Somm-approved bottles that prove the region can do edgy and innovative or rustic and raw as well as any progressive wine stronghold. Napa Valley may still be home to California wine country’s most prized real estate, but ask any young oenophile well-versed in Champagne growers and Beaujolais crus how often she drinks the home-grown juice, and you’d think the region went out of style. In fact, there’s a certain tendency to associate the entire viticultural area with bombastic renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay -the score-chasing, spoofalated wines priced for expense-account dinners and marked by garish new oak and jammy fruit instead of purity and food-friendliness.
It sounds like the perfect setup for a counterculture story line, right? A new wave of young-gun vintners enters the scene to restore Napa to its former glory and save the vineyards from their high-alcohol overlords.
In truth, there are some rising star maverick winemakers turning out seriously compelling bottlings from alternative varieties, old heritage vines, and experimental plantings. But the story isn’t that simple, and Napa Valley has never been only one thing. Long have there been passionate producers who have sidestepped the obstacle of having to invest in a costly Napa vineyard by using a shared facility and contracting fruit from conscientious grape growers with unique plots. And some wineries simply never took the blockbuster Cabernet bait and have been making honest, restrained whites and reds since their humble beginnings. Here, I’ve gathered seven sommelier-approved examples that prove Napa can do edgy and innovative or rustic and raw as well as any progressive wine stronghold in the New World or the Old.
2015 Massican Sauvignon
Massican is the passion project of Larkmead winemaker Dan Petroski. Although named for a mountain range in the southern Italian region of Campania (where Petroski’s forbears hail from), the label takes inspiration from the fragrant, bracing whites from further north-in Friuli. This bottling pairs the grapefruit-like citrus of California Sauvignon Blanc with the mineral verve of a Friulian rendition, making it a perennial sommelier favorite.
– Carson Demmond