As the days in Napa Valley have approached 100 degrees, finding ways to keep cool has undoubtedly been a top priority for many in our community. Finding a hammock in the shade and cooling off in a neighborhood swimming pool are good options.

For those who want to turn to something cool to drink, sipping an aromatic white wine on a hot afternoon or evening is one way to beat the heat. Some may be asking, “What makes a wine more aromatic than another?” According to Bob Bath, Master Sommelier and CIA Wine & Beverage instructor, “It’s not just the fruit characteristics that you typically get with a riesling, chenin blanc or even sauvignon blanc, for that matter. It’s more about the floral notes in a wine that make it aromatic.”

The St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel conducted a recent tasting of four flights of aromatic whites in Napa Valley, all priced between $18 to $30. Although the tasting panel did not know what varietals they were tasting, they knew in advance that the wines were grouped by type.

The categories included Alsatian, Bordeaux, Rhone and Miscellaneous.

John Skupny of Lang & Reed commented that this tasting is “one of my favorites. There’s a great range of wines here and the alternative varietals are usually a bargain.”

“It’s fun to try different white wines,” agreed Karen Cakebread of Ziata Wines. “When I taste and rate these wines, I think about what wines I would like to drink at home.”

Jon Emmerich, winemaker with Silverado Vineyards, made a noteworthy observation regarding the array of wines. “This tasting is even more interesting because we don’t have a reference point when it comes to varietal. I found it harder to judge one wine over the other.” (Typically, these monthly tastings focus on one varietal as opposed to a generic category of aromatic whites.)

After reviewing her notes and rankings, Geralyn Brostrom with Vinedeavour observed that without fail, she had similarly ranked those wines that were the same varietal, implying that our palates might be more partial to a certain varietal over another.

Among the wines tasted, two stood out as being much less common than the others. Those included a Scuppernong and Muscadine – both from Spiriterra Vineyards. Scuppernong, a historically important native American Muscadine variety, is a bronze-skinned grape and member of the “Vitis rotundifolia” family, which includes the first native grapes to produce wine. It has a typically grapey, musky flavor. When describing the Muscadine, winemaker Kenn Vigoda states, “The unique aroma of this wine is described as ‘foxy’ in the East and Midwest, and it is an exact replica of the aroma of the grapes themselves.”

Among the wines tasted, the following wines were the stand-outs from each flight:

Favorite wines

Ballentine Vineyards, Chenin Blanc ($19) – This 2013 chenin blanc has some of the most vibrant aromatics ever seen in this wine. It has aromas of peaches, pears, citrus blossoms, sage, honeysuckle, apple, lime, and lemon. The family makes this wine crisp, clean and fruit forward. Although this chenin blanc has a very fruity nature to it, it is made in a dry style which allows the finish to linger with clean citrus and floral flavors.

Fortunati Vineyards ($32) – The 2013 Viognier is packed with floral mineral notes and aromas of dried and crushed flower petals. Initial white peach and apricot are layered with more detailed, exotic flavors of passion fruit and lychee. This warm-weathered white wine can be enjoyed year-round and pairs beautifully with grilled vegetables, Asian noodles and fish.

Franciscan Estate, Equilibrium White Blend ($23) – This 2012 Equilibrium white blend is a rich, fun, and unique wine that’s easy to enjoy. The name Equilibrium means “to come together in a state of harmonious balance.” With this in mind, the winemakers crafted a unique expression of artisanal blending. A crisp mouthfeel showing bright floral notes along with refreshing pear and white peach flavors, Equilibrium is an ensemble of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and muscat.

Silenus Winery, Riesling ($22) – The 2013 riesling is the inaugural release to the Silenus family of wines. The riesling grapes come from the Canyon Ranch Vineyard located at the southeast end of the Napa Valley. On the nose, the wine gives off aromas of orange blossoms, honeysuckle and lychee fruit with faint notes of clove. The palate includes flavors of bright stone fruit, green apple, and lime.

(Tiffany van Gorder is general manager of Balzac Communications. She also writes about the St. Helena Star/Napa Valley Vintners tasting panels when needed. Only wines from Napa Valley Vintner member wineries are accepted and tasted. Many wineries offer local residents discounts on their wines through the Napa Neighbor program, visit napavintners.com/programs and click on Napa Neighbor to learn more.)

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