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First Encounters With New and Youthful Wines : Tiny Napa Valley Vineyard Leads Parade With Sauvignon Blanc at Benefit

April 02, 1987|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

It's always fascinating to taste new and youthful wines in the continuing search for the best--the key is to acquire bottles that will surely become expensive or extinct.

At a benefit for the Make a Wish Foundation, the organization that fulfills the dreams of terminally ill children, the Palm Springs Desert Princess Resort and Hotel recently presented a "What's New in California Wine" tasting featuring current and soon-to-be released wines from more than 40 California wineries.

Reds and whites were tasted, notably Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. A top Sauvignon Blanc is a debut 1985 release from Amizetta, a tiny Napa Valley vineyard established by transplanted Texans, Amizetta and Spencer Clark. Fashioned in a big fruity, yet dry style, the wine is round, clean, crisp and assertive, with a light touch of French oak. Drink it now for pleasant, fresh taste, or age it for a year or two.

A Substitute for Chardonnay

Three others fared well too. Anton, Fume Blanc 1985, although a bit on the flabby side, showed considerable soft, round flavors for early drinking, as did Hop Kiln 1985, with more assertive fruit. Lyeth White 1984, made from 65% Sauvignon blanc grapes and fashioned in a more austere, crisp style with a bit of petillance, is a good bet at the table as a substitute for Chardonnay. Lyeth does not label by varietal names, preferring to blend as necessary, but make no mistake, the Sauvignon blanc character is obvious.

There were many fine young Chardonnays. A prime choice is Sonoma-Cutrer 1985, Russian River Ranches. This has an apple-like aroma with slight youthful petulance, generous flavor, exquisite balance and an attractive, not over-oaked, austere finish. Three to five years of aging will help.

Also a good bet is Spring Mountain 1983, developing beautifully in a French white Burgundy style with an austere nose and a complex, earthy taste. It's a good value at $15 and one of the best of the winery's recent Chardonnay offerings.

Outstanding is J. W. Morris 1985, Black Mountain, Douglas Hill, Alexander Valley. Here is clean, "fruit up-front," higher acidity yet in a viscous, luscious style. In a more restrained style, yet amply endowed with Chardonnay flavor, but not as well balanced, is the winery's Black Mountain Vineyard 1983, with 13% non-intrusive alcohol.

Improved is Callaway 1985, featuring assertive, apple-like flavors with greater drinkability and appeal than in earlier years. A fatter, fruitier mode is evident in Clos du Bois, 1985, with soft texture and roundness, yet good acidity for two to four more years of aging.

A Near-Homecoming for Cains

Cain Cellars, 1985 reflects a bit of finish heat in a lean, yet full-flavored style with adequate fruit for earlier, rather than later consumption. For proprietors Joyce and Jerry Cain, former Palm Springs residents, the tasting was a kind of homecoming. Yaeger 1983 provided an earthy, apple-like nose in an attractive, round style marred by a bit of finish heat. In a softer, riper mode is Richardson 1984, with an appealing cider-like taste and ample structure for aging.

Among the best are Winterbrook 1985, and William Hill, Gold Label 1984. The former, a newcomer to Amador County, was more subdued with excellent viscosity. It is a prime candidate for today's drinking. Big, rich and somewhat fat is Hill with in-depth fruit, aging ability and already evident nuances. A most attractive wine.

Creston Manor 1985, showed a lovely nose and flavor riches but needs time, perhaps a year or two, for best pleasure. Dry Creek 1985 offered subtlety of fruit and a more austere style, but fell a bit short in the finish. Three to five years of cellaring should help. Lean, with good fruit in a multiple apple-like flavor style is Fetzer 1985, also a solid bet for several years of aging. Karly 1985 is more assertive with fine integrated fruit is most generous now but needs time.

A special favorite for fans of big, fruity, apple-like Chardonnay aromas and flavors is Monticello 1985, Jefferson, the kind of wine for which California has become noted. Trentadue 1985, obviously more viscous and giving the impression of a pleasant sweet taste from ample fruit and high 13.7% alcohol, is not sugar sweet, but subtly so from strong apple-like flavors.

Among the big-styled reds, Cain Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon 1982, showed well with a robust blend of chocolate-cherry flavors followed by some finish heat. A fine Cabernet, but at least five years of aging is a must.

Long Aging's Not Necessary

Following in the same mode, but with a tighter structure is Creston Manor 1983, with less apparent acidity and greater softness of texture. Long aging is not necessary. Leyth Red 1983 also shows appealing early softness, a good balance and a blend of generous flavors from 65% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec. It had an intrusive taste of wood, but is good for today's consumption.

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