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June 5, 2011

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Napa's boutique beauties

MANY of the world's major wine producers are now present in the China market, but there are many small wineries with outstanding wines that are yet to appear over here. Napa Valley is no exception. With some notable anomalies such as the wineries I featured last week (Opus One, Joseph Phelps, Stag's Leap), corporate-controlled winemaking in the United States has gotten it all wrong over the past decade plus. In my opinion, the most exciting wines in California are being made by small, family-owned wineries.

On my recent jaunt to Napa I tasted some incredible wines from boutique producers. Most of the wines from these small producers are not yet available in China, but I did visit four top boutique producers that do have wine available in Shanghai. If you love boutique shopping for the finest made goods then you'll love these wines.


John and Emma Salvestrin purchased land in Saint Helena in 1932 and started selling grapes from their property a few years later. Today, three generations of Salvestrins now live on the 26-acre property making some of Napa's most intriguing wines. Rick Salvestrin is a dynamic winemaker with a range of high-quality wines. Our group tasted the Salvestrin Sauvignon Blanc, a stylish dry white with good acidity, and three delicious Cabernet Sauvignons. Perhaps the most popular of the wines we tasted was the 3D wine that is named after his three daughters. The other Cabernets are available in China but unfortunately the 3D is not.


Established on the lower part of Howell Mountain in 1986, Viader has become one of Napa's most respected wineries. Due to the success of her wines and charming personality, owner-winemaker Delia Viader has been called the queen of Napa. Her wines are certainly majestic. The winery is picturesquely perched on the mountain overlooking Napa Valley with winemaking facilities and barrels inside a capacious cave in the mountain. We tasted several Viader wines including the signature Viader Proprietary Blend Red Blend, a powerful yet beautifully balanced blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Cabernet Franc and a Petit Verdot wine simply know as V. In case you don't know, Petit Verdot is a late ripening grape that is extremely difficult to cultivate. But when done right, as it certainly is in V, it makes stunning wines of deep color and depth. This was one of my favorite wines of the trip. All of the wines we tasted including a new single variety wine called DARE Tempranillo were extremely well-made.


Owners Mike Moone and MaryAnn Tsai played key roles in bringing Beringer wines to prominence. Husband Larry Tsai runs the operation while French winemaker Philippe Melka sports an impressive background of Bordeaux winemaking experience with Chateaux Haut Brion and Petrus. We tasted several lovely wines. My favorites were an elegant 2009 Chardonnay, luscious 2008 Mountain Merlot Blend and majestic Cor Leonis Cabernet Sauvignon. The first shipment of these wines should be available in Shanghai next month.

Cakebread Cellars

It's a stretch to call it a boutique winery but it is still a family-owned and managed winery that crafts wines of personality and distinction. We tasted a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, an award-winning Chardonnay combining complexity and depth and a Merlot - all feature the distinctive Cakebread balance and elegance with typical Napa intensity.


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