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Red Wines Rising to Expectations : High Standards Were Reached at L. A. County Fair Competition

October 09, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

Commenting on the red wine results of the 47th Annual Los Angeles County Fair Competition, Dimitri Tchelistcheff, a noted enologist and red wine panel chairman, said "Our standards and expectations were higher than ever."

He and three co-panelists struggled through 94 California Cabernet Sauvignon entries, 3 years or less in age, and awarded only 12 medals. Most of the Cabernets were from the vintage of 1983, generally conceded to be good to excellent vintage.

"Generally, quite a good group of younger wines," he said. "However, some were defective; indeed, a few contained bacterial contamination and were quickly eliminated." Co-panelists were Richard Petersen, former wine maker at Beaulieu Vineyards and Monterey Vineyards, A. D. Webb, professor emeritus at UC Davis and Narsai David, a San Francisco bay area wine and food expert.

In a Lighter Style

An especially attractive Cabernet showing more of today's preferred lighter structure, coupled with a softer, more agreeable taste, Santa Lucia Winery's Wild Horse, Central Coast, 1983 was named Best of Class. Other gold medalists are Grand Cru, Sonoma, 1983; White Oak, Alexander Valley, 1984; Pine Ridge, Rutherford Cuvee, 1983; Davis Bynum, Alexander Valley, 1983, and Sierra Vista El Dorado, 1983.

Silver medalists are Lake Spring, Napa, 1983, and Robert Pecota, 1983. Bronze medalists are Belvedere Wine Co., Robert Young, 1983; Castoro, 1982; Sausal, Alexander Valley, 1983, and Taylor California Cellars, 1983.

Not to be overlooked are Honorable Mention honorees Domaine Laurier, 1983; Hart, Temecula, 1983, and I.S.C. Wines of California, Non-Vintage. For the latter, be sure to inquire whether it is the same wine as in the competition. If so, it is likely to be a fine value at less than $5.

More Aged Entries

With more entries (126) and more bottle age, the Cabernet class of wines 3 years of age or older produced more medalists. These are solid choices, generally more mellow because of greater bottle age. A magnificent bottle at $15 and indeed one of the best of the vintage is gold medalist winner William Hill, Gold Label-Napa Valley, 1982. Other gold medalists are Estrella River, 1982; Buena Vista Private Reserve, Sonoma Valley, 1982, and Round Hill, Napa Valley, 1982, which is likely to be the least costy at less than $10.

Separated by only a smidgin of taste from the gold honorees are silver medalists Beringer, Knights Valley, Proprietor Grown, 1982; Conn Creek, 1982; Durney, Carmel Valley, 1982; Gemello, Alexander Valley, 1982; Mont St. John Cellars, Private Reserve, 1981 (the oldest of the bunch), St. Clement, Napa, 1982, and Joseph Phelps, 1982.

Bronze medalists are Crystal Valley, Reserve-North Coast, 1983; Parducci, Founders, 1982; Belvedere Wine Co., York Creek, 1982, and V. Sattui, Napa Valley, 1982. Here, too, consumers would be well advised to try the Honorable Mention honorees Chateau Lauren, 1981; Papagni Vineyards, Estate Bottled, 1981, and Rombauer Vineyards, Napa Valley, 1982.

A Class of Improvements

Unquestionably, the most improved red wine class is that of Pinot Noir, 3 years of age or less. These wines are fast gaining in popularity for agreeable, soft, subtle styles requiring little or no bottle age. Gold medalists are Saintsbury, Carneros, 1984; Williams-Selyem Russian River, 1984, and Sebastiani, August Sebastiani, Country Pinot Noir.

Silver medalists are Byron, Santa Barbara, 1984; Dehlinger, Russian River, 1983; Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley, 1984, and Gary Farrell, Russian River, 1984. Zaca Mesa received a Bronze Medal for its American Reserve, 1984.

Also showing marked improvement is the class of Pinot Noir, 3 years of age or more, with 31 entries and medal-winning wines representing more than one-third of the group. Gold medalists are Louis Martini, Las Amigas, 1980; Z.D. Wines, Napa Valley, 1982; Johnson's Alexander Valley, 1981, and York Mountain, 1983.

Silver medalists are Clos du Bois, Proprietors Reserve, 1980; Edmeades, Anderson Valley, 1982; Mirassou, Harvest Reserve, Monterey, 1981; Warner West, 1982, and Almaden, San Benito, 1982.

Bronze medalists are Firestone Vineyard, 1981; Geyser Peak, 1981; Topolos, Russian River, 1981, and Windsor, Los Carneros, Napa Valley, 1983. An Honorable Mention award was given to Giumarra, 1982, which is likely to be the least costly and qualifies as fine value. Inexpensive or not, the others should make excellent drinking today without much, if any, cellar aging.

An especially good bottle was found in the Miscellaneous Red Table Wine Dry Class, with a surprising number of 39 entries. Glen Ellen Red Table Wine, Proprietors Reserve, likely to be inexpensive, was accorded Best of Class honors. More California reds resulting from a surplus of fine grapes are expected to carry a similar generic table wine designation.

Some Remarkable Values

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