Text by Robert Whitely
he Napa Valley is on fire. The worldwide symbol of fine wine in America has been burning for more than a week. The so-called Glass Fire is the second wave of fires to hit California wine country’s premier tourist destination in the past couple of months. As of this writing, the Glass Fire has torched more than 67,000 acres and left much of the north end of the Napa Valley in shambles.
The historic Newton Winery burned to the ground. Cain Cellars, high upon Spring Mountain above the village of St. Helena, is gone. The historic Schramsberg Vineyards on Diamond Mountain in Calistoga was under siege, but so far has survived. The castle at Castello di Amarosa was heavily damaged. The Michelin three-star restaurant at the iconic Meadowood Resort is now a heap of ashes.
I could go on, but you get the picture. The Napa Valley is suffering an unpa-ralleled tragedy. The Glass Fire that has engulfed the upper end of the valley and cut into neighboring Sonoma County is the worst Napa Valley fire in memory. It was contained on Oct. 20.
There is little doubt that the Napa Valley will rebound. It has the resources and the will, but in the meantime, there is real suffering on the ground. As more than 2,000 firefighters battle the ongoing blaze, thousands of residents, farmworkers, winery employees, restaurant employees and others have been evacuated, and many see their livelihoods going up in smoke.
This is on top of the near-total shutdown of tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I can’t help but think that this will be remembered as the vintage from hell in the Napa Valley, no matter how the 2020 wines turn out.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County
With a lightly grassy edge and succulent notes of citrus and melon, this vintage is another winner for Dry Creek’s iconic fume blanc.
Duckhorn 2017 Merlot, Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley
Probably the most famous and respected merlot vineyard in America, Three Palms, near Calistoga in the northern half of the Napa Valley, is the vineyard that put California merlot on the radar some three decades ago. Prior to the emergence of Three Palms, merlot was often described as “feminine” and primarily used to “soften” cabernet sauvignon-centric blends. This wine demonstrates the broad shoulders and remarkable depth that merlot can achieve in the right spot. It shows aromas of blueberry and black currant, firm tannins and impressive structure sufficient to carry it a couple of decades if properly cellared.
Chappellet 2018 Grower Collection Pinot Noir, Apple Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley
This vintage has a distinct and attractive floral note, with exceptional fruit purity on the palate; robust aromas of cherry, blueberry and black currant, and smooth, ripe tannins. It’s a knockout pinot and priced accordingly.
St. Supery 2016 Merlot, Rutherford Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley
St. Supery has always had a knack with merlot, a fact that continues to this day. Its latest release of merlot from the Rutherford Estate Vineyard is living proof. This towering wine is richly layered with aromas of blackberry and currant, and shows firm tannins and outstanding persistence through the finish. It is a merlot that will evolve nicely over the next decade.
Domaine de Rosiers 2018 Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais, France
To aficionados, Moulin-a-Vent is the king of Beaujolais cru, and it is priced accordingly. That said, great wines that retail below $30 a bottle aren’t easy to come by, so the 2018 from Domaine de Rosiers qualifies as a steal. What makes Moulin-a-Vent special is its unique power and depth compared with other Beaujolais, even Beaujolais cru. This vintage is dark and inky, with firm tannins and richly layered dark-berry fruit aromas, a note of wood spice and exceptional persistence through the finish.
La Crema 2018 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
This beauty from Oregon is a great example of what drives pinotphiles to Oregon pinot. It has heft without being heavy, exhibits richness and complexity, and is just restrained enough to not overpower a grilled salmon or, say, roast chicken. This vintage delivers yummy red-fruit aromas and a touch of fall spice.
Mumm Napa Valley Blanc de Blancs, Napa County
Mumm Napa blends a bit of pinot gris with its predominantly chardonnay cuvee, and the result is a complex non-vintage blanc de blancs. It delivers aromas of crunchy apple, melon and citrus with a fine mousse, excellent balance and a long, satisfying finish.