Wine: Napa wines live up to reputation

Stock wine graphicWine: Napa wines live up to reputation
By Frank Sutherland and KATE SUTHERLAND
Gannett News Service

Napa Valley is the most famous appellation for wine in the United States, producing some of the most popular chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons sold in this country. Chardonnays have a long history — by American but not European standards — in Napa. A winery may be located in Napa but if it buys its grapes from outside the valley, the appellation will read something like “California” or a proprietary name.

If the grapes come from Napa, the label will say “Napa Valley.” If the grapes come from one district or even one vineyard, that information can be added to be the label. Our wine-tasting panel compared four Napa chardonnays costing under $20, with the results below. Our tasting of more expensive Napa chardonnays will be next week.

2006 Folie a Deux Chardonnay, $16.99. The aromas suggested butterscotch, lemon, lemon peel, cauliflower and white pepper. The tastes matched the aroma, with added flavors of toasty oak, Golden Delicious apples and cooked marshmallows. The acids were low. Ranked first in our tasting, this wine had plenty of flavors and a creamy texture.

2005 Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay, $16.99. The nose offered scents of fresh-cut pears, ripe pears, spice, vanilla beans, apricots and coconut. In the mouth, the Beringer had better acids than the Folie a Deux. Spices really followed through on the palate, followed by a steely finish. Tied for second place, it had a clean palate and a lighter impression than the others.

2006 Aquinas Chardonnay, $12.99. The aroma reminded us of pineapples, bananas, fresh tropical fruit and fleshy fruit. We found more banana flavors on the palate along with spice and pepper. The wine had a rich mouth feel and a clean finish. The least expensive in this category, this wine tied for second. It reminded our experts of the dessert, bananas Foster.

2006 Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay, $19.99. The bouquet showed dusty, dried tropical fruit, especially pineapples, plus pine needles. The oak hit the palate hard. We tasted pineapples mixed with green sappy wood and oak. The wood dominated the acids in this wine.

Surfing the wine shelves:

2005 Gainey Santa Ynez Valley Merlot, $20. Aromas of cherries, ripe plums, milk chocolate and oak. The palate mirrored the nose, with lots of toasty oak. Very juicy on the tongue.

2005 Rosemount Mudgee (Australia) Shiraz, $16.99. Aromas of cherries, plums, coffee and spices. Palate showed both chocolate and vanilla, along with the earthy fruit.

2003 Chateaux Lassegue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, $50. Made from 65 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent cabernet franc. An extraordinary Bordeaux wine for this price, with classic right-bank Bordeaux flavors of dark fruit, cassis, semi-sweet chocolate and cigar box. Tasted like a dense merlot with elegance.

2005 Lake Sonoma Winery Zinfandel, $17. Pretty spicy aromas of blackberries and raspberries with a hint of oak. These characteristics continued on the tongue, along with black pepper and a silky texture. Try with beef, pork or barbeque.

2005 Terlato & Chapoutier lieu dit Malkoff Shiraz, $40. A long name and big partnership in the wine business, but all you need to know is this is a really nice shiraz with flavors of impressive jammy black fruit, especially black currants, and blueberries.

Non-vintage Crane Lake Brut Sparkling Wine, $8. If you need to serve sparkling to a large crowd, this can work without breaking the wallet. Nice flavors of melon, pear, apples and citrus fruit.