The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 109 of 132

{ } 93 As a guiding principle, Shirley says he aims to take "a straightforward approach: as minimal intervention as you can get." In the Sauvignon Blanc, for example, "there's no oak, additives, or pixie dust. Napa Val - ley grows some of the best grapes in the world. It seems silly to use brute-force winemaking techniques or impose a wine - maker signature." For many wines, Shirley uses vineyards from cool areas of the valley, which results in juicy, nuanced wines ready to drink upon release—though the reds can get even better with some age. The Sauvignon Blanc, for example, is picked cold either late at night or early in the morning. The juice enjoys six to eight hours of skin con - tact with the best grapes, capturing more varietal character ; to maintain freshness, fermentation occurs slowly at tempera - tures in stainless steel. Exploring the Napa Cellars Portfolio In regards to Napa Cellars' recently-re- leased vintages, Shirley said he "wanted to portray how different the varietals are and not put them all through the same process at the expense of varietal character." "I've never thought barrel fermentation played into the strengths of Sauvignon Blanc, but our Chardonnay is barrel-fermented mostly with native yeasts," he adds. The 2016 Napa Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (13.9% ABV, SRP $20) overflows with pure aromas of guava, green apple, and tangy stone fruit. The mouthwatering palate has medium-plus body with riper tropical and stone fruit grounded by minerality. Creamy with very fine texture and lingering juiciness, the 2016 Napa Cellars Chardon - nay (13.9% ABV, SRP $22) features a rich palette of golden apple, pear, baking spice, crème brûlée, and a kiss of toasty oak. Because Shirley believes "Pinot gets boring really quickly in warm vineyards," Napa Cellars' version, made mostly with Dijon clones, sources fruit from the southern 10 percent of Napa Valley. He maintains his light approach during the production process, saying "Pinot Noir is the most versatile food-pairing wine there is. I don't see the point of doing anything with winemaking technique to reduce that." Napa Cellars' Pinot Noir tank ferments before finishing in barrels—largely similar to the Chardonnay, but with some medi - um-plus toast, too. Deep ruby in color, the 2015 vintage (13.8% ABV, SRP $24) has a core of dark red cherry accented by dark mineral, earth, toasted spice, and caramel, while the palate is juicy and long with medium-plus body. The 2015 Napa Cellars Merlot (14.5% ABV, SRP $24) is primarily from the Oak Knoll District, with about 5 percent sourced from the slightly cooler Carneros region (a bit also comes from Atlas Peak for grip). "You want the grapes to ripen," says Shirley, "but just barely." The wine macerates for 10–12 days before aging 18–24 months in barrel; dark ruby, it offers grilled black cherry, mocha, toasted oak, and mineral on the nose. Its long palate, meanwhile, features fine, structural tannins and flavors of black cherry, dark plum, caramel, medium-roast coffee, cocoa, and bay leaf. According to Shirley, "Napa Valley Merlot used to be worth more than Cabernet." "In 2006, we sold about an equal amount of both," he recalls, but in the wake of the "Sideways effect" and too much Merlot coming from vineyards best used for other varieties, the grape took a big hit. Now, Shirley says, "most remaining Merlot plant - ings are in areas it does really well in." For Cabernet Sauvignon, Shirley focuses on cap management and temperature to avoid relying on additives and fining. He also focuses on maximizing skin extraction and minimizing seed extraction. The 2015 Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (14.2% ABV, SRP $32) is deeply col - ored with robust aromas of cassis and mineral, which are highlighted by dark chocolate and dry herb. The gentle, mouthwatering palate shows medium- plus body and minerality with long-lasting flavors of blackberry, bay leaf, cassis, and chocolate. Finally, Napa Cellars Zinfandel always includes 10–15 percent Petite Sirah, as Shirley says the former's "explosion of over-the-top fruit upfront with drying tannins on the finish are fleshed out on the mid-palate by Petite Sirah." The 2015 Napa Cellars Zinfandel (14.9% ABV, SRP $26) is alive with ripe red and black ber - ries with mint and cocoa on the nose. On the palate, the intense flavors of this fruit comes covered in creamy dark chocolate and cocoa powder tannins on the finish. Tastings for small groups can be made at Napa Cellars without appointment. For more information, visit "Pinot Noir is the most versatile food-pairing wine there is. I don't see the point of doing any- thing with winemaking technique to reduce that." —Joe Shirley, Napa Cellars Winemaker

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - June / July 2018