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Wines of the Napa Valley

Welcome back! I hope you all had a chance to try some of the Sonoma County wines that were on our last tasting.

This week we're going to take a short hop over the Mayacamas Mountains into the world famous wine region of Napa Valley.

Most of you know about the 1976 Paris Tasting that made Napa Valley famous. Fact is, Napa had been producing "World Class" wines for some time before that. The Paris Tasting simply made the world aware of it. Until then, it was assumed that no other region in the world could produce high quality wines like that of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Not only could the folks in Napa produce wines that equaled the French wines, several outshone their French counterparts. For more about the Paris Tasting, follow click here.

So, let's try some Napa Valley wines. We'll start with a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, from Emmolo.

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I can tell several of you are scratching your heads, wondering who Emmolo Vineyards are. Well, maybe you'll recognize the name Joseph Wagner: you know, the guy who makes Caymus Cabernet, Conundrum Red and White blends, and Meomi Pinot Noir, just to name a few. Well, his in-laws are the Emmolos, and they have been growing exceptional wine grapes and selling them to some of Napa's finest wineries for decades now.

Joseph's wife decided to try her hand at winemaking, and produced a Sauvignon Blanc that expressed the nuances of Napa Valley's rich soils. Now, her daughter Jenny Wagner has decided to take the reins and continue making Emmolo wines. Emmolo produces a Sauvignon Blanc and a Merlot that have won critical acclaim.

The Sauvignon Blanc has a big, fruitful nose. The aromas of honeydew melon, lemon peel, and white flowers let you know that this is a special wine. On the palate, you are treated to an absolutely beautifully balanced Sauv Blanc. Citrus, melon and stone fruits take center stage, supported by just enough acid to make your mouth water. This really is a delicious wine. Try pairing it with boneless, grilled pork filets, seared Ahi tuna or Caesar salads, or blue cheeses.

Price Range: $18-$26

Up next is a wine Napa Valley is known for, Chardonnay. I wish I could open a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and have you taste it. To me, it IS what Chardonnay SHOULD taste like. That said, I have selected a wine that is more typical of many Napa Valley Chardonnays, the Markham Chardonnay.

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Close your eyes when you smell this wine. It has some interesting qualities that you will notice in many other Napa Chardonnays.

The first thing you smell as your nose approaches the glass is the oak. Get your nose in the glass and get past the oak, and you can really smell the vanilla that the oak imparts on this wine. Now, cover the glass with your hand and give it a swirl. Move your hand away and smell it again. This time you should get big fruit notes of yellow apples, pineapple, lemon and vanilla. This is Napa Valley Chardonnay ... big, juicy, delicious fruit notes of citrus, apples, vanilla and soft, sweet oak. On the palate, the citrus greets you and moves aside for the apple, and then the vanilla. It has a long lingering taste of vanilla and sweet oak. Pair this with a nice, thick grilled Halibut steak, couscous, and diced, steamed carrots. It will also pair nicely with many cheese and cracker combinations.

Price Range: $15-$22

The first of our three reds is a Merlot and comes from the St. Clement Vineyards.

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The St. Clement Vineyard has been producing high quality grapes since the late 1870s. Traditionally sold to other vineyards, St. Clement's grapes are prized for their balanced fruit and earth qualities. Their own Vintner's Collection Merlot is a nicely balanced wine.


It opens with big notes of blueberry and plums followed by a soft aroma of lavender. On the palate it has a soft taste of fresh blueberry preserves, and a bit of cherry. There is a subtle earthiness in the background, and the finish is soft and smooth, but does not linger. More time in bottle will help this wine evolve into richer, more refined wine. This will pair nicely with cheeses and breads of all kinds, or, my favorite Merlot pairing, meatloaf.

Price range: $20-$27

This next wine is one that I discovered in a side-by-side tasting of several top ranked Napa Cabernets.

Several of the "big boys" tasted pretty much the same, big, bold, full fruit flavors and plenty of oak. The Round Pond Estate Kith and Kin Cabernet stood out.

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Its nose of fresh cherry, blackberry, cassis, a touch of cocoa powder and cloves was inviting. The other wines it was up against, while excellent in quality, seemed stuffy and uninteresting. Kith and Kin, which is Old English for 'Friends and Family', is a very drinkable wine. Round Pond has blended their Cabernet with Cabernets from all over Napa Valley, along with a touch of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Petit Sirah to round it out. It spends 15 months in French oak, which helps to soften the wine and give it just enough spice to make it stand out among the other Napa Cabs. The palate is full of lush dark fruits and a finish of spice and chocolate. Pair it with grilled meats or with hearty cheeses.

Price range: $32-$38

Our final wine for this tasting is the Oakville Winery's Zinfandel.

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If you don't know Napa Zins, you'd better hold on to your seat! The nose opens with big, brooding dark fruits of blackberry, black raspberry, ripe cherry, anise and cloves. There is a fair amount of well-used oak barrel and tobacco on the nose as well. On the palate, this wine makes a bold statement that says: "Welcome to Napa Valley, we do BIG!" Big, deep notes of blackberry sauce, black raspberry, cloves, dark rich earth and a fair amount of cracked black pepper finish off this wine. Pair it with big, hearty meats such as Tri Tip, beef ribs or brisket.

Price range: $20-28

I hope you enjoyed this week's wines. Come back soon for my reviews of Father's Day BBQ wines. Until then, enjoy, and keep trying new wines!