American wine simply wouldn’t be where it is today without Napa, as the region’s unmistakable style put American wine on the global map and has helped many local producers become beloved household brands. But hype often begets over-hype, which is why it’s unsurprising that some of the region’s wines earn recognition linked more to the buzz around the prestige of Napa Valley rather than their balance, taste, and overall quality.
To pin down a few Napa wines that might not be quite what they’re said to be, we asked five wine professionals to share their thoughts.
“Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most sought-after Napa wines, and in my opinion, one of the most overrated. Napa Cabs are moving into a homogenous territory. They all seem to have the same unexciting building blocks, and this one is no exception. Hallmarks of Caymus Cab include ripe or overripe fruit, aggressive tannins, extraction, and high alcohol. There is nothing interesting or surprising about this wine. You know exactly what you’re going to get, which is quite boring for someone interested in wine.”—Brianne Cohen, sommelier/wine educator, Los Angeles
“Once, I used the dregs of a current release Schrader and mixed it equal parts with Coca-Cola to make the classic botellón cocktail, Kalimotxo. It was super delicious. But the last time I tried a Kalimotxo with a 2002 Beckstoffer To Kalon, and the wine was all tannin with little fruit and plumpness to balance it.” ––Daniel Pendleton, sommelier, Lazy Bear, San Francisco
“Napa Valley is well known for producing some of the world’s best wines, such as rich and luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, fruity Merlots, and buttery Chardonnay. But to say which wine of Napa valley specifically would be overrated would be a bit harsh. Winemaking is difficult and spending your life in the vineyard and the cellar takes major teamwork. So, I’d have to say that the specific style of Napa Wines that are overrated are the overly extracted, rich wines that lack “lift.” —Julien Moreno, head sommelier, Benoit New York, NYC
“I feel all wine has a home! Being that I enjoy natural wine, I am not a fan of the overall style that wine from Napa is known for.” —Brandi Carter, beverage director, Elvie’s, Jackson, Miss.
“I have to go with Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s iconic, and there is obviously a lot of money directed toward marketing this wine. But it’s more about what they choose to do, style-wise, with their high-quality fruit. At $82 per bottle, Caymus seems overshadowed by so many other similarly priced Napa Cabernets that more clearly showcase the terroir of Napa Valley. On the restaurant floor, I never had to actively sell Caymus. It always sold itself because of its excellent marketing and novice-friendly style — overripe, thick, over-extracted, and heavy-handedness of oak, in conjunction with a little residual sugar and no tannin structure. To me, this wine says much more about brand-making than any sense of place. You know, “cocktail Cabernet.” —Jayme Henderson, sommelier/winemaker, The Storm Cellar, Hotchkiss, Colo.