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Exploring Napa Valley in China

By Mike Peters | | Updated: 2015-05-07 15:07

Temple's Sow notes that three things converged to stimulate the boom in Napa's wine industry. First, optimism about the potential of California's soil to produce good wine, in conjunction with a rise of wealth in the 1960s. Second, the "Judgement of Paris", a well-publicized 1974 blind-tasting event where California wines beat top French vintages. Third, the rise of Robert Mondavi, "a visionary who believed in the wine-making potential of Napa."

Sow notes that California wines are sometimes dismissed as "too oaky", but says that is very misleading. In the early days, when wines from the region were low quality, oak served as a cover, giving a gloss to cheap wines like gravy does over a cheap cut of meat. But proper oaking of good wine, however, is like putting a muscle shirt on an athlete: It showcases the best features.

"Oak is usually meant to add additional complexity to bold, powerful wines by complimenting the tannins with a slight sweetness," he says.

The French, of course, use oak, too.

"French oak barrels are typically more subtle and spicy, offering textures of satin or silk and slight sweetness," says Sow. "American barrels are stronger in flavor, adding hints of vanilla or coconut, resulting in creamier and richer-textured wines."

Tastes of Napa

For those interested in exploring iconic Napa wines, Charles Sow at Temple Restaurant Beijing recommends three at various (restaurant) price points:

Opus One, 2005 (9,000 yuan) Widely considered the benchmark for Napa winemaking. Opus was a cooperation between Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild; the first vintage was produced in 1985 to worldwide acclaim and recognition. Voluptous, powerful, rich, full.

Peter Michael, Les Pavots, 2010 (4,200 yuan) Blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Arguably the best Bordeaux-styled wine in Sonoma County. Founded by Sir Peter Michael, entrepreneur and former CEO of Cray UK, who was greatly inspired by the story of the Judgment of Paris.

Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, 2008 (1,480 yuan) Known for producing wines that are soft, plump and with gentle tannins, the company has a 40-year history, making it one of the oldest wine producers in the region. Solely dedicated to producing Napa-style cabernet sauvignon.


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