Picnics fulfill something very important in our lives. With all the running around we do — to work, meetings, appointments and stores — picnics let us sit back and catch our breaths. Away from our stoves and our kitchen drawers and cabinets back home, the only service required at a picnic is to pull the foods you have gathered from a cooler, basket or bag and open a bottle of wine. There is time to talk to the friends or family with you; there is time to take in the scenery; and time for those all-important deep breaths.

The Napa Valley Vintners and St. Helena Star Tasting Panel at the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone tasted 18 red Napa Valley wines priced at $25 and less to find the best wines for these picnic moments. 

In the discussion that followed the tasting, many panelists echoed John Skupny of Lang & Reed when he said, “There are some great wines for $25.” Almost all of them were really good to excellent, which is impressive for the price range. Napa Valley is not an inexpensive place to make wine.

While some panelists picked the wines that were the most beautifully produced as their favorites, many on the panel chose the wines that were more fitting for a picnic — something less tannic with good fruitiness. The panel’s favorites reflect both of these choices. 

Many of the wines were so rich and concentrated for their price tags that numerous panelists nodded in agreement when Ryan Graham, wine director of the Napa Valley Wine Train, noted, “Perhaps some of the prices were lowered because of the economy.” 

Some of the heavy glass bottles, as Paula Moschetti, winemaker at Frog’s Leap noted, seemed to point to that as well. One of the top picks was an incredible wine that would be right at home with a grilled steak, but other panelists, such as winemaker Sarah Fowler of Peju, looked strictly for wines with fresh fruit, less concentration and less oak. There were plenty of these choices available.

The winners of the tasting were:

Long Meadow Ranch House Red 2007 ($24) is deep ruby in color with a rich berry nose and a deliciously smoky, peppery and fruity palate. Great acidity and a long finish — this is a spectacular wine. Cabernet sauvignon makes up 76 percent of the blend with 11 percent merlot,         6 percent syrah, 5 percent petite verdot, and 2 percent petite sirah. The family — Ted, Laddie and Christopher Hall — use integrated, organic farming and produce vegetables, beef and other products in addition to wine. Like our valley pioneers, they are a self-sustainable family.

Turnbull Old Bull 2007 is perfect for a picnic — it has a screwcap, retails for $19 and is lush yet not overpowering for lunch or picnic foods. This is a rich cherry wine with some nice smokiness. It is a blend of 46 percent cabernet sauvignon, 28 percent merlot, 9 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent tempranillo, 7 percent syrah, and           1 percent malbec. The name of Turnbull started when a commoner saved royalty from a charging bull. This man’s turning away of the bull was honored with the family name Turnbull.

Ca’Momi Rosso di Napa 2008 is just right for a picnic — it has dark cherry aromas and flavors with a juicy cherry palate, a screwcap and a friendly price of $10.99. No ordinary screwcap, this one was first introduced into the United States by Ca’Momi. Called the Nova Twist, this closure is         100 percent recyclable, has no sharp edges and has one-third of the carbon footprint of a metal screwcap, according to the winery. Ca’Momi is named for the family home in Italy — House of Momi.

Tangley Oaks Merlot 2007 is just $14.99 with lots of juicy berries and spice, and a bit of heat from the alcohol, but beautifully made. Not just a clever name, the winery has worked with the Arbor Day Foundation and for a year, a percentage of all sales go to planting trees.

V. Sattui Winery comes up roses again with the tasting panel with its 2006 merlot ($25). Panelists liked the lavender aromas added to the dark berry and well-integrated oak flavors. This is a pretty big wine for a picnic, with tannins that could use a barbecued steak or seared hamburgers, but this is a deliciously made wine.

Catherine Seda is the St. Helena Star’s tasting panel writer and works for Balzac Communications & Marketing in Napa. She holds a diploma in wine and spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and enjoys all things wine. The wines tasted were provided by member wineries of the Napa Valley Vintners, the nonprofit trade association representing nearly 400 wineries. Not all wines submitted were tasted. 

Picnic red wines tasted

The St. Helena Star/Napa Valley Vintners  recently tasted and judged the following red wines that were deemed to be just fine for a picnic.  They are listed in alphabetical order.

Ballentine Vineyards, 2007, Petite Sirah, St. Helena Fig Tree Vineyard, $20

Burgess Cellars, 2006, Syrah, Napa Valley, $25

Burgess Cellars, 2006, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, $19

Ca Momi Wines, Rosso di Napa, Napa Valley, $10.99

Ca Momi Wines, 2007 Zinfandel, Napa Valley, $16.99

Ceja Vineyards, 2007 Vino de Casa, red blend, Napa Valley, $20

Conn Creek Winery, 2007 Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, $25

Long Meadow Ranch, 2007 LMR Ranch House Red, Napa Valley, $24

Luna Vineyards, 2007 Sangiovese, Napa Valley, $25

Newton Vineyard, 2007 Claret, Napa County, $25

Raymond Vineyards, 2006 Merlot, Napa, $22.99

Silverado Vineyards, 2006 Sangiovese, Napa Valley, $28

Tangley Oaks, 2007 Merlot, $14.99

Trefethen Family Vineyards, 2007, Double T Red Wine, $25

Turnbull Wine Cellars, 2007 Old Bull Red, Napa, $19

V. Sattui Winery, 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, $25

Waterstone, 2007 Merlot, Napa Valley, $18

ZD Wines, 2008 Rosa Lee Mourvedre, Napa Valley, $18

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