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Interesting White Wines
Napa Varietal Series
WRITTEN BY Jillian Dara


Published On: June 27, 2023
Pictured above: Albarino Vineyards. Photo courtesy of Artesa Vineyards and Winery

When it comes to white wine in Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay may exist as the most prominent varieties – but that doesn’t mean they are the only styles produced here. Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Albariño, Viognier, Picpoul, and Riesling are all outliers for some growers and vintners, but that’s what makes them unique, along with their vibrant, untraditional characteristics.

Aloft Chenin Blanc // Photo by Suzanne Becker Bronk

In the 1970s, Chenin Blanc was the most widely planted grape in Napa Valley; there was even a point when there was more of this thin-skinned, high-acid grape variety found in California than in its native Loire Valley in France. However, in the early 80s, many Chenin Blanc vines were purged to make room for Cabernet Sauvignon – following its acclaim as the best-performing grape at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. In recent years, this style of wine has returned on the West Coast, with vintners appreciating the grape’s versatility; it thrives in sandy soils, resulting in light wines and clay soils, which produce more full-bodied wines. It also retains its acidity through the region’s increasingly warm summers, so more and more of it is making an appearance within Napa Valley winery portfolios.

Riesling was another popular grape in the 70s – it was Chateau Montelena’s first release in 1972, and Trefethen released their dry style in 1974, now a signature in their portfolio. The variety hails from Germany and is now predominantly associated with the vinified regions along the Rhine River, such as Austria, France, and Switzerland. The wines range on a scale from dry to sweet, consistently high in acid with definitive characteristic notes of petrol.

Like Riesling, Muscat can range from dry to sweet dessert wine, but many winemakers focus on the drier styles following modern consumer preference. As one of the oldest grapes, there are now many varieties under the Muscat family, including the famed Moscato Bianco in northern Italy, which gives way to Moscato D’Asti, a light sparkler enjoyed at lunch or as an aperitivo. The grape flourishes in full sun and well-draining soils (like limestone).

Artesa Pyramid Block Albariño // Photo by Sarah Anne Risk

Albariño, also called Alvarinho in its popular growing regions of Spain (Rias Baixas) and Portugal (Vinho Verde), is a late-ripening grape that benefits from cooler maritime climates. In Napa, this means the grape prefers the Southern end of the region, like Los Carneros, where the ocean breeze cools the vineyards. The oceanic influence on this grape is pertinent for its saline-rich mouthfeel and lingering minerality.

Picpoul de Pinet is a designated AOC in its native Languedoc-Roussillon, but recently the Picpoul grape – which can’t be branded as Picpoul de Pinet outside its AOC – is garnering a gradual following stateside, especially on the West Coast, where it can retain acid through Napa’s warmest days, late into the growing season. Tablas Creek first brought Picpoul to the U.S. and produced their first harvest in 2003. Its name directly translates to “lip-stinger,” reflecting the extremely acidic yet refreshing sipper.

The Viognier grape is most prominently grown in the Rhône Valley to make Condrieu. In Napa, the full-bodied white wine, simply called Viognier, is trendy as an alternative to Chardonnay as it can benefit from oak aging to develop a creamier taste punctuated by hints of vanilla. Los Carneros and Oak Knoll are common AVAs for Viognier, as the vineyards are cooler yet provide enough sun for the grapes’ ripening.


Below, discover some of the most interesting
white wines currently grown in Napa.


Mondavi Sisters’ Collection 2022 Aloft Chenin Blanc, $275 for a 3-pack

Sourcing from 80-year-old vines, winemaker Angelina Mondavi and her sisters have resurrected vines initially planted by their grandfather, Peter Mondavi Sr., in Pope Valley. The grapes are cold fermented (a process developed by Mondavi Sr.) in stainless-steel drums and one new French Oak barrel, which contributes a layer of complexity to the mouthfeel, permitting the delicate aromas of Meyer lemon and lime zest, white peach, and nectarine to still shine through; it’s zesty with a rounded, creamy finish. Pair with grilled chicken kebabs or simply seasoned grilled white fish.


LOLA Wines 2022 LOLA Artisanal Series Dry Muscat Straw Wine, $75

In 2021, LOLA Wines acquired a 1.5-acre block of Orange Muscat in Calistoga, originally planted in the early 1970s. They decided to create a straw wine from these grapes – the grapes are dried on straw mats to concentrate the sugar and retain acidity — however, unlike most straw wines, LOLA’s style is completely dry (meaning, it’s not sweet). The wine offers notes of ripe, tropical fruit, like guava and mango, with bright acidity and satiating freshness on the palate. Pair with Vietnamese summer spring rolls dipped in a tangy chili sauce.


Artesa 2021 Pyramid Block Albariño, $35

Paying tribute to Artesa’s Spanish roots, this single vineyard Albariño offers quintessential floral notes, like jasmine, while the palate is citrus-forward and finishes with a clean minerality. The grapes are hand-harvested from 25-year-old vines in Los Carneros. Winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper fermented and aged this vintage for six months on its lees in a small, temperature-controlled concrete tank, which results in enhanced flavor and textural notes. Pair with fish or shrimp tacos.


Darioush 2021 Signature Viognier, $55

Produced from Darioush’s Estate Vineyard in Oak Knoll, this Viognier is fresh, fragrant, and exotic. Despite the signature series’ hallmark of floral aromatics with juicy stone fruit, every sip has undeniable vibrancy. Layers evolve on the palate, where flavors of apricot and nectarine are brightened by spice notes of ginger and nutmeg and conclude with a lasting citrus finish. Pair with soft Brie atop nutty crackers or a buttery seared scallop dish.


Tres Sabores 2022 Picpoul Blanc, $36

The grapes for this zippy wine were sourced from two high-elevation vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, which allowed the grapes to retain flavor before a simple fermentation in stainless steel. This winemaking process ensured the wine held onto its bursting tropical aromas (pear and coconut) and vibrant acidity. Pair with crab cakes or clams casino.


Trefethen 2022 Dry Riesling, $30

This family-owned winery has been producing Riesling since (nearly) the beginning. It’s not only food-friendly, best paired with spicy cuisines like Thai green curry or Indian tandoori, but also recognized for its ageability. Expect aromas of stone fruit with delicate white flowers and a clean palate accented by lime zest.


Ashes & Diamonds 2019 Crémant No. 1 Extra Brut, $75

For their foray into sparkling wine, Ashes & Diamonds collaborated with Petaluma-based bubble master Michael Cruse from Cruse Wine Co. The blend of 73% Chardonnay and 27% Pinot Noir was produced in méthode champenoise and aged on its lees for 31 months. The sparkling wine was disgorged in March and just released. Warm brioche and hazelnut entice on the nose, with Honeycrisp apple and rounded effervescence in the mouth. Pair with oysters on the half-shell.

Ashes & Diamonds Cremant // Photo by Emma K Morris