The search for good value Napa Valley wine

When the St Helena Star and Napa Vintner Tasting Panel gathered recently, they were delighted by the quality of the lower-priced wines they tasted.

There is no shortage of stories about the big price tag wines of Napa Valley. Scarecrow, Harlan, Byrant Family and more, still thrive here in northern California. But not everyone who wants to taste Napa Valley can plunk down triple digits for a bottle of wine.

There are less-expensive wines produced here but the big question is: do they live up to the Napa Valley appellation name?

The St Helena Star and Napa Vintner Tasting Panel decided to gather a number of red wines priced $25 and take a look.

Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese – they are all represented in this price category. At seeing the dozens of wines available, panelist and Master Sommelier Bob Bath stated: “I am delighted, this is really exciting to see.”

The full panel of 27 industry members tasted through four flights of six wines at The Culinary Institute of America’s Rudd Centre. US Congressman, Mike Thompson, joined the tasting panel, looking to see what was accomplished at these monthly gatherings.

Following the blind tasting of the wines, the panel discussed and answered that nudging question – were these value wines any good?

Bill Dyer of Dyer Vineyards started off the conversation emphatically. “No one was dumping poor quality wine”. Wayne Donaldson of Donaldson Wines agreed, noting, “The calibre overall was very good. Good concentration.”

Tom Simoneau, host of a wine program on Sonoma’s KSRO radio added: “The Napa blends in particular were fabulous.”

Bob Skupny, owner of Lang & Reed, a producer of respected Cabernet Franc wines, noted: “The quality represents Napa Valley even at this price range.”

From a retail perspective, Eric Carpenter of Dean & DeLuca wanted to see even more wines in this category. “A lot of people come in looking for wine for bocce or picnics”, Carpenter said, “We need more wine at these price points.”

As many panelists noted, there was not a flawed wine in the line-up. With so many winemakers on the panel, that is not common. There are usually numerous comments on how the wines could have been better. The panel indicated that the full range of wines was appreciated, but click through the pages to see which ones gained special mention.

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