We are a wine shop that explores the best of both worlds with retail shopping and a walk-in tasting room open Tuesday through Sunday. Our tasting room selections change monthly and always focus on a different "Old World" and "New World" region. The ever-changing menu allows our guests to constantly explore and discover something new. This month we are exploring Bordeaux, France and Napa Valley, California. Order a flight of all four wines or simply stop by, shop, and enjoy a glass. It's up to you!
France's largest fine wine producing region, the scope of Bordeaux is quite incredible. Set in the southwest edge of France near the intersection of the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, the region produces an astounding amount of wine, from entry level to some of the most expensive, sought after wines in the world. To put it in perspective, one of the most famous "first growth" producers, Château Mouton Rothschild, produces nearly as much wine as the entire Côte-Rôtie appellation in the Northern Rhone. When compared to our New World focus this month, Bordeaux is six times the size of Napa Valley.
The Garonne cuts through the region past the city of Bordeaux and intersects with the Dordogne river forming the Gironde estuary that eventually dumps into the Atlantic. The river division has driven the terms "left bank" for the western side of the region and "right bank" for the northeastern side. Overall, merlot makes up the majority (over 60%) of red grape plantings in all of Bordeaux, with cabernet sauvignon making up merely 20%. Cabernet franc and petit verdot round out the other primary red grapes. Soil variation and drainage are the main influences on varietal plantings throughout the region as cabernet sauvignon is typically grown on gravel and stone soils. Merlot handles the moisture retaining clay soils as well as sand and limestone in parts.
The climate in the region is generally moderate, and often wet at times which can lead to disease or mildew. Variation in wines year to year used to be more dramatic. However, in recent years, global warming has created more consistent earlier ripening throughout the region and the wines are showing more full-bodied, ripe fruit character. This has become a big concern and now several new late-ripening grape varietals have recently been approved. Additionally, the traditional late-ripener, petit verdot is seeing a heavy increase in plantings.
Blending is the name of the game in Bordeaux and always has been. This can be confusing for the wine consumer if they are accustomed to seeing the names of grapes on their bottle. The Médoc makes up a large portion of the left bank and is home to the famous towns of Margaux, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estephe, and Pauillac. These are some of the most prestigious cabernet sauvignon driven appellations in the world. The wines on the right bank are dominated by merlot and cabernet franc and are most famously from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle make up the majority of permitted white grapes in the region, and the best dry wines are found on the left bank in Graves and Pessac-Leognan. World-renowned sweet wines are made in Sauternes, Barsac and other nearby communes further south of Graves. Why does it all matter to us? As consumers, the profile of the wine will vary based on the blend. For example, merlot driven wines tend to be more rich and voluptuous, while cabernet Sauvignon wines exude more grip and tannin.
Three of our selections this month come from the left bank. A unique semillon-driven white from Graves is a perfect winter white with texture and depth. The Moulin d'Issan is also primarily merlot from the Médoc which tends to be more known for cabernet sauvignon as a general rule. The Pauillac de Lynch Bages is the third wine of the famed Chateau Lynch Bages, from the great 2016 vintage. Finally, you must check out the aromatic and elegant Haut-Segottes Grand Cru Saint-Emilion from the right bank. Truly a special wine in all vintages, the 2014 is drinking wonderfully right now.
Napa Valley sits just north of San Francisco and is California’s most well-known wine region. Despite being named California’s first AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1981, it may be surprising that Napa only produces around 4% of California’s overall wine output. That being said, the notoriety of Napa has been built around the quality and stature of the wines. The valley runs mostly north-south in somewhat of a banana shape, nestled between the Mayacamus range to the west and the Vaca mountains to the east.
As with much of California, and the entire country, wine production in Napa came to screeching halt with the mark of Prohibition in 1920. The wineries that survived the 14-year law were able to produce wines merely for sacramental purposes. As we all know, Prohibition did end in 1933, but it took another 30 plus years for the industry to really come back. It would be the collective work of several pioneers coming together in those years leading up to the 1960’s and 70’s that stepped up the quality levels and ultimately set the stage for the Judgement of Paris in 1976.
The event was organized by a respected British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, who saw the potential of California wines in the 1970’s and put them together in a blind tasting along with several top French producers. The results left the wine world reeling as two Napa wines topped the red and white categories, with several others also beating out many legendary French wines. Napa was on the map, and this small farming community would see massive investment over the next decades.
Napa Valley sits in a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cool wet winters. The hot growing days during the summer rely on huge overnight temperature swings as well as consistent fog that rolls in from the nearby Pacific Ocean. These cooling effects preserve acidity in the grapes and allow for a longer growing season to develop flavor complexities. Altitude and vineyard aspect to sunshine play a huge roll in resulting ripeness and wine style. Soils also vary greatly throughout the appellation. While many grapes are planted throughout the valley, Napa is undoubtedly known for cabernet sauvignon and red blends built around the other Bordeaux varietals that include merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. Pinot noir is also found in the cooler area of Carneros. The leading white grapes are chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
Napa is often compared to Bordeaux and has been for decades. Of course we are doing it this month as well. Maybe it all started in 1976, but while the grapes in each region are similar, the climates have always been very different. It is true that Bordeaux is seeing warmer and warmer vintages these days and the wines have become more similar in style. Whatever your preference, we are always seeking balance in our selections. We hope our flights this month entertain, educate and bring a warm fuzzy feeling to your January.
The Napa flight gets your palate started with the vibrantly aromatic Tilth sauvignon blanc. Great for any season, the wine has remarkable texture and depth and fits in well with this winter flight. The Matthiasson chardonnay is lively, fresh and restrained in style. Don't look for oak and butter, but expect to be delighted by flavors of fresh golden apples, peaches and melon. The fresh acidity makes this wonderful as a pre-dinner wine, but also pairs incredibly well with food. Trefethen is considered one of the pioneering wineries of the 1960's and is still family run. Only producing estate wines, their merlot is seductive, complex and wonderfully balance with ripe red fruits, plum, black tea and spices. We finish with the BonAnno Vintner's cabernet sauvignon. His flagship wine, Matt Bonanno has been producing wine since 2004. This is classic Napa cab with a splash of merlot, cab franc, and petit verdot. Punchy blackberry and currants, sage, cedar and tobacco, this wine always overdelivers for the price.
Looking to Customize?
We now host curated tastings for groups of two to ten people. Our tastings are a great way to explore wines that are new to you or indulge in some of your favorite regions. Whether you are looking to learn or to simply relax, our team has you covered.