Several weeks ago, my good friend and colleague Frank Prial published, in his "Wine Talk" column in the New York Times, a long, defensive letter from wine maker William Hill of the Napa Valley. In Hill's letter, he offered a rebuttal to an earlier Prial piece that declared, "California wines come around more rapidly. Even the best of them mature more quickly than the lordly first growths: Chateau Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild." Happily, Prial had concluded his column by stating that "the aging potential of California wines needs no defense."
Unhappily, that episode served to reinforce the likelihood that making comparisons between vintages is a habit that is not about to fade away. Of course, there is merit in comparisons and in wine tastings, but one should never forget that wines, like paintings or musical compositions, affect people differently. That came into focus last month at the Calabasas Inn during the 20th anniversary celebration of the area's leading wine merchant, David Breitstein, whose Duke of Bourbon emporium specializes in fine vintage wines.
Several hundreds of Breitstein's friends and customers, along with a number of California's leading wine makers, sat down to taste 14 incredibly interesting wines. When we compared Jack Davies' Schramsberg 1983 Blanc de Blancs with the Schramsberg 1981 Reserve, the younger wine had a beguiling fruitiness; it was crisp and clean, with the direct sparkle most often present in a Krug or Billinger champagne. According to Davies, the 1981 was more austere, and its bouquet was more complex. Both are of flawless production, but from years of experience, I know that some wine lovers prefer the fruitier, fresh style, whereas others--and we can count the English among them--enjoy champagnes with an almost oxidized bouquet.