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Recognizing Sweet and Sour Grapes : The Annual Best and Worst of the Wine Industry in '86

January 22, 1987|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

This is the time of year to make my annual "Grape" awards, consisting of Sweet Grapes (cheers), Sour Grapes (jeers) and Sediment (downright awful)

Sweet Grapes--To American wine consumers who are vigorously resisting excessive wine pricing for big-name claret and Burgundy by returning to California and Italian wines. In fairness, the rise of the French franc is one factor, whereas a what-the-traffic-will-bear attitude may be another.

Sweet Grapes--To the legions of new-to-wine white Zinfandel lovers who are demanding drier styles, with several upscaling to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Sediment, however, for still avoiding red Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Sweet Grapes--To the many California wineries that are discarding generic labeling such as Chablis and Burgundy. At the current pace, all such labeling should be eliminated in a few years.

Sediment--To the California wine industry for not voluntarily imposing universal definitions and requirements for such label descriptions as "Private Reserve," "Special Selection," "Proprietors Reserve," etc. Each winery seems to have its own explanation, thus confusing the public. Sour Grapes to the California Wine Institute for not taking the lead.

Sediment--To the Wine Spectator wine journal, which published a Who's Who in wine with profiles of 100 who illuminate the wine world. Prominently listed is former President Nixon for allegedly keeping a bottle of a first-growth Bordeaux wrapped in a napkin on the floor by his chair leg so he wouldn't have to drink the lesser wines his staff poured for guests. Hardly good taste, much less illuminating.

Reopening Historic Structure

Sweet Grapes--To Brother Brennan of the Christian Brothers for the firm resolve to put the winery on the right track and for reopening the historical Napa Valley structural gem known as Greystone.

Sour Grapes--To America's wineries which trumpet the number of award-winning wines as an indication of wine supremacy. Not trumpeted is that those wineries produce and enter 30 to 40 wines and in many cases have little or no competition. This ought not to demean the award achieved by a small winery with only a single entry.

Sediment--To wine writers and critics who too quickly reject outstanding young wines that are unable to show well during the early blush of youth. Many fine wines, reds especially, do not bloom until years of cellar aging. Consumers can make sound prognostications by arranging a vertical tasting of a wine of a questionable vintage with those of earlier years.

Sweet Grapes--To the National Restaurant Assn. for rescuing the Monterey Wine Festival, now scheduled from March 8 to 11. It is expected to be bigger and better than ever, featuring 75% more wineries for tastings and special guest speaker George Plimpton, author of the "Paper Lion" and "Open Net." For more information write to P.O. Box 467, Monterey, Calif. 93946.

Sour Grapes, however, to the association for scheduling a national sommelier examination which will be administered by the British Court of Master Sommeliers. With all due respect to the British, it is high time Americans administered their own wine examinations.

Sweet Grapes--To the house of Seagram for apparently concluding that the wine versus hard liquor equivalency issue is for the birds.

Sweet Grapes--To the Ceretto Brothers of Piedmont for changing attitudes, habits and styles in Barolo wine making. The region will be better for it.

Sediment--To Robert Drouhin of the House of Joseph Drouhin for an alleged quote suggesting American consumers are gullible for listening to wine writers. Actually, he may be right. Fortunately, his Burgundy wines are not as controversial as he.

Sour Grapes--To those who are proclaiming the demise of the popularity of Chateau St. Jean wines. They are just as good as ever.

Sweet Grapes--To the Loire's vintners for not considering a price increase in light of the current value of the dollar in relation to the French franc.

Sediment for Pairings

Sediment--To those who ordain specific wine and food pairings, as if the matches were made in heaven and written in concrete. Wine lovers should assume a free posture and eat and drink whatever they please.

Sweet Grapes--To the March of Dimes' Monterey Gourmet Gala, set for Saturday in Monterey, featuring amateur chefs cooking their favorite dishes partnered with some of Monterey County's finest wines.

Sweet Grapes--To wine hobbyist Lloyd Flatt of New Orleans for two of the finest vertical wine tastings of 100 years' worth of Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Petrus. He follows the age-old wine principle of drinking ancient, noble wines only with friends. Many who own such rarities never uncork, thus precipitating the "over the hill" taste and ultimate wine auction hoopla.

Sweet Grapes--To Oregon's Pinot Noir producers for making the kinds of fine wines envied by California contemporaries. Several here are eyeing the region for Pinot Noir wine making.

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