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Picks from Napa Valley

Saturday - 6/25/2011, 10:23am  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Yes, Virginia, there really are some wine values in Napa Valley, California. But just like the early gold rush, you have to mine for those nuggets.

I have just returned from a whirl wine (or is that wind?) tour out west where I spent three days judging just over 400 wines in the San Francisco International Wine Competition and then rewarding myself with three glorious - and hot - days kicking around the wine-fantasy world of Napa Valley.

After tasting all of those wines at competition - winners to be announced at a future show - kicking back and sampling a hand-picked selection of Napa's best was a welcomed relief.

Wines I tasted ranged in price from $15 a bottle all the way up to $500!!! a bottle. Needless to say, I enjoyed the later on someone else's charity. But for us mere mortals who still have car payments, here are a few wines in the "reasonable" price range that you might have to hunt around for, but it will be worth the effort.

The 2009 Neal Family Sauvignon Blanc is made from 100 percent organically grown grapes. The first thing you notice is the floral bouquet of acacia flowers and ripe mango fruit. The smooth, juicy mouthfeel exudes bright tropical fruit, including guava, mango and papaya, and finishes crisp and fresh with a pop of grapefruit on the finish. Just $18 for this remarkable wine.

Owners Randy and Lisa Lynch call their 2006 Bennett Lane Winery, Maximus a "Red Feasting Wine" and it's easy to see why. The blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec results in a wine that opens with aromas blackberry, violets and chocolate covered cherries. On the palate the wine displays flavors of dark berries, mocha and more ripe cherry fruit. With elegant, velvety tannins that enhance the mouthfeel, the wine has a long fruit driven finish and pairs well with practically everything. $35

I am not a fan of over-oaked, over-extracted chardonnay wines - particularly ones made from fruit grown in the hot climate of the Napa Valley floor, but the beautifully balanced 2008 Signarello Chardonnay is stunning. It is a lesson in new-age California Chardonnay where the fruit is grown, managed, harvested from old-age vines and made on site. This kind of control helps produce a wine with a nose of creamy pears, orange blossoms and roasted nuts that lead to lovely flavors of green apples, tropical fruits and a hint of baked pear and butterscotch on the delightful finish. This is a wine in search of seared scallops. $42

While the name Silver Oak may not conjure up an association with delicately nuanced Pinot Noir, the famous producer of big California Cabernet's sibling, Twomey Cellars sure does. Their 2009 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley is their first vineyard designated Pinot Noir bottling. Made from organically farmed fruit, the wine is crafted in a forward style, featuring aromas of sweet strawberry and wild raspberries on the nose and repeated on the palate where they are joined by lush, ripe berries and undercurrents of red currants and violets, all built on a graceful framework with a fine balance between tannins and acidity. $50

Kirk Venge has definitely stepped out of the shadow of his father, legendary winemaker, Nils Venge and into his own spotlight. And his 2008 Venge Vineyards Silencieux (The Silent One) Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is proof. Much of the fruit for this labor of love comes from vineyards that Kirk's family has farmed for nearly a half-century and the name, Silencieux, is a tribute to these old vineyards that stand silent and bear consistent grapes year after year. The wine opens with scents of blackberries, cassis, licorice and coffee on the nose and then leads to flavors of black fruit, black current and minerals on the concentrated, viscous palate.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP & Scott Greenberg. All Rights Reserved.)