Finding Value with Napa Wines in New York City

Until a few decades ago, wines from the Napa Valley were not taken that seriously. In 1976 the Judgment of Paris changed everything. That event legitimized the idea that decent wine could be made in a country that did not have the legendary wine making history of France or Italy. Today Napa wines are seen as luxury products but the region still has a tradition of family wineries / Leggi in italiano

It’s interesting to think that, at one time, wines from the Napa Valley were not taken that seriously. At one time Napa producers were struggling farmers who hoped that they could make a wine that people would enjoy. The Wine Tasting of 1976, or better known as the of Paris, changed everything. I have spoken about this one special event in previous articles because it really was a defining moment for the history of US wines. 

The Judgment of Paris was a blind wine tasting involving some of the top wine critics – nine out of the eleven judges were French. Two Napa Valley wines received top marks for the white and red categories, beating out some of the top producers from Bordeaux and Burgundy. 

The Judgment of Paris was a big event in the US wine world. It legitimized the idea that decent wine could be made in a country that did not have the legendary wine making history of France or Italy. About a week ago, I was given a chance to speak to three people who represented family wineries that had been around since the 1970s and 1980s in Napa, California.

I was invited to a lunch at the new Manhattan wine loving restaurant called Wine Disciples. The lunch would include a tasting and discussion with the producers. 

They very much painted a picture of the Napa of forty, or even thirty years ago, compared to the Napa of today. Today, Napa wines are seen as luxury products that are only for the wealthy such as the $100 Napa wines that are talked about by some of the top wine critics. 

Another picture was given by John Skupny from Lang & Reed Wine Company, Christopher Vandendriessche with White Rock Vineyards and Allison Steltzner with Steltzner Vineyards. 

They talked about how Napa started out as a place for people who loved the land, and who wanted to make great wines that could be enjoyed by all. As Allison Steltzner said, “Wine was something that was meant to be on the table, it was meant to be shared, it was meant to be approachable, it was meant to be affordable…” 

Allison said that her father wouldn’t charge $100 for a Napa wine because he would never buy a wine for that amount himself. He comes from an era and culture that feels a wine should never cost above a certain price. 

Also, these producers bought land in Napa decades ago, and hence, their investment was small. They depend on word of mouth to promote their winery and that keeps cost down as well. The savings they achieve from having a well-established small winery is passed on to the customer. 

The infamous Judgment of Paris did come up in our conversation, and so I had to ask if that event was really that significant. Sometimes historical events are blown out of proportion in regards to their impact and influence. And without hesitation Allison Steltzner answered with an emphatic “yes”. 

She said that event changed everything for Napa. It brought in tons of investment and even allowed for her father and his wine making neighbors to get bank loans which had been previously declined.

When it comes to wine and food, the US has always looked to Europe for inspiration and ultimately, approval. We may not always agree when it comes to politics but we will always stand with each other to defend our rights to live in peace and to drink great wine. 

Cathrine's Recommendations

Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)

2014 Tenute Rubio Primitivo, Puglia, Italy ($13): Primitivo was proven to be genetically identical to another popular variety in California, Zinfandel. The key characteristics to Zinfandel/Primitivo are rich fruit flavors while still having fresh acidity. This wine was filled with strawberry jam, blackcurrant jam and lots of spice. 

Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50) 

There were two great Napa wines, one white and one red, which fit this category:

2013 White Rock Vineyards, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California ($34): Intense white chalky minerality and white peach flavors and only a touch of spice with an overall quality of finesse. One of the most exciting Napa Chardonnay wines I have had in a long time and it is only $34! 

2013 Steltzner Vineyards, Claret, Napa Valley, California ($20): 65% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. Generous, round texture with lots of fresh blackberry and blueberry fruit. A very friendly red with good structure and weight. Another remarkable value! 

Fantasy Wine (over $50)

This wine is only $48 instead of over $50 but it was certainly a “fantasy wine”. 

2013 Lang & Reed Wine Company Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California ($48): It is not so easy to make a great 100% Cabernet Franc wine but Lang & Reed is able to do it. It has a beautiful floral and raspberry nose with lovely precision and purity on the palate. A red wine that is able to balance power and elegant. 

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