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Boxed Wine Debunked

Columnist: Christina Julian
March, 2013 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

As my first year as the Napa Insider bleeds into the next, two of my favorite rants are still kicking in 2013—the Napa Pipe Project and our not-so-fair Napa County roadways. At the top of the year, our roadways were named some of the worst in the Bay Area. One has to wonder why, given the amount of loot floating around in these parts. But inflicted locals took a stand during the November election to ensure an eventual end to our rocky roads by passing Measure T with a rousing 74 percent approval. The measure manifests in the form of a half-cent sales tax hike, which commandeers a $282 million road improvement plan over the next several years.
At the first board of supervisors’ hearing on January 14, the Napa Pipe Project got another boot in the butt when public comments raged on for four hours with 60 residents stepping up to the pulpit. Some cried out against the plan’s proposed Costco, fearing its potential impact on smaller wine retailers, while the majority of supervisors appeared to be in favor of the housing aspect of the 154-acre site, provided city services and annexation provisions are established. But the kick in the tush wasn’t big enough, as the decision was delayed to May 14. Until then, the parties can continue to haggle over the city’s involvement in water supply in exchange for potential revenue sharing and project entitlements.

Dining on a dime

For food fiends who have only dreamt about affordable eats in Yountville, that pipedream is well on its way to becoming a reality with the opening of the Italian trattoria Ciccio in the former Gordon’s Café space. Affordable edibles abound at this joint that feels culinary and homey all at once. The Altamura wine family behind the new roost is building a fast fan base with tasty eats and reasonable rates. Breakfasts weigh in at $3 to $6 and dinners typically top out at $15. Here’s hoping it stays that way. Maybe the Napa Valley of my dreams does still dance in the distance after all. For now, I’ll perpetuate my transcendent state over the gorgonzola pancetta wood-fired pizza with a crust I dub one of the most worthy around. This comes from the biggest NYC pizza snob in town. I’m vigilant when it comes to procuring the perfect crust and this one makes the mark.

Changing the face of Chablis

Utter the word “Chablis” in America, and some not-so-choice descriptions like “cheap” and “tasteless” might begin to fly. I can say this being birthed from East Coast parents who forever proclaim, “If it doesn’t come from a box, we don’t want it!” Having since migrated to the more fruitful pastures of Napa County, my sentiments about the wine market have changed, though until recently, my opinions about Chablis remained marred. Luckily, as a columnist, I make an effort to be more broadminded than my birthright, especially when presented with an opportunity to taste the difference.One such chance came knocking late last year when the ambassador of the Chablis Commission, Jean-François Bordet (also winemaker of Séguinot-Bordet) came to America to demystify some misconceptions about Chablis.
The first note of distinction is also one of the biggest points of confusion. Chablis is known as both a region and a type of wine. Let’s focus on the former, located in the Burgundy region of France, between Paris and Beaune. The vast grape plantings stretch across approximately 13,343 acres with four distinctions when it comes to the wines: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. The Chablis region is comprised entirely of Chardonnay grapes, which, my taste buds can now attest, taste nothing like the butter-and-oak-bomb Chardonnays we’re all too familiar with here.
The Chablis Commission event, held at Solbar in Calistoga (with other renditions around the country), was dedicated to opening American eyes to the fruits of French Chablis. By night’s end, I found a couple things to be true. First off, French Chablis is cheap, but unlike my parent’s shabby boxed rendition, the taste and quality of the European stuff is anything but. Of the seven wines I sampled, most ranged between $16 and $35, a pittance in these parts, with a couple heavyweights coming in at more than $60. One of my favorites, the elegant, crisp and rich 2009 Domaine Pinson Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu, paired superbly with a sunchoke agnolotti pasta.
The next misnomer brings things back to the taste of Chablis. If it’s made from Chardonnay grapes, why does the French rendition taste so un-Chardonnay like? “Our Chablis is neither oaky, nor buttery,” says Bordet. “We’re finding this stereotype is no longer prevalent. Consumers today are looking for less-oaky wines. This is basically the DNA of Chablis, its purity coming from the terroir, specifically the Kimmeridgian clay. Thanks to this purity, it awakens your senses and lets the wine be in harmony with a multitude of dishes. The purity of Chablis isn’t a handicap, but rather its greatest asset.”
Bordet leaves me with one last nugget sure to forever erase my boxed-wine nightmares: “For us, it’s a simple process. You wantto keep terroir and the characteristics of Chardonnay. We don’t want to change everything, we want to keep the natural characteristics. Weather also plays a dramatic role: Within the four appellations, there are 40 different climate types.”
Over the years, my views on wine have been tainted not only by parental influences but by social media mood swings, wine scores and the highfalutin wine geek speak that serves as Wine Country party chat. For now, I’m inspired to let my Chablis lesson remind me that views of the past no longer need to jade my future. In the end, the only opinion that should matter is our own.



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