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TASTING NOTES : Vins de la Saison


Here are a few tasting notes on newly released California wines:

Domaine de Clarck, a small producer of Burgundian-style wines located in Carmel, was founded in 1989 by Jim Clark, a retired professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Business.

He named the winery Clarck, with a second "C" added, Clark said, because "We lived in France for a year and the French could never spell our name right. They always put a 'C' in it, so this is my personal little joke."

Clark, a collector of French wines for 25 years, buys grapes from such important vineyards as Sangiacomo and Bohan in Sonoma and Bien Nacido in the Central Coast.

Domaine de Clarck's first efforts are surprisingly polished for a start-up winery. It's a property to watch. Small amounts are available in select wine shops and restaurants.

* 1990 Chardonnay, Monterey County ($14)--Tropical fruit with a layer of complexity from full malolactic fermentation and long barrel aging. It needs another year to develop more depth, but it's Burgundian in style, a wine for those who like richer Chardonnays.

* 1990 Chardonnay Reserve, Monterey County ($20)--Impressive richness and complexity, very Burgundian with a vanilla-butterscotch aroma and a rich, deeply complex finish from long aging on the lees. A big, rich wine, extremely well crafted.

* 1989 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County ($10)--A true bargain. The aroma is cherry and spice with hints of smoke and cedar, enough oak to season the finish, but not very heavy. Quite drinkable, though it will improve over time. An impressive first effort.

* 1990 Pinot Noir, Monterey ($10)--A slight vegetal note adds complexity. With aeration it opens up to reveal smoke-oak notes and burnt cherry in the finish. Another good value.

Babcock Vineyards, one of Santa Barbara County's many hidden treasures, is owned by Bryan Babcock, a Los Angeles native who discovered his destiny on the family ranch during summer visits as a kid.

His latest releases, though hard to find, are dramatic examples of top-rate winemaking.

* 1990 Riesling ($15)--May seem pricey for a Riesling, but this one is worth it. A dry-styled wine with creaminess and great texture, it works well as a match with appetizers and light seafood dishes. The texture comes from aging the wine eight months in older oak barrels, which broadens the aroma and flavor.

* 1990 Gewurztraminer ($16)--Another pricey wine, but one that works wonders with smoked salmon. This dry wine underwent malolactic fermentation, adding a layer of richness. Aging in older oak barrels gives it even more texture. A grand experience.

* 1990 Sauvignon Blanc ($10)--Lovely herbal fruit scent and crisp, textured finish.

* 1990 Eleven Oaks Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ($22)--One of the most expensive Sauvignon Blancs on the market, but worth a try. Most of the wine underwent a malolactic fermentation, giving it a creamy, buttery note. Babcock left the wine on the lees for nine months, some in new French oak barrels, which gave it complex hazelnut and spice notes. Marvelously scented and with a wonderful aftertaste.

Robert Mondavi Winery, which has been tinkering with sparkling wine for more than a decade, at last has a line to offer. The wines are available at the winery tasting room in Oakville or by mail.

A spokesman for the Mondavi Winery says non-reserve sparkling wines will be released in larger quantities, at lower prices, in the future.

* 1985 Brut Reserve ($35)--Creamy, delicately flavored wine with a light aroma of fruit and toasty elements. An attractive wine, perhaps a little pricey.

* 1985 Brut Chardonnay Reserve ($35)--Fascinating aroma of Chardonnay spice and bread dough-toasty elements, with a racy, citrusy finish. A broad, soft, appealing wine, one of the best Chardonnay-based sparkling wines I have ever tasted. The price is a bit high, considering the competition.

Truchard Winery was founded in 1990 by Tony and JoAnn Truchard, who have owned vineyards in the Congress Valley area of the Carneros in southern Napa Valley for nearly two decades.

Tony, a physician and wine collector, was living in Reno in 1973 when he bought his first 20-acre parcel of land (an abandoned fruit orchard) and planted grapes. Since then, the Truchards have acquired 200 acres of vines. The winemaker is Michael Havens.

* 1989 Merlot ($18)--I may be prejudiced in favor of this wine because it reminds me of one of the finest wines I ever tasted, a 1977 Carneros Creek Winery Cabernet Sauvignon from the Truchard vineyard. This wine isn't dark or particularly concentrated, but the aroma is pure Merlot, with hints of tarragon and cedar, and the flavors of black cherry are attractive and make the wine tasty now, though a year or two will expand its flavors. More Merlots should be this approachable.

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