For Nikko Mabanta, Napa’s wines exist at a crossroads between work and play: When he isn’t on the clock as food and beverage manager at River Terrace Inn, he’s touring vineyards and skulking in wine cellars to stay acquainted with the region’s viticultural bounty. Now, Mabanta offers his expert opinion on which Napa Valley wines you need to uncork in 2019.
Groth Vineyards and Winery
2017 Sauvignon Blanc
While the wildfires of 2017 ravaged acres of NorCal wine country, Mabanta says nothing he’s heard (or sipped) so far suggests cause for concern over the region’s 2017 vintages – after all, some 85 percent of the grapes had already been harvested and put in barrels. Case in point: This white varietal from a small, family-owned, call-before-your-visit winery in Oakville, whose crispness, creaminess, and balance of grape, melon, and citrus notes makes for an ideal glass to savor while the summer sun beats down.
Silver Oak Cellars
2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The rustic Italianate tasting room makes Silver Oak Cellars, a nearly half-century-old winery in the middle of Oakville, one of Mabanta’s favorite day trips in the valley. And with notes of cranberry, chocolate, strawberries, truffle, and sage, this ruby-red varietal has a big, drinkable complexion that’s right at home alongside short ribs and filet mignon. For a variation on the same full-bodied theme, Silver Oak’s 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($125/bottle) offers elements of caramel, strawberry, black cherry, and pipe tobacco.
2011 Extra Brut
Just north of the valley in Calistoga, Schramsberg Vineyards offers sparkling varietals that evince the valley at its driest. The 2011 Extra Brut lacks residual sugar (less than 0.6g/100 mL) but not character. With notes of toasted almonds, baked pears, honeycomb, and peach cobbler, a glass pairs well with ceviche, caviar, oysters. (Mabanta adds that he, his girlfriend, and her best friend finished half a case within a week. “If you want bubbles, go to Schramsberg.”) The vineyard’s 2015 Blanc de Blanc ($40/bottle) is another standout: made with 100 percent chardonnay and offering notes of tropical fruit, lemon, and vanilla, it’s a match for dishes ranging from crab to chicken to gouda cheese. And if you have an afternoon to spare, pay a visit to Schramsberg and explore the massive wine cave on the premises.
Round Pond Estate
2017 Rutherford Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and fermented in stainless steel, this bright white wine brims with lemon and grapefruit and makes a perfect companion for fish dishes, Mabanta says. On the crimson side of things, the winery’s 2015 reserve cabernet ($110/bottle) hits notes of coffee and black fruit, a natural pairing with beef or pork. Round Pond also produces a range of flavored olive oils, vinegars, and citrus syrups, and the view from the terrace to the vines is worth seeing for oneself.
River Terrace Inn