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. Here are eight outstanding bottles that cost only a fraction of the cult names and reflect where Napa reds currently stand.
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.
Gibbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Three Clones 2018
Very pretty sweet-berry and bark character to the blueberry and black cherry aromas that follow through to a medium to full body with firm, silky tannins and a creamy finish. Nicely crafted and balanced. Very drinkable now and beautiful, but best after 2023.
Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2018
Very attractive aromas of blackcurrants, black olives and dark leather with some cedar. It’s full-bodied with firm, silky tannins and a refined, polished finish. Shows finesse and focus. Grows on the palate. Really delicious now, but will improve with age. Drink or hold.
Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Grace Benoist Ranch 2018
Vivid strawberry and dried-flower aromas here with hints of sandalwood. Medium to full body with firm, creamy tannins and a tangy finish. Opulent, tight and focused. Pumice and black and white-pepper notes. A pretty wine already, but give it a year or two to open and soften. Drink after 2021.
Kirkland Signature Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 2018
Aromas of dried berries, citrus rind and flowers follow through to a full-bodied palate with creamy, juicy tannins that have an underlying chocolate and lightly nutty flavour. Fine tannins. A rich wine, but always fresh. Drink now.
Courtney Benham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2018
Lots of blackberries and wet earth with mahogany and spice. Full-bodied, tight and composed with long, silky tannins. Shows length and depth. Drink after 2021, but already beautiful. Screw cap.
Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2018
Deep and manicured with blueberry and blackberry aromas and flavours. Full-bodied and tight with super polished tannins and a racy finish. Beautifully crafted tannins make this exciting. Better after 2022, but already beautiful. Screw cap.
Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2018
A complex nose of fresh berries, olives, herbs and spices. Balanced, velvety palate with nice harmony and elegant tannins. Long, savoury finish. Delicious. Drink or hold.
Schug Pinot Noir Carneros 2018
Dried strawberries with bark and fresh-mushroom undertones. Black-tea notes, too. Full-bodied, yet tightly wound with firm tannins that frame the wine nicely. Soft, creamy tannins. Drink or hold.
This article first appeared in the June 2021 issue of Prestige Thailand.