Quality Control: Antica Napa Chardonnay

The other evening I pulled the cork on a bottle of Meursault from a well-known Burgundy producer. It was only a village wine, but I anticipated enjoying a drop of real burgundy with my piece of turbot. It was not to be, for the wine was thin, watery, and uninteresting. I have drunk more flavorsome Mâcons for less than half this bottle's $40 price tag. Why do burgundies so often disappoint?

It was on to plan B. I next reached for an Antica Napa Chardonnay 2008 ($35). It was plan B because I had the 2007 a while ago and found it over-oaked and not too different from so many other California chards. This time the wine proved a delight. Gone was the obvious oak, replaced by a lean, crisp elegance tinged with tropical fruits and a finely hued minerality.

The story behind the evolution of this wine is an interesting one.

The Antinoris, the Italian wine dynasty, first invested in the spectacular property high on the rocky eastern slopes of Napa Valley in 1986. Due to a series of complicated partnership and lease-back arrangements, they began to exert full control only in the mid-2000s.

At this point the name Antica was born, and they were able to bring their own winemaking philosophy and exacting standards to the property. This was not an overnight process. For instance, they weren't able to exert the level of control over the 2007 chardonnay that they would have liked—hence the oaky and uninteresting wine I encountered earlier this year.

With the 2008 they had more control, and the result is a wine that better reflects the elegant style they are seeking. According to winery manager Glenn Salva, this is not a one-off fluke but an indication of the direction the winery is headed.

So if Antica is not yet a name familiar to you, watch for it as it is a label with a bright and starry future.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour's breathing helps it open up.

Food Pairing: Fish, shellfish, carbonara sauce, mild cheeses.

Grapes: 100 percent chardonnay

Appellation: Napa Valley

Region: California

Country: U.S.

Price: $35

Availability: Moderate

Web Site: www.anticanapavalley.com

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