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Wine Notes

Up-and-Coming Vintages From Down Under

January 26, 1989|DAN BERGER | Times Wine Writer

Today is the 201st birthday of the founding of Australia, so it's fitting to look at the wines of the largest importer of Australian wine to the United States.

Originally called Mark Swann for a popular wine merchant Down Under, the Mark Swann line now includes some wines called Roo's Leap, Koala Ridge and now a premium sparkling wine called Lasseter.

Increases in the value of the Australian dollar in the last year have increased the price of Australian wines in the United States, but they still represent good value and the best example is the 1985 Mark Swann Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.50), which is round and soft with good Cabernet fruit and a decent finish.

I also liked the 1985 Koala Ridge Hermitage ($9), a wine made from the Shiraz grape but softer and more approachable than many California Petite Sirahs, to which this wine may be compared.

The 1985 Lasseter Champagne, which is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, is a broad, rich wine with a toastiness some will love. At $17 it's not inexpensive, but an interesting, very flavorful first effort with an attractive gold-bronze-laden label.

The Institute of Masters of Wine, previously a British-only club, has announced that its Master of Wine competition is now open to any qualified applicant in the world.

Abbreviated MW, the Master of Wine title has been bestowed in the past only on those members of the British wine trade who passed a rigorous series of tests. Starting in 1953, only 136 persons have passed the MW tests.

The MW program, aimed at certifying wine merchants based on their expertise, is open only to those who are employed in the wine trade. However, the requirement that the individual be a resident of and employed by a firm in Great Britain has been removed from the rules.

The tests that must be passed to earn the MW title are considered very difficult. They include an essay and a blind tasting of wines.

Because of the difficulty of studying for the exam, Vintners International Co. Inc. is offering a $15,000 scholarship to those who intend to take the MW tests. Applicants for the scholarship must complete a kind of mini-MW course, including a major essay on the wine business.

Vintners International, owners of Paul Masson Vineyards and Taylor California Cellars as well as other wine properties, is headed by a Master of Wine, Michael P.H. Cliff.

For details on the Vintners' MW scholarship, write to Vintners International Scholarship, c/o Peter Martin Associates, 770 Lexington Ave., Ninth Floor, New York, N.Y., 10021. Deadline for essays to be received by Vintners is Feb. 15.

Erich Russell, who has been assistant wine maker at Belvedere Winery in Sonoma County, has been promoted to wine maker, replacing Don Frazer, who resigned.

Frazer, who left to pursue family interests outside the wine industry, will remain a consultant with the winery.

A methodology is in order for buying wine gadgets, implements and other vinous memorabilia from wine accessory catalogues.

In the last few weeks, I have received a number of these catalogues and I went over them expecting pricing to be about the same in all of them. What I noticed was a disparity in pricing that, in some cases, is fairly wide.

Unless there is a compelling reason to buy from a wine accessory catalogue, I feel it's best to take the catalogue with you to department and specialty stores and use it as a guide. Often the same product may be found at quite a saving.

Also, don't ignore the shipping costs listed in the catalogues. In some catalogues, shipping adds 5% to 15% to the cost of the item.

As cuisine becomes more important worldwide, wine is becoming a beverage of major impact in the Orient. Not only are California wineries increasing sales to Japan and Hong Kong dramatically, but now places as wine-culturally remote as Thailand and mainland China are becoming converts.

The first California Food and Wine Promotion was staged at the Oriental Hotel on Jan. 23 in Bangkok, Thailand. Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley sent chef Paul Bertolli to prepare meals for a week on a tour co-sponsored by six California wineries hoping to expand the newly discovered Asian market.

The program was initiated by Ron Batori, vice president of the Christian Brothers winery, working with Philippe Caretti, food and beverage manager at the Oriental Hotel. Five other wineries sponsored the promotion--Clos du Val, Geyser Peak, Jordan, Kenwood and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

At about the same time it was announced that a San Francisco-based company has placed the wines of Caymus and Lambert Bridge on the wine list at the newly opened, 575-room Palace Hotel in Beijing, China, one of the most luxurious hotels in Asia.

Kathleen Fung, co-founder of Anthony Zurich and Co., said the only other hotel in China to carry American wine is the Hua Ting Sheraton in Shanghai, which added Robert Mondavi and Paul Masson wines in 1988.

Fung pointed out that China has plans to add some 600 new hotels during the next six years, meaning that "there appears to be an untapped market for California wines in the People's Republic of China."

Early last year, Wente Bros. winery in Livermore sold wine to Japan for the famed Bullet Train. It was Japan Railways' first order of American wine and was negotiated by the Toyota Motor Co.

At the time, Debra Sanchez of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said, "It's just the beginning. The Japanese are falling in love with California wines."

The date of the 1989 Napa Valley Wine Auction has changed to accommodate wine industry executives who want to attend the Vin Expo trade fair in France.

Dates for the Napa Valley Auction this year will be June 8 to 10, a week earlier than it has been held since its inception in 1981. Vin Expo, a wine trade event in Bordeaux, annually draws many people who would love to attend the wine auction as well.

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