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Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon 1997: WOW!

Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon 1997: WOW!


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All Around Napa Valley

BRYAN DEL BONDIO, president of Markham Vineyards in Napa Valley, has made his first wine under the new del Bondio label. . . .

It's a 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in a family-owned vineyard near Bella Oaks Lane in the Rutherford District, which should be released in about a year. . . .

Del Bondio, the wine, is a collaboration between Bryan and two of his cousins, Jim del Bondio and Richard Poncia, Napa Valley natives and longtime wine growers. . . .

While Bryan, 42, has been at Markham since the first crush in 1978, he has has a way to go to catch up with his dad's record. Al del Bondio logged 46 vintages at Inglenook before retiring in 1991. . . .

The Cabernet is being made at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville, which for years belonged to Inglenook. . . .

A Chardonnay will follow, from this year's harvest those grapes are also from family-owned vineyards in Oakville. . . .

IF YOU'RE IN the market for a rich, plush, open-throttle Merlot, check out the 1994 Paradigm Napa Valley, $32, one of the best I've tasted from this new vintage. . . .

Paradigm's owners, Ren and Marilyn Harris, thought they had something special going with Merlot and they do. . . .

Not only are the grapes excellent, but their winemaker has a deft hand, having made most of the Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle vintages to date. . . .

No, it's not Helen Turley, but rather Heidi Peterson Barrett, the former winemaker for Buehler who now works with a variety of clients, including Diamond Creek. . . .

JUST HAD A chance to taste all the Snowden Vineyards Cabernets and this will be one of the hot new wines we'll be buzzing about later this year. . . .

Snowden Vineyards is a family affair, with brothers Scott, a Napa Superior Court judge, and Randy Snowden and their spouses farming an old family-owned vineyard in Napa's Spring Valley, near where the Joseph Phelps and Heitz wineries are located. . . .

Purchased in 1952 and replanted in 1982, the 15 acres of vines are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, spread out in three locations. . . .

With 160 acres of mostly forested hillside, there is room to add more vines and the Snowdens probably will. . . .

THE FIRST FOUR vintages, 1993 through 1996, are simply delicious wines, with the 1993 showing a dense, tight, concentrated core of currant, cranberry, herb and olive notes. . . .

The 1994 is a shade fuller and richer, with nearly identical flavors, while the 1995 and 1996, drawn from barrel samples, show the same pedigree, with dark colors, intense flavors and impeccable balance. . . .

To get on the inside track on these wines, call 707-963-4292 or write Snowden at P.O. Box 84, St. Helena, Calif. 94574. . . .

IF ALL GOES ON SCHEDULE, this year Dominus will host its first crush in its new winery, which is being built in the middle of the famous Napanook Vineyard west of Yountville. . . .

With a Swiss architect, French owners and California building codes, it's a literal three-ring circus being overseen by new winemaker David Ramey, late of Chalk Hill. . . .

After skipping 1993 because that vintage lacked substance, Ramey sent the 1994 Dominus on its way to wine shops, and it's a blockbuster, with deep, rich, penetrating flavors. . . .

Ramey, who crafted some brilliant Chardonnays while at Chalk Hill, including a stunning 1994--93 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, $20--that ranked No. 3 on our Top 100, will begin making Chardonnay under his own label, with plans to have series of vineyard-designated wine from Carneros and Russian River Valley, for starters. . . .

The 1995 Chalk Hill Chardonnay is just as delicious as the 1994 and has a staggering 44,000 cases available. . . .

ON A SCOUTING TRIP through Napa Valley last week, Richard Sanford and his winemaker, Bruno include D'Alfonso, were checking out winery designs. . . .

After years of making the Sanford wines in a humble warehouse in Buellton, Sanford is making final plans for his new winery in Santa Ynez Valley and wants to see which designs work best and which to avoid. . . .

SEEMS LIKE EVERY new Cabernet comes out with a price tag that's $40 or more, but the new Saddleback 1994 is only $27. It's the work of longtime Napa Valley vintner Nils Venge. . . .

Venge, who started his career at Heitz, then moved to Villa Mt. Eden and made the grand Groth Vineyards Cabernets through 1995, has owned this small winery for nearly a decade, quietly turning out plush, supple Cabernets. . . .

The 1993㭘, $19—made Wine Spectator's 1996 Top 100, at spot No. 53, and while the 1994 is a shade tighter and more compact right now, I would be surprised if it doesn't fan out and show more depth and flesh in the next few months. . . .

Also of note are Venge's Venge Family Reserve Cabernet 1993 and Merlot 1994, the latter being his first attempt with this wine. . . .


Napa Valley

The transformation that has occurred in this small rift of land above San Francisco bay that is barely 30 miles long is intense, from a quiet farming community with stands of nut trees and plum orchards to a giant in terms of wine quality, power, tourism and fame. Napa is now synonymous with the great wine regions of the world, a player on the world stage with real estate values soaring past tens of thousands of dollars per acre. The most amazing part is how quickly all this has happened. Only 40 years ago Robert Mondavi joined pioneers such as Inglenook and Chateau Montelena in harvesting grapes in Napa. Quite a short period of time when compared to the fame that Bordeaux, Burgundy, et al. built over the centuries.

By both size and volume, Napa cannot compete with other regions in California. Smaller in size than Sonoma to the west, Napa produces less than 5% of all the grapes in California. But the quality is where she really shines. The combination of warm days tempered by high elevations and the cooling winds that travel up the valley from San Francisco Bay has created a Garden of Eden for grape growing. Numerous soil types exist, but overall the valley has been a hotbed for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and to a lesser extent Italian varietals, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and the other noble Bordeaux grapes.

Napa Valley is divided into many sub-appellations, including: Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Oak Knoll District, Oakville, Rutherford, Spring Mountain, Stags' Leap, Wild Horse Valley and Yountville.


Prize Wine: Be Your Own Judge

Buying wine, whether as a gift for someone or for yourself, can be nerve-wracking. You walk into a wine shop and approach the wall of wine, and the labels turn into a blur. You read the shelf-talkers, those little cardboard signs with their wonderful phrases (“distinguished and languid”). Your eyes glaze over.

One of the shelf signs says the wine got a gold medal at a wine competition. Wow, you think, that has to be good. Oops--that’s strike one.

Just two decades ago, there were only a tiny handful of wine competitions in the United States, and winning a gold medal was worth advertising. Today there are literally dozens of wine competitions. Some are good, some are not so good some are small, regional events (like the one that judges only the wines of Alameda County), some national (Los Angeles County Fair), some worldwide (San Francisco International).

With so many events, wine lovers should not look at wines that have won a single gold medal, but at wines that have received multiple medals.

If, for instance, you are seeking an excellent and widely appealing Cabernet Sauvignon, you could look at those from 1991 Benziger Winery ($12.50) 1990 Villa Mt. Eden “Grand Reserve” ($15) 1990 Chateau St. Jean “Cinq Cepages” ($18) 1990 Kendall-Jackson Winery “Grand Reserve” ($30) 1991 Gary Farrell Wines ($18), and 1991 Silverado Vineyards ($17). Each of these wines won at least seven medals in the 10 largest U.S. wine competitions, showing consistency with a wide range of panels.

On the other hand, are these six wines any better than 1989 Heitz Cellar “Trailside Vineyard” Cabernet ($35)? The Heitz wine won only three medals, but each was a gold medal, and the wine was entered in only those three competitions!

And, of course, a competition is only as good as its judges.

Most use panels of four or five persons of varying degrees of skill to evaluate wines without sight of the label. In larger groupings (such as those with 150 Chardonnays to evaluate), the panels often do a pre-tasting, screening wines for potential medal winners. Wines with no chance for a medal are discarded.

This retain/eliminate round can go quickly, since a stinky aroma can disqualify a wine without the need to be tasted. But that doesn’t mean such a round can be easy. At one competition a decade ago, my panel was asked to judge 252 Chardonnays in one day, an exhausting task.

In the medal-evaluation rounds of a wine competition, the judges have flights of six to 12 wines, served side by side. Among the problems that can occur: The first wine of a flight seems to score slightly better than the others because the judges have fresher palates lighter-styled wines judged after far weightier ones seem to pale by comparison fatigue late in a flight can reduce the scores of the last wines.

The worst problem at competitions is that most wines are made to be served with food, and usually food is not served. And with such an essential element missing, can the results be as valid as when the wines are judged at the dinner table?

Moreover, it’s difficult to get good judges to judge. One West Los Angeles wine buyer who has as good a palate as anyone I know judged one competition in 1985 and was so exhausted after two days he vowed never to judge one again. “No amount of money. . . .” he said. And the best wine judge I know, Napa Valley wine author Bob Thompson, decided this year to do no more wine competitions.

“It’s getting harder and harder for me to do the job properly,” says Thompson. “I can still get good results, but it takes a lot more effort than it used to, and I don’t want to be Willie Mays finishing up with the Mets.”

So we are left with the wine competitions as a guide. Here are the top American medal-winning wines compiled from the various 1994 wine competitions in each wine category. Each of the following wines won at least six medals in 1994.

Chardonnay: 1992 Villa Mt. Eden “Grand Reserve” ($14) 1992 Cambria Winery, “Katherine’s Vineyard” ($16) 1992 Kendall-Jackson Winery “Camelot Vineyard” ($16) 1991 Korbel Winery ($10) 1992 Kendall-Jackson “Grand Reserve” ($22) 1992 Murphy-Goode Winery ($12.50) 1992 Belvedere Winery “Preferred Stock” ($18).

Red Meritage (Cabernet blends): 1990 Clos du Bois “Marlstone” ($20) 1991 Concannon Vineyard “Assemblage” ($15) 1991 Estancia Vineyards “Meritage” ($14) 1989 Benziger “A Tribute” ($27) 1991 Geyser Peak Vineyards “Reserve Alexandre” ($25) 1990 Guenoc Winery “Langtry” ($35) 1990 Mazzocco Vineyards “Matrix” ($28).

Pinot Noir: 1992 Gary Farrell Wines “Allen Vineyard” ($32) 1992 Villa Mt. Eden “Grand Reserve” ($14) 1992 Handley Cellars ($13.50) 1992 Gary Farrell, Russian River Valley ($17) 1991 Husch Vineyards ($14) 1992 Napa Ridge ($8) 1991 J. Stonestreet ($30) 1992 Gloria Ferrer ($15).

Sauvignon Blanc: 1993 Canyon Road Cellars ($6) 1993 Geyser Peak ($7.50) 1993 Corbett Canyon Vineyards “Coastal Classic” ($5) 1992 Grgich Hills Cellars ($13).

Zinfandel: 1992 DeLoach Vineyards ($12) 1992 McIlroy Vineyards ($13.50) 1992 Gary Farrell ($15) 1991 Rodney Strong Vineyards “River West” ($14) 1992 A. Rafanelli Vineyards ($12).

Other red wines: 1992 Eberle Vineyards Barbera (five golds) ($18) 1991 Rabbit Ridge Vineyards Carignane (four golds) ($8) 1991 Guenoc Petite Sirah (four golds) ($13).

Other white wines: 1993 Geyser Peak Gewurztraminer (4 golds) ($6) 1993 Gainey Vineyard Johannisberg Riesling (four golds) ($8.50) 1992 Lakewood Winery Semillon (one gold) ($12).


Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon 1997: WOW! - Recipes

This comparatively ancient wine is 60% Cab, 30% Malbec, and 10% Merlot. Still possessing a deep color with only slight orange appearing in the miniscus. The dominant flavor was bleu cheese, not especially different from some other older Cabs I've had. Flavors of mint and eucalyptus also emerged from time to time, and there was definitely Cab fruit hiding behind the bleu. This is a gift from Uncle Ronnie, drank with Mike and Marie. We were worried about the condition of the wine because the cork showed staining all the way out to the top. Indeed, I wonder if the bleu cheese flavors were partially due to leakage [4/17].

Truly a great bargain Cab. Depth and concentration with scintillating mint flavors and vibrant tannins. The other bottle can definitely wait a while this is still a young wine [4/17].

A delicious, crisp white wine with pleasantly sweet melon flavors. Produced by the negociant Bichot [4/21].

This could be the best Bordeaux I've ever had, although that's not saying much. It's surprising that this happened Kyoto, Japan, except that it was a $60 catered dinner [4/21].

Well, here is another Haut-Medoc served in Kyoto. I think I'm seeing the pattern now [4/22].

Soft, balanced fruit and concentration. The chocolate flavors are long gone, but there was plenty left to enjoy [5/1].

A light Pinot with classic varietal flavors. A tough wine to judge without real food to go with it [5/9].

Surprisingly rich, forward fruit flavors at this price. A layer of pepper underneath the fruit, and structure under that make this an interesting wine [5/9]. A couple of nights in the bottle with gas on it darkened the flavors a little, always a plus for me [5/11]. A third tasting reveals sufficient power and depth to stand up to moderately spicy mexican food. Wow [6/11]!

Powerful, structured fruit balanced by ample earth [5/9]. Not a match for the more refined, complete, and full-bodied Pradorey, but it possesses a sassiness of its own that warrants attention. Appealing flavors of smoke and tobacco [7/15].

Very forward, but not bright, fruit, balanced by earth tones. The fruit is a little flabby. Hard to tell what time will do [5/9]. In a second tasting the flavors were much more restrained, and I was flabbergasted by the complete integration of fruit and earth flavors, with hints of chocolate and cherry. The only problem was that its flavors completely disappeared when matched with food possessing any spice, even a little pepper [7/12].

Not especially impressive, perhaps because it lacked the intensity of the previous two wines [5/9].

A fine glass of wine, but rather one dimensional. Nice body and varietal character, but showing a little heat [5/14].

Despite its crisp and refreshing attack, it also possessed chewy richness, depth, and intensity. The long, complex finish showed interesting spice and earth. It doesn't get much better than this when it comes to white wine [5/16].

Typical lightness in color, but full-bodied in flavor, with robust Pinot fruit and a spicy underbelly. Enjoyable and interesting [5/16].

Dry and a tad woody at times, also sometimes revealing chemical flavors [5/16].

Refreshing acidity complemented by a hint of earth and butteriness [5/23].

Disappointing for a wine of this price. Thin, dry, and earthy, only occasionally exhibiting the fruit flavors that make a worthy Pinot. Tom said this matched many Burgandies at twice the price. Maybe, but it's still not a great wine [5/23].


Villa Mt. Eden Zinfandel, Sonoma, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Grand Reserve, 1995, $16 VG+

This is a very fine bottle of wine. Deep, rich varietal flavors balanced by chocolate undertones. Nice, long, lingering finish. The alcohol content tops out at an astonishing 15.6%, but not the least bit hot on the finish (I did chill it slightly to play it safe). Oddly, there were crystals on the cork when I pulled it, presumably tartaric acid. Was the wine given some extra treatment that raised the tartaric acid, or is the alcohol level contributing to crystallization? Similar to the Ravenswood Lodi in character, just more so. The Lodi may be a better value, given its dirt cheap price, but the Monte Rosso gets the edge in overall quality [5/24].

Another winner from this winery. Lush fruit flavors, with a strong undercurrent of peppery spice and darkness, even hints of earth and tobacco. Very powerful and intriguing. Not a wine for the timid, this wine smacks you right in the face great for grilled meats or more spicey dishes. Probably has aging potential, although my experience tells me that during some period the peppery flavors will dominate, making this a tough wine to time in terms of aging [5/25].

A very nice nose of fruit, but a little thin on the palate [5/30].

Not a blockbuster, but interesting. Malbec is typically used in Bordeaux blends to contribute to a balanced wine, but is rarely the dominant grape. Dark, spicey flavors that distintegrate into bleu cheese if not drunk with food (not unlike the previous Argentinian blend from a couple of months back heavy in Malbec). A great combination with a slightly spicey food like sausage, showing delightful smoothness and a tantalizing dryness. Produced by Valentin Bianchi [5/30]. After sitting under gas for a day, a different wine emerged, with a chewy mouthfeel, and French-like earth tones, the dark, full fruit fairly dominated. Interesting change, but not an improvement for my tastes [5/31].

Nice cinnamon-like spices in classic Zin varietal fruit base. At only a dollar less than the Ravenswood Lodi, not really competitive--except that the Lodi is gone----but also an alcoholic blockbuster [5/30]. A wonderful complement to a lunchtime meal, light but not shy, with bright Zin fruit [11/27].

Pleasant fruit with earth, but not competitive with the Californians at nine bucks. Almost identical notes for the '94 in January [5/30].

Delightful, classic chocolatey fruit flavors and in the nose with a little spice to give it some dimension. Quite a surprise for an under-ten Merlot [5/30]. A month and a half later with a meal, it didn't quite dazzle as it did in the tasting room, perhaps because of its lightness and the intervening time, which likely took off some of the chocolate flavors. Still quite a solid showing [7/14].

Sadly, much more typical of Merlots than the Leaping Lizard, above. Overall a sound wine, but kind of acidic and not so friendly [5/30]. In spite of my hesitations, I bought this wine on SDWC's recommendation, and found the wine quite similar, although it did open a little after a while. Light in color and flavor [7/24].


What Wine Goes With Salmon? Well, It Depends

Most of the mail I get from readers is pretty straightforward (“Have you tried the new Ridge Zins?” “How long will the 1996 Chateau St. Jean ‘Cinq Cepages’ age?”). There are times, however, when the most innocuous-sounding letter somehow requires a complex answer. I got such a letter recently, which read simply “What wine goes with salmon?”

I began my answer with, “It depends on the preparation"--admittedly, a bit of a cop-out. But there is truth to it, and I have the recipes and experiences to prove it. Because of its versatility, salmon does not belong soley to any one wine type or style. Instead, the way one pairs wine with salmon is by paying attention to the preparation, not the fish itself.

A favorite dish in our house is salmon poached in parchment with garden herbs, tangy vegetables and white wine. With a preparation like this, I prefer a vibrant, fruity Sauvignon Blanc that leans toward the herbal side of the spectrum. Something like the $** 2000 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc (Sonoma County, $13). This lively, citrusy, peachy and lightly grassy wine is seductive enough in its own right, but even better with tangy dishes.

I also like the $* 2000 Benziger Family Winery Fume Blanc (Sonoma County, $11), which is reminiscent of the Ferrari-Carano in its light grassiness, but may be a bit less forward. A bit of restraint is sometimes welcome when the fruitiness of the wine might clash with the subtler flavors of the dish.

There are those who insist that a grilled salmon filet wants nothing more as a partner than a Pinot Noir, so long as the wine is not the kind of blockbuster whose depth and ripeness would overpower the dish. I understand that argument, though I will confess that I am also partial to a ripe, rich California Chardonnay with a dish like that.

Two that come immediately to mind are the ** 1999 Ojai Vineyard Chardonnay “Talley-Rincon Vineyard” (Arroyo Grande Valley, $28) and the ** 1999 Villa Mt. Eden Chardonnay “Signature Series” (Bien Nacido Vineyard, $30). The first has a mix of ripe fruit and unctuous texture that is backed up by rich oak and balanced by background acidity. The second is all but unbeatable for richness and breadth, and yet its complex, layered personality comes with a good bit of zesty acidity.

When I do give in to a Pinot Noir, I look first to Oregon and then to Sonoma’s Russian River Valley for inspiration. In general, the Pinots from farther south tend to be riper and fatter. While they are wonderful wines in their own right, they are not “salmon wines” for me.

I like the * 1998 Hamacher Pinot Noir (Oregon, $33) for example. The better Oregon wines are often difficult to find in Southern California, but fans of Pinot Noir need to get to know the wines of Eric Hamacher. This deep yet slightly tart effort is the kind of Pinot that goes with salmon and also with rare tuna. Another choice would be the * 1998 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, $25), a polished, balanced Pinot with bright, slightly piquant cherry and strawberry fruit and a delicate oaky richness.

Pinot isn’t the only red wine you can pair with fish. Lately, I have been trying Zinfandel with blackened salmon, and this can work too, as long as the Zin is balanced and fruity rather than powerful, overripe and tannic. Two recently tasted Zins that have the fruit and balance to go with a blackened or a jerk-seasoned salmon filet are the $* 1999 Chateau Souverain (Dry Creek Valley, $11) and the ** 1999 Seghesio Family Vineyard “Cortina” (Dry Creek Valley, $22).

Even Cabernet Sauvignon can work, as long as it is very rich and not too tannic. I’d recommend ** 1997 Beaulieu Vineyards “Tapestry” (Napa Valley, $40) a Cabernet-based wine of great depth.

“What wine goes with salmon?” the writer asked innocently. A short story ensued.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

*** A world-class wine, superb by any measure, the top 1% to 2% of all wines tasted.

** An exceptional wine, well worth the effort to find, 10% to 12% of wines tasted.

* An admirable wine, tasty, focused, attractive, about 25% of wines tasted.

No Rating: The best are quite pleasant and can be good buys when moderately priced.


SOLD OUT PlumpJack 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Oakville is from the well-known McWilliam Oakville Vineyard, made famous by Nils Venge when he made wine at Villa Mt. Eden from this site. It has rich, broad, but velvety tannins, a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel, and up-front drinkability (which is somewhat surprising), but gorgeous seductiveness and plenty of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. This full-bodied, precocious and lusty style should drink well for 10-15 years.

Winemaker Notes — “The long, mild growing season allowed for a long hang time with even ripening and outstanding flavor development and tannin maturity. The flavors coming out of our Estate vineyard in Oakville were absolutely amazing and these flavors have persisted throughout fermentation and aging. The fruit on the nose is intense and lively with aromas of black cherry and raspberry followed by iron, rushed granite, and sage, all laced with mocha and vanilla. This wine has a rich and concentrated palate with great structure and an enduring finish.”

Read more on diet-friendly wines or see our policy page for more information.

PlumpJack Winery

Marvelous artistic flair with a keen sense of business

An unlikely business alliance between two prestigious San Francisco fa .

Cabernet Sauvignon

(Cabernet Sauvignon pronunciation: Ca-ber-NAY Saw-vee-nyon) At The Judgment of Paris, in 1976, Napa Valley Cabernets scored ahead of some top Bordeaux .

Napa Valley AVA

The Napa Valley in Northern California is not large, approximately 30 miles long and five miles wide, yet is has developed a giant reputation as one of the wor .

Greek Lamb Burgers

Juicy, flavorful and easy, these lamb burgers pair beautifully with the Porterhouse 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from your latest Gold Medal Wine Club shipment.

Braised Short Ribs with Parsnip Mashed Potatoes

A beautiful recipe with comforting flavors of slow-cooked short ribs! Make sure to pour yourself a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from your recent wine club delivery!

Steak Au Poivre (Peppered Steak)

A wonderful comfort food to pair with Lost Chapters Cabernet Sauvignon from your latest subscription box.

Pan Seared Steak with Garlic Butter

Quick and easy, this seared and tender steak cries out for a glass of Midnight Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from your most recent subscription box.

Santa Maria Style Tri Tip

Enjoy this fantastic Tri-Tip recipe with great company and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from your recent wine membership shipment!


Villa Mt. Eden 2005 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

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This bottling can be variable, but the '05 vintage helped craft a balanced, likeable Cab that shows true Napa quality at an everyday price. Dry and richly tannic, the wine shows herb-infused black currant, black tea and cedar flavors. Drink now through 2011.

How We Blind Taste

All tastings reported in the Buying Guide are performed blind. Typically, products are tasted in peer-group flights of from 5-8 samples. Reviewers may know general information about a flight to provide context&mdashvintage, variety or appellation&mdashbut never the producer or retail price of any given selection. When possible, products considered flawed or uncustomary are retasted.

Ratings reflect what our editors felt about a particular product. Beyond the rating, we encourage you to read the accompanying tasting note to learn about a product’s special characteristics.


Despite Late Rains, 1989 Bloomed as Good Year for California Vintners

California wine makers moaned loudly after the long hours and hard work they endured throughout the harvest, but taken as a whole, 1989 wasn’t a year of total pain and suffering for the wine industry.

It was a year when September rains hit California’s north coast, turning a potentially lucrative and exceptional harvest into one that required a lot more work than in many years.

It was, however, a year when a lot of winery owners took a deep breath and raised prices--and found, surprisingly, that the public didn’t balk as much as they had expected. But there were rumblings of a 1990 backlash.

The 1989 harvest turned out to be of generally high quality and slightly larger than 1988. So all the wailing was just a lot of sound and fury.

High prices were no barrier for Bordeaux producers, who released the 1986 red wines with exalted comments and prices to match. Touting 1986 as the fifth great vintage in the last six years and a vintage to rival them all, the Bordelais asked and received inflated prices.

But French Burgundy producers found the going rougher. Americans finally called time out as prices for red Burgundy approached $100 a bottle.

Chile made its first major thrust to market wine in the United States, and the wines showed great potential. Italian wine makers (aided in part by a surge in Italian restaurants here) rebounded from the black eye of 1986 when deaths were attributed to tainted wine in Italy. In fact, if there was an “imported wine story of the year,” it was the rise of top-quality Italian red wine to super-premium levels.

Light red wine made a comeback as interest in White Zinfandel and wine coolers began to peak.

More acquisitions occurred. Heublein spent $150 million to buy The Christian Brothers Klein Foods bought Rodney Strong Vineyards for $40 million a Vintech joint partnership bought Domaine Laurier Mondavi bought Byron, and a French firm acquired Scharffenberger.

In November, government-mandated warning labels began appearing on the back of wine bottles and other alcoholic beverages, but some consumer groups argued that the label was too small and a debate raged.

The Napa Valley Wine Train began rolling despite vigorous, often vitriolic opposition. It came as Napa County was restricting new winery development to slow down the rush of weekend tourists who were clogging the valley’s once-bucolic side roads.

Wine also lost a number of vital figures. Among the obituaries: William Durney, founder of Durney Vineyards in Carmel Valley Alexis Lichine, longtime French wine marketer and author Bruno Benziger, who created one of the decade’s greatest success stories, Glen Ellen Winery, and Joseph Swan, famed Sonoma County wine maker.

Following are random items from around the California wine country as well as personal picks for the best wine in various categories. (Availability was a factor it makes no sense to praise products you can’t buy.) A bargain wine is listed in some categories.

Sauvignon Blanc of the Year: 1988 Adler Fels ($9.75)--This assertively herbal wine makes a bold statement and carries it off beautifully. The wine improves with air and with food. I also love the gorgeous 1988 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc ($10), but it’s largely unavailable. Close behind were 1988 Charles Shaw ($9.50), 1988 Kenwood ($9), 1988 Iron Horse ($9.50), 1988 De Loach (not the Fume Blanc, $9), 1988 Dry Creek ($9.25) and 1988 Sterling ($10). Bargain of the Year: 1987 E. and J. Gallo ($3.50), a marvelously balanced wine.

Health Claim: At the Wine Industry Technical Symposium, stout Peter Ventura, marketing executive with Robert Mondavi Winery, spoke on the health benefits of moderate consumption of wine. Later, moderator Ed Everett of New World Wines, a San Francisco marketing company, who has a bare pate, said: “You heard Peter say that a claim could be made that wine helps control weight. Well, I’m not sure he can make that claim for himself any more than I can make a claim that wine prevents baldness.”

Gewurztraminer of the Year: 1988 Navarro ($8)--Ho-hum, another year, another great Gewurz for this small Anderson Valley winery, the sixth year Navarro has won the honor. Might as well retire the trophy and give it to Ted Bennett and Debra Cahn. Runners-up: 1988 Davis Bynum ($8), 1988 Mark West ($8) and 1988 St. Francis ($7.50). Bargain: 1988 Napa Ridge ($5.20).

Uh-huh: Two wine lovers in a liquor store were chatting about a Conn Creek wine. A beer delivery man overheard the conversation and said, “Concrete? Wow, that oughta be a heavy wine.”

Merlot of the Year: 1986 Clos Pegase Artist’s Series ($15.50)--Another close call, with 1986 Cuvaison ($18), 1986 Shafer ($15), 1986 Silverado ($13), 1986 Lakespring ($12), 1986 Ferrari-Carano ($14.50) and 1986 Newton ($15.75) also impressive. The finesse of the Clos Pegase struck me as being a classically fine-tuned wine. Since it is in limited supply, my No. 2 pick is the Cuvaison, winner of the award two years running for its 1984 and 1985 Merlots. Bargain: 1987 Golden Creek ($7.50).

Worst Cabernet Sauvignon Value of 1989: 1985 Stag’s Leap Cask 23, which ought to be renamed Cash 23 based on its price tag of $75. The wine has a stinky, weedy aroma and finished last or near-last in five blind tastings. A number of wine reviewers rate this wine highly. Chacun a son gout. Sure, there’s a load of flavor here, but the stuff is anything but Napa Valley Cabernet. Three big bottles of Cask 23 sold for $55,000 at the Napa Valley Auction last spring, before this wine was priced. Could it be that the auction price helped determine the $75 shelf price? Or was it merely ego that led to this price? This is an awful precedent, not to mention a strange wine. (Nor do I like 1986 Stag’s Leap SLV Cabernet, which is “only” $30. What’s going on here?)

Riesling of the Year: 1988 Hogue Cellars (Washington) ($6)--As much as I liked 1988s from Freemark Abbey, Navarro, Trefethen, Greenwood Ridge, Obester and Haywood, this wine beats ‘em all for pure pear-like fruit, spice and richness in a complex yet dry package.

Mixed Signals: In January, when Sebastiani Winery was still planning to release a wine called Domaine Chardonnay that had no Chardonnay grapes in it, winery president Don Sebastiani in a speech called on the wine industry to “avoid artificial pretense.” (Federal regulators soon quashed the idea of a non-Chardonnay wine with that brand name.)

Mixed Message: Wine Institute, the San Francisco-based industry trade organization, tested a print ad campaign in the spring that included one ad showing a man and his dog. The caption said simply, “I drink wine, he drinks beer.” Said one wag, “Amazing. A talking dog.”

Mixed Media: In a feature story called Bridal Showcase 1989, the St. Helena Star, located in the heart of the Napa Valley, carried a story on how suitors could get their girlfriends to say yes to a marriage proposal. The “story” was actually a press release from Great Western Winery in New York State, and the paper ran it alongside a picture of a bottle of--gasp--a New York State Champagne.

Redemption: The St. Helena Star redeemed itself late in the year. Atop a story and picture showing a film crew shooting a segment of a television series, was the clever headline “Hollywood and vine.”

Chardonnay of the Year: 1987 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented ($21)--The 1987 crop of Chardonnays didn’t excite me as a group, but there were a number of stylish wines, including Sterling Winery Lake ($20), Cuvaison ($16), Arrowood ($16), Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre ($16), Matanzas Creek ($18), Ferrari-Carano ($15), Cain-Carneros ($16) and Grgich ($22). But the beautifully structured Flora Springs, with its creamy texture and rich finish, is a wine maker’s wine with complexity and fruit. Bargain: 1988 Hess Select ($8.75).

Class: After the death of Russian River wine maker Joe Swan of cancer in January, his wife, June, sent invitations to some of Joe’s friends to attend a Super Bowl Sunday wake in Joe’s honor. The invitation opened with a line, “Joe has gone on ahead of us.”

Chenin Blanc of the Year: 1988 Folie a Deux ($7)--Melon-lemon, spice and complexity in a mostly dry wine with enough fruit to make you think otherwise. There were a lot of great ’87 Chenin Blancs (White Oak, Grand Cru, Dry Creek, Villa Mt. Eden, Hacienda, Simi and Stevenot), but the Folie a Deux has the broadest appeal.

Pinot Noir of the Year: 1987 Gary Farrell Sonoma County ($15)--Pure cherrylike fruit and finesse, a wine of immense appeal and, in some ways, better than Farrell’s 1987 Howard Allen wine ($20). Other great wines: 1987 Sterling Winery Lake ($20), 1986 Byron ($13), 1987 Mondavi Reserve ($22), 1986 Wild Horse ($16), and 1987 Williams-Selyem ($30 but unavailable). Bargain: 1987 The Monterey Vineyard Limited Release ($8).

Mobility: Grace Family Vineyards, which makes a tiny quantity of sensational Cabernet, was developing a label for its wine. On it was a phrase telling the consumer that the wine was aged in French Limousin oak. The first labels back from the printer had the word spelled Limousine. Cracked winery owner Dick Grace, “Well, at least we know our wine will travel well.”

Cabernet Sauvignon of the Year: 1985 Beringer Private Reserve ($30)--Broad, expansive fruit and wonderful depth and complexity make this about as good as anything Beringer has yet produced. It beat a host of great competitors, including 1986 Arrowood ($18), 1986 Shafer Stag’s Leap ($16), 1985 Burgess ($18), 1986 Caymus Estate ($23), 1984 Raymond Reserve ($20), 1986 Forman ($20), and 1986 William Hill Reserve ($24.50). Bargain: 1986 J. Lohr ($7).

Meritage Wine of the Year: (Meritage is a term used when referring to an American wine blended from the traditional Bordeaux grape varieties.) 1985 Sterling Reserve ($30), a monumental wine, just ahead of 1985 Cain Five ($26), which is more compact. Others scoring well: 1985 Opus One ($55), 1986 Cosentino Select ($22), 1986 Trilogy ($30).

Anti-American Award of the Year: Tie, to the state of Pennsylvania and to those folks who put out a wine called “Marilyn Merlot.” Pennsylvania, which controls the retail sale of alcoholic beverages through a chain of state-owned stores, wanted to sell its own line of wines to compete with brand items and chose a red and a white wine from Bordeaux. Pennsylvania, which boasts more than four dozen wineries, apparently wasn’t good enough to produce reliable red and white table wines to meet the needs of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Nor were the approximately 1,500 wineries in 42 other states that have wineries. Marilyn Merlot, marketed for the last few years, was bad enough, but now the wine is no longer even made in the United States it’s a product of France.

Worst Chardonnay Value of the Year: 1987 Chalone ($24)--Bizarre wine with musty, moldy scents, lots of toasted oak and little fruit. Even those who love the exotic Chalone style may have a hard time with this wine.

Sparkling Wine of the Year: 1986 Domaine Mumm Winery Lake ($23)--Sublime wine with quite a bit of fruit character in the year since release it has grown more and more complex.

Shirley MacLaine Award: To the Quartzilizer, a $20 quartz rock with a small chain attached. You’re supposed to plop the rock into your wine and in a few minutes the wine tastes better. Does it change the acid or pH? Does it remove tannin, add body, take away bitterness? Literature included doesn’t say. My taste tests have been inconclusive: two mediocre wines I tested it on stayed decidedly mediocre.

White Zinfandel of the Year: 1988 Seghesio ($5)--Honest, off-dry, and quite fruity, one of the top efforts with this kind of wine. Others: William Wheeler, De Loach, Santino.

Quote of the Year: “Self-adoration is the greatest sin man can commit against himself."--Andre Tchelistcheff, one of California’s greatest wine makers.

Quip of the Year: In late June, it was announced that The Christian Brothers winery would sell out after 107 years to a British-based conglomerate. The day after the sale was announced, longtime cellar master Brother Timothy and Brother David, director of the winery, were having a hamburger at The Spot, a cafe in St. Helena. Mike Martini, wine maker at the Louis Martini Winery, walked in to grab a bite of lunch and spotted the two men sitting at a table. “Hey, guys,” said Martini, “need a job?”

Wine of the Week: NV Gundlach-Bundschu Sonoma Red ($4.50)--This is the way California red wine should taste. There is a Zinfandel kind of fruity quality about it, some aging in oak and none of the defects often associated with such non-vintage red wines. It has a load of flavor for the price and may be seen discounted to below $4. This is a better example of wine making than most of those $4 Pop-Premium Cabernets you see out there.


20 More Great Values in Napa Cab

Buehler 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $25, 90 points
Decoy 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $25, 90 points
Evolve 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder) $30, 90 points
Q 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $18, 90 points
Summers 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga) $26, 90 points

Napa Family Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $10, 89 points, Best Buy
Trailhead 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30, 89 points
Aquinas 2007 Philosopher’s Blend Reserve Red (Napa Valley) $25, 88 points
Ca’ Momi 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $25, 88 points
Cameron Hughes 2007 Lot 287 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $20, 88 points
Goyette 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $24, 88 points
Mario Perelli-Minetti 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $23, 88 points
C&B 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $12, 87 points, Best Buy
Cameron Hughes 2008 Lot 290 Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain) $22, 87 points
Heritance 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $28, 87 points
Napa Station 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $22, 87 points
Newton 2009 Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa County) $28, 87 points
Round Pond 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30, 87 points
Avalon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $18, 86 points
Castle Rock 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $18, 86 points


Watch the video: Cabernet (July 2022).


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