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Victory Is Sweet at L.A. County Fair : Vintners Offer a Host of Exceptional Meal's-End Wines

October 16, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

An interesting 50-year-old feature of the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition that is pleasing to consumers is the large number of dry and sweet wines, which normally do not get the praise and attention reserved for major California varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Traditionally, the fair includes the judging of simple fruit wines, sparklers, young brandies, ports and Sherries.

A magnificent fruit wine, Bargetto's Olallieberry is a classic case in point. It features such outstanding lush fruit flavors that the four-member judging panel not only awarded it a Gold Medal but a Best of Class honor as well. The panel's enthusiasm spilled over to the other 36 judges, who agreed it was the finest fruit wine tasted in years. The wine can best be enjoyed either as an aperitif or with a non-chocolate dessert. The only other Gold Medal awarded for fruit wines also was given to Bargetto for Raspberry.

There were a host of exceptional sweet white wine winners that are first rate for meal's end. In the Very Sweet Gewurztraminer Class with residual sugars ranging from 5% to 11%, a Gold Medal was given to an outstanding choice, Navarro Vineyards, Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, 1985. This Mendocino County winery has done well with this grape in recent years, and a wine that may be just as good is its silver medalist, Late Harvest, Cluster Select, Gewurztraminer, 1985, with sugar in excess of 11%. Both wines are handsome desert choices.

For Casual Sipping

Gewurztraminer in the 1% to 5% residual sugar class generally does well for casual sipping, especially for those who prefer less concentration of sugar. Try two gold medalists, Charles Krug, 1984, and Gallo, Reserve Cellars, 1984, which will offer a luscious but moderately intense, lighter, sweet taste.

Another solid sweet choice for devotees of Sauvignon Blanc and French-styled Sauternes, try gold medalist Windsor Vineyards, Select Late Harvest, Alexander Valley, 1984. The term select not only means selected bunches of grapes, but also suggests that the wine may have sustained noble rot not unlike that of Sauternes.

Others may prefer the taste of Johannisberg Riesling with sugars ranging from 1% to 5%. Five gold medalists were selected: St. Francis Winery, 1985; Rodney Strong Vineyards, Le Baron, 1984; Ballard Canyon, 1985; Konocti, Lake County, White Riesling, 1985, and Santa Ynez, Reserve de Cave. For Johannisberg Riesling, Late Harvest, in the 1% to 11% range, Bargetto, Late Harvest, 1984, and Kenwood, Estate Grown Late Harvest, 1985, were both gold medalists. To find two Gold Medal winners in only 11 entries speaks well for the wines but indicates dwindling popularity.

Another entry in the Johannisberg Riesling class was Select Late Harvest with sugars up to 18%. A relatively new winery, Gabriele Y Caroline, Monterey Late Harvest, 1982, was the winner.

Better yet was the Select Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling class of 18% sugar or more. There were only five entries but two gold medalists: Joseph Phelps, Special Select Late Harvest, 1983, and Franciscan Vineyards, Select Late Harvest, 1983. These are the kinds of wines that can be purchased in half bottles since only an ounce or two is necessary to enjoy the sweet concentration and intensity. I prefer to enjoy these wines simply as a dessert and with nothing else.

In the high-volume categories for sweeter whites, first awards are given in lieu of medals. The wines are likely to be in large supply and inexpensive. For Gewurztraminer up to 5% sugar, Grande Cru Vineyards, Fox Hollow, 1985, received a First Award. First Awards were also given in the Johannisberg Riesling up to 5% sugar class, with only two entries, to Giumarra, Breckenridge, Non-Vintage, and Windsor, Sonoma County, 1985.

If Chardonnay is your palate's fancy, there are sweet-styled versions in the category of Late Harvest Chardonnay. Two entries received a Silver and Bronze medal, respectively: Milano, Sonoma Chardonnay, 1983, and Callaway, Late Harvest. These are more difficult to produce in a late-harvest style than either Gewurztraminers or Riesling.

Sweet Muscat Canelli is a class that always features well-made Muscat-styled wines, with a sweet delicate taste that appeals to just about every palate, from the seasoned to the neophyte. Gold medalists were Morris Hoaglund, Muscat Canelli, 1985, and Stevenot, San Luis Obispo, 1985.

The other winners also are worthy of a taste, including silver medalist Jekel, Monterey, 1984, and bronze medalists Fetzer, Lake County, 1985; Rapazzini, 1985; St. Francis, 1985, and Windsor, Late Harvest, Alexander Valley, 1985.

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