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Bargetto Is Branching Out in a Dramatic Turnaround : Winery Was Noted for Producing Top-Quality Fruit Wines During the 1960s and '70s

October 23, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

During the '60s and '70s Bargetto was frequently characterized as the fruitiest winery--not intended as a demeaning term, but rather as an affectionate label to recognize that Bargetto was making the finest fruit wines in America from the likes of apricot, raspberry, olallieberry and pomegranate.

For more than a decade at the Los Angeles County Fair wine competitions Bargetto often swept the fruit-wine classes, including one Best of Class honors. On several occasions the apricot wine was singled out by the judges for showing the kind of complexity generally found in fine Cabernet or Chardonnay. High praise indeed for wines that sell for about $5 and more often than not are deprecated by consumers who prefer high-credential grape wines. The fruit wines make excellent dessert-wine drinking, especially during warm days when chilled with an ice cube or two or used as an aperitif for reviving a dulled appetite.

Things are changing at Bargetto so much that even elitist wine drinkers will be pleased. The new Gewurztraminer, 1985, for instance, has a lively spritzy flavor that makes it a joy to sip. Here is an intense "Gewurtz" aroma and taste that is superb, made more so by outstanding crispness and freshness. Not overly sweet at 1.6% sugar, the wine has excellent varietal character and a priced-right tab at $6.75.

Worth the Effort

Produced from 100% Gewurztraminer grapes from Tepusquet vineyards in Santa Maria the wine should be drunk young for the pleasure of varietal fruit. Only 1,247 cases were produced, but this wine is worth the effort to find it.

An especially good buy at $6 is Bargetto's Chardonnay, Cypress, 1984. Here is a clean, light blend in an apple-like style coupled with a lemony accent. Not barrel fermented, the wine is crisp and fresh and shows a bit of complexity.

Made by an interesting blend of 75% of the first pressing and 25% of the second, the Cypress is actually a combination of two different wines, making a respectable everyday wine. Interestingly, the first press was made in the tradition of sur lie , the French practice of leaving the wine on the lees in contact with the yeast after fermentation in order to achieve greater complexity.

Also from Santa Barbara County grapes is Chardonnay, 1983, with a higher alcohol at 13.3% and exhibiting richer, stronger flavor extract, greater texture and more of a buttery style derived from partial barrel fermentation. This is not an austere wine, as there is plenty of fruit here at $9.50.

White Zinfandel fans will enjoy Bargetto's 1985, produced from a blend of two vineyards, Sausal and Moritson, in Sonoma's Alexander Valley. Here is clean taste and a medium body in a decidedly sweet style at 1.5% sugar and with refreshingly low alcohol at 11.6%. As white Zins go, this is well made at $5.75.

Perhaps the most dramatic turnaround at Bargetto is in its Cabernet Sauvignons, 1981 and 1982. The 1981 sold out, but the 1982 will be released in October after more than one year of aging in redwood tanks, American and French oak. This is a lighter-styled, taste-accessible wine without big texture and structure designed to drink early, no later than from three to five years. Not a robust wine, but there are good generous flavors here made from the St. Regis vineyard in the southern portion of the Napa Valley. Nicely balanced with no aggressive tannins, the wine should develop subtleties quickly. It is $12.50.

Late Harvest Best

Best of the bunch is Late Harvest White Riesling, 1984, at 9.2% residual sugar and less than 10% alcohol. It is easy, generous wine to drink with lovely, syrupy, lingering flavors. It is a late-harvest "J.R." at its sweetish best. The long-lingering flavors make the wine a must for dessert, but because of low acidity it will have a short life span and should be enjoyed immediately.

Produced from Tepusquet vineyard grapes, the wine has 15% Botrytis, the "noble rot" that gives the wine class and style. Grapes were picked by hand in the true late-harvest manner in December, 1984. It is available in half-bottle size for $4.75, a marvelous dessert for two after dinner. A full bottle can be purchased for $9.

Though the winery was founded in 1933 by Italian-born Bargetto emigres, the winery today is hitting its stride largely due to the efforts of third-generation family members Martin, 29, and John, 25. They are both graduates of UC Davis in viticulture and enology. They have blended their talents in modernizing the winery with new stainless-steel tanks and a Vaselin press and by acquiring first-rate grapes from some of the state's leading vineyards. The wines are markedly cleaner than earlier years and is a direct result of their efforts and determination.

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