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ON WINE

It Was a Very Good Year : A List of the Most Memorable Wines of the Past 12 Months

December 27, 1987|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

ONE OF the most heated discussions occurring during the recent three-day "World of Wines" assemblage at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel was set off by panelist Bill Jekel. President of Jekel Vineyards in Monterey County, with about 15 years of history in wine making and gold medals galore for his Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons, Jekel is concerned about the lack of registered status for his and other leading California vineyards. Citing the famous French Classification of 1855, which ranked Bordeaux wines--based on prices over preceding years--in a Grand Cru system which has remained virtually unchanged for more than 130 years, he led off a discussion titled, "Rating America's Vineyards: Should there be an American Grand Cru System?"

All the panelists agreed that consumers need something beyond medal recognition to find their way to reliably better, finer wines, but even there, numerical evaluations falter, and using the 100-point scale, as Agustin Huneeus said, "It's a disaster to say that one wine is a 97, another one merely 92. It's like doing the same thing to a Mozart concerto at one rating and a Beethoven symphony at another. It's a personal experience."

Darrell Corti, Sacramento's leading wine merchant, scholar and writer, said: "American consumers like everything compartmentalized in neat little boxes, into which wines don't fit!" All panelists were worried about any ultimate government bureaucratic interference. Bitter barbs came from the platform as well as the audience on the implementing of any system or criteria for quality judgment. I overheard the colloquial American wisdom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" as the answer.

In its November-December, 1987, issue, Wine Country magazine, published in Benicia, Calif., stated that consumers are well served by its annual listing of the "Best of the Best Wineries," which ranks wineries by ratings derived from its own tastings. In 1987, that amounted to a point system that statistically ranked 194 wineries in a "rank spread" that reduced the ratings of 400 wineries, down to one Platinum class (Buena Vista Winery), 10 Gold Medal winners, 15 Silver, 25 Bronze, and 40 Top Producer winners, for a total of 91. There are obvious flaws in the system--which did not include Robert Mondavi, Jekel, Grgich Hills, Jordan, Chateau Montelena, Louis M. Martini, Raymond, Far Niente, Zaca Mesa, Wente, Chalone, Acacia, Stainsbury, Schramsberg and Concannon--but did include Almaden and the nearly extinct Paul Masson.

I've compiled a list of the outstanding wines in my 1987 experience for shopping guidance in 1988. Memory records them all as wonderful, with price no indication of quality.

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