It can be good fun to recount stories of tasting the most sought-after and expensive wines from Napa Valley when we are lucky enough to have had the experience. However, it can be even more fun to find a great Napa Valley wine that does not clear out your bank account.
Each month, a group of winemakers and local retailers and restaurateurs gather at The Culinary Institute of America's Rudd Center in St. Helena, CA to taste through the latest vintages or varietal wines made in Napa Valley.
The panelists are pretty tough on the wines, given that they are used to critiquing their own against others. They do this not only to see how their wines compare with others in the valley, but also to review their style and price point against the other wines.
To find reasonably priced wines from Napa Valley, the panelists took on the task of tasting white and red wines priced under $25. The wines listed below proved to be their favorites, and offer a lot of flavor for the price tag. Pull out these whites for your shellfish and seafood dinners, or take a glass of the reds by the fireplace and warm yourself inside and out. Given the price points, these wines sell fast, so get the latest vintage available:
• Astrale e Terra Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is from Napa Valley's Atlas Peak which stands at 2,683 feet. Astrale e Terra is Italian for "heaven and earth". This is a refreshing wine for sipping with appetizers, or pairing with oysters or a crab dinner. The Astrale e Terra has delicious citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
• The Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($20) from Carneros is another great white for a dinner feast. With aromas like New Zealand's wildly popular sauvignon blancs-fresh, pungent and fruity, this wine is a crowd pleaser. It has grapefruit and lemon with fresh grass aromas and flavors.
• Oakville Ranch Field Blend ($25) is made with varying reds such as zinfandel and petite sirah. This is a rich, concentrated wine loaded with red currants, black cherries, vanilla, herb and spice. If you want delicious, this is it. Field blends were popular decades ago in Napa Valley; they were blends of all different grape varieties grown in the same field, or vineyard plot. Today, each grape variety generally has its own vineyard block. But this wine takes Field Blends to a whole new level. This is a very good wine. Owner is Mary MacInnes Miner; there are 80 acres of vines on their 350 acre ranch.
• Girard Old Vine Zinfandel ($24) is made from both mountain fruit and century-old valley floor fruit. The mountain fruit comes from Mt. Vaca, the highest peak of the Vaca Mountain range. This is a deeply flavored wine with dark berries, cedar and an intriguing smokiness. It is concentrated and deliciously rich, yet not over the top; a great dinner wine or for sipping with appetizers. Beef tenderloin slices on bread crisps with a touch of crème fraiche whisked together with horseradish is a great match, and perfect for dinner parties.
• Turn 4 is a wine made by Bennett Lane Winery. This cabernet sauvignon generally sells for $19.99. Strap yourself in, because this is an incredible wine. Randy Lynch and his wife Lisa have produced a wine with ripe berries, baking spices, leather and a great earthiness which rolls over your tongue in delicious waves of flavor. Quite a wine for the price. Rob Hunter is the winemaker. The name of the wine comes from Randy's other love-- NASCAR racing. With an oval track having four turns, Turn 4 is the final and most fierce. This is where the most exciting action is in any race, and so a perfect name for one of the most exciting wines of the tasting.
• Duckhorn's Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) has great aromas-cinnamon, vanilla, spice and blackberries and is very smooth in the mouth. It is a blend of Bordeaux varietals-- cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot. It is no subtle wine. You'll want to have it with food-something like beef roast or piles of pork ribs. Michael Chiarello has a great ribs recipe that can be made in the oven. Just salt and pepper the ribs, stack them on a cookie tray and rotate the stacks every half hour for two and a half hours so they all get cooked to perfection. Right before dinner, you can cook them one more time on high heat with your choice of barbecue sauce brushed on top.
Below is the list of other delicious wines which were tasted by the panelists - all still under $25:
Ahnfeldt Wines Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) was full of cranberry fruit flavors and earthiness.
Burgess Cellars Petite Sirah ($25) is all blackberries and herbs; a dark sip for fans of petite sirah.
Ceja Vineyards Vino de Casa red blend ($20) has delicious aromas and flavors of vanilla, cherries, strawberries, and cranberries. A very good sip.
Cerruti Cellars Tractor Shed Red ($13) has a generous nose of red cherries, blackberries, herbs, caramel and vanilla. It is a beautifully crafted wine.
Chateau Chevalier Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99) is full of deep, dark berries with the perfect balance of spice and vanilla. This is a nicely made wine-a real winner.
Farella-Park "La Luce" Sauvignon Blanc ($15) This wine combines all kinds of citrus-orange zest, lime and lemon-with nutty aromas and flavors.
Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) has intriguing aromas of baking spices, including lots of cinnamon, red berries and blackberries. This is a wine for those loving outspoken oak flavors.
Pine Ridge Vineyards Forefront" Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) has intriguing aromas of red berry and cranberry fruit with a nice touch of smokiness.
Paoletti Estates Winery Bella Novello Cabernet ($25) has a really great nose of crème brulee, caramel, cassis, blackberries and spice. There is good acidity and a nice blackberry filled finish.
Sawyer Cellars Sauvignon Blanc ($19) is full of lemon citrus; a great seafood and shellfish wine.
Salvestrin LeBlanc Crystal Springs Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is all perfume and white flowers with hints of citrus and good acidity.
Whitehall Lane Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($16) This is a wine both sauvignon blanc and chardonnay fans can both agree on with its fresh citrus and floral aromas but creamy mouthfeel.
As you can see from the list, there are a good number of Napa Valley wines under $25 that are worth searching out and tasting. Now it's time to have fun finding your own favorites!