Wine Talk: Napa Valley Fire Update

November 2, 2020 Updated: November 3, 2020

On Oct. 20, Cal Fire announced the Napa Valley’s devastating Glass fire was 100 percent contained. The Glass fire, which raged for 23 days, was perhaps the most destructive in the history of America’s most prominent wine region.

The wreckage included 67,000 acres burned and more than 1,500 structures destroyed or damaged, including such iconic wineries as Newton and Cain Cellars and the Michelin three-star restaurant at the famed Meadowood Resort.

Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, which ignited east of St. Helena in what is known as the Upper Valley. The fire eventually jumped to the other side of the valley, threatening wineries and homes on Diamond and Spring mountains to the west, with flames reaching well into parts of Sonoma County.

Besides the personal and property destruction, a good portion of the harvest, particularly cabernet sauvignon, remained unpicked at the time the fire broke out. The worry now is that so-called smoke taint will render the grapes from many vineyards useless for wine production. Having been through similar fire events in the recent past, smart winemakers will simply dump the forbidden (tainted) fruit if lab tests come back showing high levels of smoke.

With most of the harvest complete at this writing, there is still apprehension in both Napa and Sonoma counties. Conditions remain dry, and gusting Santa Ana winds forced a “red flag” warning on Oct. 25. PG&E took the precaution of cutting power to thousands of residents in the region to reduce the fire risk.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Avalon 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi ($10.99): Need a house wine for everyday consumption but don’t want tart or insipid? This vintage from Avalon is the ticket. It shows impressive palate weight and depth, ripe cherry and plum aromas, a hint of oak vanillin, and a long finish. And the price won’t break the piggy bank. Best value. Rating: 88.

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Avalon 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi. (Courtesy of Avalon Winery)

Santa Cristina 2018 Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($9.99): You might call this a “baby” Super Tuscan. It’s affordable, made for immediate consumption, and utterly delicious. A blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah, the flavors are ripe and balanced, showing nice complexity of dark and red fruit aromas. It has excellent palate weight and good persistence through the finish. It’s from the Antinori stable of wines, so quality standards are high. And it’s hard to argue with the price. Best value. Rating: 88.

Santa Rita 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘120 Reserva Especial,’ Valle Central, Chile ($6.99): The world needs more drinkable everyday wines like this because it will keep you from raiding the wine cupboard for the “good” stuff every night. Easy-drinking, quaffable, and well-balanced, the Santa Rita Reserva Especial from the vintage is fresh and juicy, shows red and black fruit aromas, and has smooth tannins. Best value. Rating: 86.

Dutton-Goldfield 2018 Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch/Walker Hill Vineyard, Green Valley ($50): Winemaker Dan Goldfield strikes again. Goldfield has a deft touch with chardonnay, producing many of the finest in California from a selection of exceptional terroirs. This wine is a combination of fruit from the Dutton Ranch and Walker Hill Vineyard, located in the Russian River Valley’s coolest subzone, Green Valley. Richly layered, it shows gorgeous aromas of pear and apple with a touch of toasty oak and oak-inspired spice notes. Rating: 97.

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Dutton-Goldfield 2018 Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch/Walker Hill Vineyard, Green Valley. (Courtesy of Dutton-Goldfield)

Clarice 2018 Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands ($85): Winemaker Adam Lee’s 2018 pinot noir from the famed Rosella’s vineyard is remarkably expressive, exploding on the palate with laser precision and great intensity. Earthy and spicy, it delivers layers of black cherry and blueberry, a kiss of toasty oak, and impressive length. Rating: 96.

Merry Edwards 2018 Pinot Noir, Klopp Ranch, Russian River Valley ($66): One of the most complex pinot noirs produced by Merry Edwards, the Klopp Ranch exhibits exceptional depth and palate weight, showing intense black cherry and plum aromas, a touch of earthy forest floor, and fall spices supported by firm tannins that will give this superb pinot life beyond the here and now. Rating: 96.

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Merry Edwards 2018 Pinot Noir, Klopp Ranch, Russian River Valley. (Courtesy of Merry Edwards)

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2018 ‘Aveta’ Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($26): This vintage of Aveta sauvignon from Stag’s Leap is fresh and crisp, showing notes of mown grass and grapefruit, refreshing acidity, and excellent persistence of flavor through the finish. Rating: 90.

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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2018 ‘Aveta’ Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. (Courtesy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars)

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Email Robert at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com. Copyright 2020 Creators.com