- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $50-$75, depending on flight selection
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Napa, CA 94558
I’m surprised there aren’t more movies/videos on wine in the world today. Maybe people are too afraid to rock the market like the movie Sideways did to Merlot and Pinot Noir. One of the more recent ones to hit Netflix is the special “Decanted”, which follows and interviews a few winemakers from Napa. It starts with an interview of Heidi Barrett in her helicopter (awesome), but a majority of the movie revolves around the creation of a new winery that I hadn’t heard of before. Since I had been to almost (if not) all the other places featured or discussed in the special, I decided I needed to make a reservation and visit this new winery. I’m glad we did as we found some great wines and had a fun tasting experience in their wine cave!
Italics wasn’t just a good tasting. I think it may have been the most pleasant surprise of our last trip. And we visited 14 wineries too! Italics is nestled back in the north-western part of Coombsville, which is a newer AVA in the region that doesn’t have much press or attention yet (except maybe Paul Hobb’s Coombsville Cabernet and Favia which is owned by the Erickson power couple). Because Coombsville sees cooler temperatures than the valley floor, the wines from the region are fresher, more red fruit than black, and also enables winemakers to make varietal wines that may not turn out as well elsewhere in the valley, such as Viognier and Petit Verdot.
Italics is a little tricky to navigate to, but when you make your reservation, you should receive directions along with your email confirmation of the tasting. Still, you will need to pay attention to the road signs as you get to the last parts of the directions. Be sure to watch the Decanted Netflix special too since you’ll be able to see what the winery looks like in the video and then make sure the place you arrive at looks the same way. It definitely helped me out. After you arrive, you’ll be greeted by your wine ambassador with glasses of Chardonnay for your group. They’ll explain the history and background of the winery as you enjoy your wine overlooking their vineyards and the road leading to the winery (it is a really nice view). Afterwords, you’ll be led inside the wine cave for a tasting.
One of the interesting things I learned was a very interesting loophole in the tax law for California vineyards and wineries that Italics and some others (like Pine Ridge) take advantage of. Now, I may not get this exactly right, so if you are a millionaire looking to start a winery in Napa, please consult someone in the area with more expertise before writing off your taxes. But if your winemaking/wine sales facility occupies the same land as your grapes (ie. your vineyards grow over the top of your wine cave that you use for tastings and sales), the government can only tax you once for the land - it cannot tax you twice. So it can tax you once for growing the grapes on the land, but can’t tax you again for the wine sales using the same exact piece of land. Again, I’m not entirely sure that is an accurate explanation, but I learned enough to know that when I start my own winery one day, I should consult finance professionals that specialize in the wine business. Because that is a lot of money we are talking about…
Another interesting thing we learned about the winery is that it exists in its form today because of the escalated tensions between the USA and China these last few years. Apparently, Italics was originally owned and built by a Chinese businessman. However, he was unable to complete the winery before the tariffs between China and America were instantiated. Because he was no longer able to infuse more money into the winery (Chinese governement limited investment in US) and everything was unfinished, he had to sell the unfinished winery to the current owners, who appeared on the Netflix special. This part of the history isn’t really discussed, but it is really interesting how things work out someitimes.
The tasting in the cave was well executed. The lighting was well done, the cheese and characuterie pairing was fantastic (we hunted down the cheeses afterwards), the tasting cards were personalized for the group, and we got to dip into a few bottles that were not on the tasting menu. I’m sure the wine ambassador was happy they did that since one of those bottles (the Viognier) was our most purchased bottle! Our other favorite bottle was the Petit Verdot - both are uncommon to see as varietal bottlings in the Napa area. The 16 Appelations blend was also unusual - a blend of grapes from every AVA in the Napa region. This was far from your traditional “Chardonnay, Cabernet, Cabernet Reserve, plus one other varietal” tasting.
After some introductions and side-conversation (our wine ambassador used to live in the DC area before leaving it all behind and coming to Napa), we jumped headfirst into the wines.
- 2014 Sixteen Appellations ($75)
- More raisined character than the 2015 with deeper red rhubarb and spice notes. On the palate, the super smooth tannin and acid are drinking perfectly, yet would allow for aging. This is a people pleaser that will satisfy everyone. It also has a deep, underlying layer that has great concentration and length. Vines started growing here in 1990 but with 3309C Bordeaux clones that came around 1970. Meaning the vines will continue to improve with age and the quality of the wine will increase.
- 2015 Sixteen Appellations ($75)
- It’s brighter and leaps from the glass because there is no Petit Verdot, letting the Cabernet Franc shine freely. Fresh/slightly perfumed red fruit and white spice on the nose. More tannin and grip than the ‘14, but the complexity on the palate is intriguing. This wine also has the better aging potential. Some stem tannin or a green fennel to it as well? I can’t wait to see this wine in 5 years. Still cerebral now, but you may need to wait if you are looking for a people pleaser.
- 2015 Estate Coombsville ($95)
- I really enjoyed this wine and believe it’s a fantastic representation of the AVA. The nose has depth and concentration with ripe and dark red fruit. The acid is remarkable for a Cabernet - so bright yet elegant. The palate is very smooth with high ripe tannin, high acid, red fruit, some oak influence, and tertiary elements starting to develop. I can imagine this wine being complex and still bright in 10 years.
- 2016 St. Helena One of 16 ($125)
- The nose is darker red and black fruit and deeper than the Coombsville Estate Cabernet, but also a bit more restrained (medium+ intensity) with cocoa and vanilla. The palate is intense, richly concentrated, soft integrated tannin, and high acid. This wine is drinking really well right now - seductively delicious that is impossible to say no to.
- 2014 Petit Verdot Coombsville ($115)
- Restrained and powdery on the nose. The palate has such soft, very high, but fine grained tannins, great concentration and a variety of flavors that leaves you in a bit of disbelief. This wine is for those that like having wines that are different / off the beaten path. This is going to age really well and become very interesting… Still can’t believe a varietal Petit Verdot could turn out like this in Napa.
- 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc ($125)
- Beautiful pronounced perfume of crushed candied cherry and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is lighter bodied (medium), but the flavors are still intensely pronounced and a little less ripe than the red fruit displayed on the nose. Not a complex as I traditionally like my Cabernet Francs, but I could still drink an entire bottle myself.
I highly recommend a visit to Italics, both for the wine and the story. For my friends that came on the trip with me, they had a blast getting their families to watch Decanted over winter break and then talk about all the different places that were featured (including Italics) and how they were able to visit all of them. It’s at least one step up from just showing pictures of the places, haha.
Even without that claim to fame, the wine is great, different, and the tasting experience is above par. So what are you waiting for?
Rating: 96 out of 100