Esca Wines was started by the husband wife winemaking team of Mario and Anna Monticelli. Both are young and like other young winemakers they already have International harvest experience. They met during their last quarter of school as undergrads at UC Davis while earning their enology and viticulture degrees. Mario is a fourth generation winemaker with extended winemaking roots in California (his father was winemaker and an executive for Gallo Winery and his brother is also a winemaker in Napa). As a result of his family background Mario's immersion into the wine industry started as a child helping to make wine at his grandparent's winery. Mario worked as assistant to the well known winemaker Philipe Melka, at Quixote and currently is the winemaker for Trinchero's Napa Reserve.
Anna does not come from a wine making family and was on the fast track to medical school when a viticulture elective sidetracked her college education, and looking back - eventually became career changing. She worked a harvest in Bordeaux at Chateau Chevel Blanc and at Napa notables including Seavey Vineyard and Bryant Family. Currently she is the winemaker for Pina Cellars. Mario and his brother have operated their own label for a number of years and it was only a matter of time before Mario and Anna decided to create their own brand. They jointly share the winemaking duties - Esca is Italian, honoring Mario's heritage and means "allurement" or "bait" in Italian. Wine lovers beware - as Esca says, "just as the nectar of the Hibiscus flower attracts the bee on the label, these wines attract the enophile!"
Their first commercial release was in 2002. We started our tasting with the 2005 Zinfandel sourced from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County which is the only non Napa wine available as of press time. This ruby colored wine has big Zinfandel aromas somewhat floral in nature with notes of violets as well as cedar. The mouth feel is soft and supple with lively fruit and bright acidity. This is a not a huge spicy Zinfandel rather its more elegant with just a touch of spice on the palate. Soft delicate tannins anchor this delightful food friendly wine. The 2005 Syrah is very dark with a consistent nose over time full of candied fruit and notes of cassis. It is full-bodied and soft all across the palate with structured but fairly smooth tannins. Good fruit shows from the entry to the finish. The 2005 Esca Cabernet Sauvignon is priced very well considering it was made with fruit sourced from Oakville and Yountville. Black fruit dominates on the aromas and on the palate with soft fruit showing up front including blueberry, blackberry and black currant intermingled with nuances of smoky oak. This wine is mouth watering with great natural acidity... a good steak wine! The tannins are the biggest of the three Esca wines we tried but are still well balanced.
A new project that Anna is spearheading under Esca is a second label called Ilaria named after an Italian cousin in the family. The focus of this label is on high end single vineyard wines with their first vintage being a 2007 Syrah. Syrah is one of Anna's favorite varietals, not only because of its unique aromas and flavors but because of the differences it exhibits based on specific terroir and microclimates - i.e. cool weather versus warm weather Syrah. This wine was sourced from Coombsville, a rolling hill vineyard covered area just east of the town of Napa which is more on the cooler side of the curve. This small block of a larger vineyard is planted to an Alban clone. Alban are makers of fine California Central Coast Rhone based wines including Syrah. John Alban is often called the "Father of Syrah in California. This vineyard is certainly a good source!
While Esca sources fruit from various vineyards, Ilaria is from vineyards that are locked into longer term contracts, thus ensuring consistency of fruit. The 2007 Syrah is a totally dark black inky wine and while totally young as of press time already shows big fruit with juicy characteristics. There are great layered flavors including chocolate and plum with hints of vanilla on the bouquet. This is a wine you buy several of - for drinking now as well as aging! Additional plans under the Ilaria label call for other varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon.
Here is a unique situation where you have two extremely talented winemakers who have combined efforts to focus on affordable wines that are to be enjoyed now with friends and family. For the quality to price ratio, Esca is among one of the best values in Napa Valley. I mean, where else can you find fruit from Oakville and Yountville in a Napa Cabernet under $30?! You can find their wines locally at Dean & Deluca or Backroom wines in the town of Napa. Visit: www.escawines.com