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2019: From Cabernet Franc to Zinfandel: Star/NVV Tasting Panelists taste, judge and rank Napa Valley’s wines

2019: From Cabernet Franc to Zinfandel: Star/NVV Tasting Panelists taste, judge and rank Napa Valley’s wines

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Napa Valley’s grape industry is pretty diverse. Looking at the list of top Napa Valley wines that were part of nine St. Helena Star/Napa Valley Vintners tastings during the past year, the wines range from Cabernet Franc to Zinfandel and include the following varietals:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon, valley floor
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, mountain
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
  • Riesling
  • Rosé
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Semillon
  • Viognier

The total cost of the 43 current release wines (from 2015-2018 vintages) that were best in their flights is $2,696, with the least expensive bottle a 2018 St. Supery Estate Rosé ($18). The most expensive ($190) is a 2016 Barnett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes grown on Spring Mountain. Twenty-four of the wines were priced at $50 or less; seven were more than $100.

Three producers — Gibbs, Honig and St. Supery — each had two wines win their respective flights. For Gibbs, winners were both from the 2016 vintage: A Three Clones Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) and a Cabernet Franc ($28). Catherine Bugue, the Star’s tasting panel writer, tells the story of the Gibbs Vineyard: “Decades ago, Dr. Lewis Gibbs Carpenter Jr. replaced some orchards on his St. Helena property with grapes, and while he has since passed away, his family continues to make wine from the vineyards that the good doctor planted. Grandson Spencer Gibbs Handly learned to drive a tractor at age 5, and now manages the family vineyard.”

Of the 2016 Cabernet Franc, Bugue writes, “This wine’s mouthfilling deep, dark fruits are structured by firm age-worthy tannins but the juicy black cherry and plum flavors are deliciously approachable now. This is an incredible wine for the price.”

The Star/NVV Tasting Panel has been held monthly for a dozen years, and most of the tastings have been held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Usually, there are two dozen wines and two dozen people – winemakers and associate winemakers, mostly, and a few retailers and restaurateurs who attend the Thursday afternoon tastings.

Kristin Belair, winemaker for Honig Vineyard & Winery, has been a frequent and longtime panelist. Two of her wines won their flights, the 2018 Classic Sauvignon Blanc ($18); and the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, ($50), made from grapes grown on the valley floor. Bugue said, the “Honig delivers high impact – deep black fruits with sweet oak spice, fennel, and orange peel complexity in their 2016 vintage. A top Napa Valley Cab at this price is hard to come by.”

Brix Restaurant Manager Jamie Jamieson also commented about the 2016 Cabs. “We are buying heavy on the 2016 vintage; there is oak integration, lots of fruit profiles and acid levels; really great wines.”

Bugue poses a question: What made the 2016 such a standout year? And then answers it: “Importantly, a four-year drought was finally broken with significant winter rains. Throughout the summer months, Napa Valley enjoyed cooler than average daytime highs with cool evenings, helping the grapes retain good acidity to balance out the richness in the wines. The favorable growing season continued through harvest, and most vintners’ fruit was in the cellars before winter rains started up again.”

Two St. Supery Estate wines, a 2018 Rosé ($18) and a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($125), won their flights. Bugue wrote of the Rosé: “A super deal, this top pick was the least expensive in the tasting. Appealing fresh strawberry fruit with an intriguing mineral lift are the focus of this vibrant Rosé wine.”

In her write-up, Bugue said, “Rosé wines are only increasing in production, being added to even the most stubborn of producer portfolios, as a must-have addition. Consumers appreciate a wine that marries red fruit flavors with a crisp palate – especially one at a reasonable price.”

One of the panelists was Christie Dufault, beverage program instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. She confessed that as she started tasting the wines, her vocabulary shifted — she was writing down descriptors like watermelon, or phrases such as ‘smells like roses at the beach’ – terms that she admitted, to big laughs, she would not let her own students use. She found the wines refreshing, crisp and juicy. “It’s what we all look for — easy-going approachability.”

Top wines


Storybook Mountain 2015, $70

Ballentine Vineyards 2016, Reserve $50

Chase Cellars 2016, St. Helena, $95

Girard Winery 2016, $28


Ancien 2016, Carneros, $38

McClelland Cellars 2016, Oak Knoll District, $35

Keenan Winery 2017, Spring Mountain, $37

Trefethen Family Vineyards 2017, Oak Knoll District, $38


Bouchaine Vineyards 2018 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Carneros, $27

Burgess Cellars 2018 Syrah, $30

Nichelini Family Winery 2018, Cab Sauvignon Rosé, Chiles Valley, $28

Peju 2018 Dry Rosé, $25

St. Supery Estate, 2018 Rosé, $18

MAY—Sauvignon Blanc

Acre Wines 2017, $19

Mathew Bruno 2017, $29

Barlow Vineyards 2018, $22

Honig Vineyard 2018 SB Classic, $19

JULY – Alternative whites

Fortunati Vineyards 2017 Viognier, Oak Knoll, $36

Hyde Estate Winery 2017 Viognier, Carneros, $45

Etude 2018 Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Carneros, $30

Galerie 2018 Riesling, Spring Mountain, $50

V. Sattui Winery 2018 Semillon, Yountville, $29

AUGUST—Pinot Noir

Hyde Estate Winery 2015 Pinot Noir, Carneros, $70

Baldacci Family Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir, Carneros, $50

Castello di Amorosa 2017 Pinot Noir, Carneros, $42

Saintsbury 2017 Pinot Noir, Carneros, $68

OCTOBER—Valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon

Davies Vineyards, 2016, Winfield Vineyard, Calistoga, $95

Gibbs Vineyards, 2016, Three Clones, St. Helena, $35

Honig Vineyard & Winery, 2016, $50

Phifer Pavitt Wine, 2016, Date Night, $90

St. Supery Estate, 2016, Rutherford, $125

NOVEMBER—Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Hesperian Wines, 2015, Kitoko Vineyard, Atlas Peak, $150

Barnett Vineyards, 2016, Rattlesnake, Spring Mountain, $190

Brandlin, 2016, Mount Veeder, $75

Clif Family Winery, 2016, Cold Springs Vineyard, Howell Mountain, $125

Dyer Vineyard, 2016, Diamond Mountain, $95

Sequoia Grove Winery, 2016, Henry Bros. Vineyard, Howell Mountain, $95

DECEMBER—Cabernet Franc

Clos Du Val, 2016, Stags Leap, $100

Gibbs Vineyards, 2016, Napa Valley, $28

Palazzo Wine, 2016, Reserve, Carneros, $115

Pine Ridge Vineyards, 2016, Napa Valley, $75

Silenus Winery, 2016, Oak Knoll, $50

Detert Family Vineyards, 2017, Oakville, $175

David Stoneberg's top 5 most memorable stories of 2019

As editor of the St. Helena Star, I get a chance to produce some good stories, often wine-related stories and occasionally, I am able to delve deeper into a subject.

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