Value in The Valley
One acclaimed Napa producer described the 2018 yield as two vintages in one, with the wines showing the intensity and poise that come with great drinkability. james suckling reports on eight outstanding bottles that cost only a fraction of the cult names
Napa Valley 2018 reds veered away from a hedonistic style to become more balanced, restrained and drinkable. The slow and long growing season made it easy for wineries to be more precise, setting their own pace in the vineyards and making balanced, harmonious and intellectual wines with less manipulation. They’re no longer just ripe, packed and loud, with oak footprints and flashy, sweet-fruit flavours; these are now wines with real character, transparency and nuance.
“Drinkability” is a salute to freshness, balance and harmony. Great drinkability can mean fresh, vibrant fruit, sufficient acidity, polished tannin, finesse, purity and transparency. This means no overripe fruit, jumpy alcohol or manipulation in the winemaking, such as excessive extraction or added flavours like oak. Drinkability often goes hand in hand with the authenticity of wines – those that honestly reflect the terroir and vintage, and are made as naturally as possible. As a result, consumers can appreciate these wines earlier, which also suits modern wine-drinking habits, with people’s ability patiently to hold on to a great bottle wearing thin.
On the other hand, drinkability is no excuse for simple, diluted wines. The wines should possess sufficient soul and spirit to hold our interest. For Napa, 2018 was such a vintage, with wines showing intensity and poise. Some can easily be approached now. Paul Hobbs, an acclaimed Napa winemaker, pointed out that the only problem for 2018 seemed to be too much yield, describing it as two vintages in one. “I’ve never seen in my 40 years a vintage with that much crop,” he says. “We put more than 60 percent – and in some cases 70 percent – of the crop on the ground, and we still got normal yields. It was insane.”
Another message from 2018’s Napa reds is how affordable they can be. Of course, Napa’s red wines don’t often hit our radar when we’re looking at value, but it’s not impossible to discover outstanding bottles that cost only a fraction of the cult names. Carneros, an AVA shared by Napa and Sonoma, is also a fine source now for Pinot Noir under US$50. The high-street Costco’s Kirkland Signature Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 2018 costs less than $15 and is a top example of quality Carneros pinot.
The following eight bottles (all rated 93-94 points) of the 2018 vintage, including five Napa Cabernet Sauvignons and two pinots from Carneros, show where Napa reds currently stand, straddling drinkability, quality and value. If you don’t have the patience to wait for Napa reds to come around and open up, these wines should be on top of your shopping list. Of course, you could still lay them down for at least another two to four years, which would work out just as well.