The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 16 of 124

16 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 { bottom line } "THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE in this world," says Bill Murray's character in What About Bob?, "those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't"—which is as good a way as any to explain the widening gulf between the vast majority of American wine lovers and many of the sommeliers discreetly serving them in restaurants. Up until about six years ago, confesses Kelli White in her thorough and expansive new tome—Napa Valley, Then & Now (2015, Rudd Press)—she and husband Scott Brenner were New York City som - meliers who had little use for Napa Valley on their wine lists. As she writes in her Introduction, "We focused more on wines from Austria, or the Rhône, or Friuli . . . Scott and I knew more about the wines of Greece than of California." They had good reason to reject Napa Valley. Writes White, "The wine industry is currently engaged in a monumental backlash against extraction in favor of more balanced, food-friendly wines . . . Napa Valley had hung its hat on the production of oaky, heavily fruity wines . . . posh tasting rooms, the abun - dance of luxury dining, the well-groomed proprietors and the overwhelming perfec- tion of their estates—these same things that appear romantic and glamorous to visitors can be off-putting to sommeliers." Nonetheless, an invitation from Leslie Rudd allowing White and Brenner to become co-Wine Directors in Rudd's posh St. Helena eatery, PRESS Restaurant, proved irresistible; especially since the arrangement has allowed the two of them to pursue their ultimate goal of learning how to make their own wines. As you would expect, soon after their move to Napa Valley, says White, "I began to realize how narrow my broad East Coast perspective really was . . . Napa Valley is a veritable treasure trove of Cabernet alter - natives." Still, to understand Napa Valley you must understand the Cabernet culture: the people, vineyards and entire history behind it. The inspiration to become an author came when White immediately discovered there really was no book on Napa Valley containing hardcore information useful to working sommeliers. Cut to the chase: Ms. White has done a bang-up job putting together a book that not only includes nitty-gritty on every sig - nificant winery, winemaker and vineyard in Napa Valley (plus many so new that they fall under even the geekiest sommelier's radar), but she does it in a way that is entirely palatable to the most anti-Napa somme - lier. There are no presumptuous scores or ratings, for instance, but rather, extremely detailed notes on current releases and past vintages, each with a "wine gauge" that prof - fers "flavor evolu- tion . . . that may or may not prove to be accurate." In other words, like any sensible sommelier, White doesn't pretend her intellectual and sensory assessments, as deft as they are, have the exactitude of science—half the reason why many of today's sommeliers cannot abide numerical ratings, which infer a valuation impossible in matters as aesthetically divined as artisanal style wine. Especially top-quality, ultra-premium– priced Napa Valley wines which, as White makes clear in the sheer volume of her explications, are far more contingent upon variables of terroir, individuality, vintages and dynamics of evolving tools and styles than what even the most open-minded somme - liers may suspect. "Baby steps," the head-doctor recom- mends in What About Bob? For sommeliers seeking an authoritative reference that, in a way, makes Napa Valley "okay" again, what better than one composed by a sommelier who's been there and is doing that? KELLI WHITE'S NEW BOOK MAKES IT OKAY TO APPRECIATE NAPA WINES AGAIN by Randy Caparoso At Long Last, a Napa Valley Palatable to Somms PHOTO COURTESY OF KELLI WHITE

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