wine that will only improve over the next two to three years! Perfect with those hearty winter suppers of braised duck leg quarters with figs, a sultry lamb tagine or an herb encrusted pork roast.
2009 Sean Minor Wines Red Blend, Napa Valley
In Bordeaux, it’s all about the blends, where the French have mastered the process for making a Merlot or Cabernet seem like so much more by adding complementary varietals to it. In this case, a California winemaker uses 30% Merlot, 23% Petit Verdot, 17% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 10% Syrah and 4% Malbec to create a luscious food-friendly wine. Deep ruby in color, it offers aromas of ripe blueberry, dark cherry, cassis and vanilla. The blueberry continues on to the palate with dark cherry combined with hints of oak spices. Tannins are soft, creating a balanced wine with a long, lingering finish. Again, this wine marries well with your winter fare, from a sausage-laden cassoulet to a garlicky roast beef adorned with roasted root veggies.