Patience will reward collectors
Balance is the new buzzword in the Napa Valley.
The flamboyant style of many Napa wines fashionable throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium seem to have hit its peak of popularity, with the pendulum swinging back toward a more classic and age-worthy fashion.
The hedonist-driven butter-bomb chardonnays and tongue-purpling cabernet sauvignons will always play a part of Napa style, but premier winemakers are pressing the issue that balance and, therefore ageability, is better.
Persistent sunshine and warm temperatures ensure that Napa grapes reach full ripeness, more grape sugar and subsequently higher potential alcohol, lower acid and softer tannins. Over the last two decades, many Napa vintners have pushed these limits, creating a product more akin to comfort food than something to pair with a meal or that would improve with age.
Soft mouth feel at a young age sounds ideal, but it pilfers the opportunity for enthusiasts to experience the quintessential vinous nirvana; a wine naturally aged to tannic bliss while exhibiting a bottle bouquet of otherworldly aromas.
A number of Napa Valley vintners are leading the charge back to classically styled wines meant to improve in the bottle and showcase the cerebral pleasure, which delineates wine as a singular beverage. Some of the best are:
Cathy Corison has been assembling age-worthy wines in the Napa Valley for 30 years. She never lost sight of her philosophy while her neighbors flocked to the fat wine fad.
Newcomers to Corison wines will be surprised by their approachability at release, but will be faint of heart when enjoying them 20 years from the vintage date. A recent mini-vertical tasting of her 1996 to 1998 vintages showed the 1996 as the freshest of the bunch, showing the strength to improve for an additional 15 years or more.
Concentration, length of finish and focused flavors are a hallmark of her wines. For those without proper storage or the patience to watch her wines age, older vintages may be purchased direct from the winery.
Available at The 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro in Encinitas, Azul La Jolla and at
Delia Viader, founder and winemaker at Viader Napa Valley, has been making wines for the long haul since her first vintage two decades ago. Her flagship wine, Viader Napa Valley, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc built to improve for a generation.
Viader Napa Valley shows off its entire vintage library each summer, pouring a vertical tasting reaching back to 1989 so invited guests may experience how superb these wines show after years in the bottle. The winery also showcases one of the most visually stunning and personal tasting rooms in the Napa Valley.
Available at Wine Bank Shoppe, Cardiff Seaside Market, prestigious San Diego County restaurants and at
Though these wines don't quite have the staying power of Viader or Corison, they stand as an example of a forward-looking producer who offers superbly balanced wines everyone can enjoy. Girard wines have been highly regarded with the venerable Robert Parker as well.
The entire line of Girard wines expresses the best characteristics of the wide variety of American Viticultural Areas from which they source fruit. Available at BevMo, Costco and at
Napa by the Numbers
It wasn't very long ago that the Napa Valley was merely an afterthought in the world of wine. In fact, more acreage was committed to plum orchards than vines until Robert Mondavi's vision helped transform the once sleepy farm country into what is now the central nervous system for the California wine industry.
According to the Napa Valley Vintners Association, Napa accounts for only 4 percent of total wine production in California, but accounts for nearly 30 percent of the total economic impact of wine in California.