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New in Napa: Horizontal Tasting of Wines from 12 AVAs

You can now drink your way through most of Napa Valley in just one tasting.

Wine lovers are known to geek out over vertical tastings that feature different vintages of the same wine.

Now, a Napa winery is taking things in a different direction, inviting guests to sample same-vintage cabernet sauvignons from 12 of the Napa Valley’s 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

Presented by 1881 Napa—the latest venture from wine magnate Jean-Charles Boisset—these horizontal tastings are intended to give guests a sense of how terroir can change the taste, minerality, body, aroma, and texture of the same wine.

“We felt it was essential to give a comprehensive look at the Napa Valley and present it to the world in a way everyone could understand,” says Boisset, who, along with his team, has named the new tasting “Embark on a Journey Throughout the Valley.” The price tag: $175 for twelve 2-ounce pours. (For the math nerds out there, that’s just about a bottle’s worth of wine at roughly $14.50 per glass.)

The team at 1881 Napa takes a novel approach to winemaking.

Instead of vinifying grapes by vineyard block or vineyard, winemaker Thane Knutson separates grapes by appellation (or AVA) and makes distinct wines from each batch. (Thanks to the size of Boisset’s wine empire, Knutson can source grapes from 13 of the Napa Valley’s 16 AVAs). He then applies the same winemaking technique across the board: every batch spends the same amount of time in tanks, with skin on, and the wines are aged in the same percentage of French Oak barrels (about 50 to 60 percent).

Other tastings at 1881 Napa group the 12 AVA-specific cabernet sauvignons into three geographically distinct regions: Mountaintop, hillside, and valley floor. Each tasting comprises four wines from each region of the Napa Valley and lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. For the big tasting, guests receive samples of 12 wines and usually sip for 2 hours.

Each experience also includes visuals: Jars of soil from each AVA provide proof of the different terroir.

“The range of soils and flavors opens a door for fantastic conversations about what makes cabernet taste how it does,” says Knutson. “It’s always eye-opening how different neighboring appellations can be. St. Helena gives you a sexy and feminine texture on the palate. Rutherford, right next door, creates this powerful and dark cocoa texture. And that’s just those two.”

Boisset echoes this sentiment: “We’re really trying to change the perception that Napa is a one-trick pony when it comes to wine. We’re not just cab. We’re not just Bordeaux blends. And different location can create vastly different wine.”

At press time, 1881 Napa had sold 28 twelve-wine tastings—approximately seven per month since opening in June of this year. But, in true Boisset fashion, this is more than just a tasting room: the white Victorian just north of Oakville Grocery doubles as a museum of winemaking. It boasts 30-foot ceilings and two stories with distinctly different experiences.

Walls on the ground level are lined with one-of-a-kind decanters from Boisset’s personal collection, which tops 2,700 vessels. The second floor features a wraparound balcony with farm tools from the early days of winemaking in the Valley. There’s also a small room with photographs that tell stories of some of the most famous farmers from this era.

Perhaps the most iconic feature is on the ceiling: A map of the AVAs that comprise the Napa Valley.

Even if you don’t spring to taste wine, a visit to 1881 is a deep dive into the history of winemaking in Napa. Thankfully, there’s more than one way to drink it all up.

Open 7 days a week, 10 am to 6 pm, 7856 St. Helena Highway, Oakville, 707-948-6099, 1881napa.com.

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