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Will Napa ever be the same?

Will Napa ever be the same?

Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Greetings and happy fall to you and your family. We’ve got some great wine Q+A this month! For those of you just tuning in, you can reach me at, Michael@passionvines.com. I welcome you to contact me with any wine-related questions and I will use this monthly column to answer them.

Tom J. from Margate asks, Is Beaujolais technically part of Burgundy? I love Burgundy but struggle to like wine from Beaujolais. Do you recommend any wines from Beaujolais that are more on the earthy side, and not so fruity?

Beaujolais is indeed a part of Burgundy from a political and administrative standpoint, but its climate and soils more closely resemble the northern Rhone Valley. As a result, the grape variety of choice is the red Gamay. Additionally, the wine making process of carbonic maceration creates a light, fruity wine that is easy-drinking and meant to be consumed while young; this is quite a contrast to the long-lived, highly structured red wines made from Pinot Noir from farther north. Lots of basic Beaujolais wines fall into the category of light and fruity, but if you are looking for something with a little more “teeth,” give a “Cru” level Beaujolais wine a try. Villages named Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, and Cote de Brouilly offer an earthier, terroir-driven wine with more tannin and acidity to complement the berry fruit core

Donna R. from Linwood asks, I heard you mention the term “clone” when speaking of Tuscany and specifically Sangiovese. What exactly is a clone?

Over many centuries, grape varieties adapt to different climatic conditions so that they can thrive. As a result, these mutations lead to variants or “clones” of grape varieties. A specific clone could make fruity wines while others are more resistant to fungus, and yet another may be more tannic. Specifically to Sangiovese, the Sangiovese Grosso clone is the one you find in the great wines of Brunello di Montalcino, while the Prugnolo Gentile clone is used in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Head to the southern coast of Tuscany, and you will find Sangiovese being referred to as Morellino (di Scansano). Each clone has been uniquely developed with time to adapt to unique conditions in the vineyard.

Rich C. from Brigantine, In light of the recent Glass Fires in California, how long do you feel it will take to “rebuild”… will Napa ever be the same?

It’s been a rough 2020 all around, and when it comes to wine no area has been hit harder than Napa and Sonoma thanks to the Glass Fires. As opposed to 2017 when the California wildfires came through around October 8th (and 90% of grapes had already been harvested), the Glass Fires came through right in the heart of harvest time. While the economic impact is still evolving, some are estimating that a significant number of wineries will not even make a single wine for the 2020 vintage due to either property damage or smoke getting into the ripened grapes. Sure there will be some properties that have not been impacted and it will be business as usual, but between the fires and the pandemic, the overall picture in Napa has not yet come into focus.

Courtney H. from Avalon, I love Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, but struggle to find it for under $30 per bottle. What other regions do you recommend that may deliver a similar profile?

It is true that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon carries a lot of clout with consumers and critics alike. Grapes command high prices, land is not cheap, and as a result the finished wines are going to cost plenty to buy. If you are looking for an alternative that is a little more budget-friendly, you can look to South America where Chile makes bright, fruit-forward, aromatic Cabernet Sauvignon that is often lightened every so slightly with some mouth-watering acidity. Argentina’s Cabernet’s tend to mirror Napa as far as body and density goes, but with a licorice and black pepper finish. Want something that’s got a little more smoke and savory character? Check out a Cabernet from South Africa, which will give you a unique wine-drinking experience.

Lastly, we finish with me asking YOU a question. Email me the answer, and I’ll reply with a prize.

Q: What is the grape variety of “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano” and “Montepulciano D’Abruzzo?”

a. They are both Sangiovese

b. They are both Montepulciano

c. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is Sangiovese, whereas Montepulciano D’abruzzo is Montepulciano

d. They are both Prugnolo Gentile

You keep asking, and I’ll keep writing…

Drink Passionately,

Michael (Michael@passionvines.com)

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