There’s no question that Napa rules when it comes to California — make that New World — wine, especially cabernet. No other region outside of France makes red wine as delicious, famous, and collectible as Napa.
That’s exactly why wine lovers should set themselves a challenge when they’re pondering a shelf or a wine list: Try something not from Napa. It’ll be a trip out of your comfort zone, for sure. And even if that touriga nacional from Portugal (for example) turns out not to be your new favorite, you will be changed. You will get a red with more native flavors, unmasked by heavy-handed oak flavors and proud of its local distinctiveness. I guarantee you’ll save money, too.
I gave myself an especially difficult version of this challenge at a fancy steak house recently. For what I bagged on my safari out of Napa, click here:
The reason this was a particularly difficult challenge is because (like most steak houses of its class) Ruth’s Chris in Scottsdale, Arizona has a wine list that is sizable but dominated by Napa cabernet. Shiraz from Australia, red Bordeaux from France, and sangiovese from Italy all get a nod, but usually in the amount of four or five selections from only very recognizable producers.
Plus, last Friday our enthusiastic waiter came right out with a hard sale on a 2003 bottle of Beaulieu Vineyards Tapestry, a cabernet-based blend from, yes, Napa Valley. I have nothing against BV’s Tapestry. It would have been a safe choice, and at the 25% mark up the restaurant was featuring that night, a great buy.
But I tied myself like Ulysses to the mast of my convictions and narrowed things down to two single-vineyard cabernets, one from Washington State and the other from Chile. I was just about to go with the latter, a 2003 Vina Montes Alpha Apalta (about $55), when the waiter insisted that Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Water Creek 2004 ($67) was “far superior.”
The result? A dark purple cabernet with slightly earthy, super cedary aromas. Good with our steaks, and we drank the whole bottle, but overall we thought that the wine was tannic — that drying, puckering feel a red wine can give your mouth — so much so that one of our friends choked a little on her first sip. There was some complexity, with berries and a bit of forest floor, but I thought the wine was woody and showed signs of spending way too much time in new oak.
In short, we tried to escape Napa–but it followed us! Next time I will stick with my convictions and head south of the border.