Can Napa Get Its Groove Back?
Napa Valley has been getting pretty beat up by young beverage professionals in San Francisco. Many feel that over-priced, high scoring wines made by former financiers aren’t that cool anymore. “Napa Valley just isn’t a very interesting place,” shrugged one beverage professional I spoke to recently.
The Napa Valley Vintners, a trade association that represents 420 wineries from all over the Valley, is fighting back. This week, they bused young bartenders, sommeliers, servers, retailers and restaurant managers from San Francisco to show them that Napa isn’t just about three-star restaurants and cult Cabernet that leave you sucking your teeth and grinding your jaw.
For a panel discussion about the future of restaurant wine programs, Eduardo Dingler, the Wine Director at Morimoto Napa, sporting a nearly Mission-worthy pair of thick black horn-rimmed glasses and a bow tie, shared a 2010 blend of white Rhone varietals (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Marsanne) made by Joseph Kent, a collaboration of two young winemakers whose motto is “let the good times roll.”
Jennifer Ingellis, who was recently named one of the top seven sommeliers in the country by Food and Wine magazine discussed the genuinely innovative wine list that she has developed as the Wine Director for Brassica, the recently renamed and revamped addition to Cindy Pawlcyn’s otherwise staid Wine Country empire.
Ingellis’s list features seven wines on tap and a rotating selection of 12 unusual wines from small producers that you can taste in two- or five-ounce pours or by the carafe (and purchase to take home at retail price).
The barrel room of the historic Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (it was here that Warren Winiarski’s Cabernet Sauvignon put California on the map at the 1976 Paris tasting) came alive as the wine and conversation flowed over the course of a two-hour family-style dinner. Hugh Davies, the notoriously energetic proprietor of Schramsberg and Jeff Smith of Hourglass exchanged beard jokes and vintners from Jericho Canyon, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Tres Sabores brought their brands to life. Did anyone change their mind? If the race for red Solo “to go” cups is any indication, it seems so.
We asked a handful of those present to recommend a wine from Napa that is currently on their own list (and less than $100).
Justin Roberts the GM at Beretta, an Italian restaurant that continually baffles tourists by not offering one single pasta dish, recommends the 2008 Robert Sinskey Abrexas, a blend of Alsatian varietals. “Our food is diverse but the wine is diverse too,” says Roberts.
Brian Newman, the Beverage Manager for Lark Creek Steak recommends the 2007 Jericho Canyon Cabernet, a $50 bottle, which he also sells by the glass. “Extreme hillside fruit exemplifies stressed vines” making for a dense and complex wine with good acidity.
Teresa Breaux from Anchor & Hope is enthusiastic about Steve Matthiasson’s 2009 namesake white wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Ribolla Gialla: “It’s rich and complex without being sweet.” Perfect, in other words for seafood.
Seamus Brugh, a mod server at Jardiniere recommends, fittingly, a contemporary take on a classic Napa wine: the 2008 Paradigm Cabernet Franc “has the force and assertiveness of a typical Napa wine, but it’s brighter on the palate.”