Last week, L. Pierce Carson commented on how few Napa Valley wines were in the Wine Spectator’s list of top 100 wines, and this week, the report from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonné was hardly any better to the valley.
The Spectator included six wines from Napa Valley wineries, but only four had a Napa Valley appellation. The others were California appellation, indicating the grapes could have come from other areas.
The Chronicle’s list didn’t include any Napa chardonnays except an Enfield from Wild Horse Valley, which is partly in Solano County.
Among “other whites,” the only Napa wines were Massican sauvignon blanc, Horse & Plow pinot gris from Carneros and Forlorn Hope picpoul. Yes, a picpoul, an obscure grape from southern France.
The list didn’t include any Napa sparklers or pinot noirs but did have two zinfandels, Green & Red from Chiles Valley and Storybook from north of Calistoga, both on the fringes of the valley.
Among the cabernets, Napa did have 10 of the 14 top wines: from Antica, Dominus, Pavia, Inglenook, Matthiasson, Neyers Ranch, Mondavi, Spottswoode, Stony Hill and Philip Togni.
A very few Napa wines were also included in the list of 60 top values under $40.
Looking at the list, it’s clear that unusual and new was a major criterion for picking wines.
Few popular wines made the cut, and it seems the more obscure your location the better: An Arizona malvasia bianca, Santa Ynez chenin blanc, Russian River trousseau gris, San Diego sparkling muscat, Cucamonga sherry, Marin pinot noir, El Dorado Grenache and Napa Valley albariño.
Experimenting winemakers like Steve Matthiasson were also rewarded. I’m surprised not to see any wines from Abe Schoener, the man behind the quirky Scholium Project wines.
Bonné also likes wines with alcohol under 14 percent, which may impact their results.
I’m sure all these are great wines, but are they the top 100? I’d call them Jon Bonné’s Most Interesting 100 Wines.
The whole list, like that of the Spectator, is mostly irrelevant. Though great for the wines chosen, it has little to do with the wines most people drink; the vast amount of top wines are chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, most from well-known producers sourcing grapes from familiar places.
I’m always suspicious of such lists, for writers and critics get bored. They like something different, and they also sometime suffer from the Consumer Reports syndrome: The winner has to be unexpected.
A list of wines by popularity (i.e., sales) is more relevant, but not if you think your taste is better than consumers.
It should be noted that neither of these ratings is like those of winners from wine competitions like the Chronicle’s or the State Fair’s.
Wineries have to submit (and often pay) to enter wines in most competitions, and most established wineries have learned that there’s only one winner – and it might be an Arizona wine. Everyone else loses.
Why would a top winery like Shafer or Cakebread ever enter a competition? They’re only for newcomers and outsiders.
But wineries do send wines to critics for review. Sadly, there’s little they can do to being bested by a picpoul.
Are old folks stingy — or confident?
Research conducted by Wine Intelligence in the U.K. found that 28 percent of those over 65 spend 4.99 pounds (about $7.85) or less on a bottle of wine to take to a party, compared with 15 percent of those under 35.
Wine Intelligence’s chief executive Lulie Halstead stated, “Consumers over the age of 65 tend to have a much clearer idea of the type of wine they like, and they seek out the best value they can within that,” and added, “With a high proportion of retirees in this age group, it’s more likely that they have time to shop around.”
Young wine drinkers tend to want to impress their peers with more expensive wines.
“Younger consumers tend to use price as a way of reassuring themselves that the wine is good enough to share with others, particularly if they are less experienced in the category,” said Halstead.
Moët Hennessy to enhance Newton Vineyard
Cabernet from St. Helena is a valuable wine, so it’s somewhat surprising that Newton Vineyard winery in St. Helena sells far more chardonnay than cabernet.
Newton has been a bit of an afterthought, I suspect, but now Newton’s owner, Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines plans to enhance its position in cabernet.
Newton’s $60 Unfiltered Chardonnay has been a big hit for years but it sells far less of its $60 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon.
Previously, Newton’s unfiltered cabernet sauvignon has been made only from its adjacent Spring Mountain Vineyard. It is expanding to include fruit from sister Chandon holdings in Mount Veeder and Yountville.
Prats also plans to cut some offerings to focus on the unfiltered chardonnay and cabernet, as well as upscale blend The Puzzle, and possibly a pinot noir.
Newton also currently makes unfiltered varieties of syrah, merlot and malbec and larger quantities of wines under its Red Label series (around $25), including claret, chardonnay and cabernet.