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Wine Notes


Hanging out with superstar winemakers is now officially cooler than collecting furniture. So we must conclude from the 12th Napa Valley Wine Auction, staged earlier this month.

The auction raised a record $1 million-plus, with the highest bids going for dinners, tastings and cruises with winemakers. In past years, giant bottles housed in furniture-sized cabinets were the biggest attraction.

Bidding started on a spirited note with the first lot--106 bottles of wine representing the first wine made by each member of the Napa Valley Vintners Assn. Florida restaurateur Frank Klauber won the collection with a bid of $14,000.

The day's high bid, $40,000, was paid by Dan Lynch of Los Altos Hills for a cruise, a ride in classic cars, and dinner at Far Niente Winery with owner Gil Nickel. Nickel didn't see the bidding. He was on a cruise.

A dinner for 12 with Robert Mondavi went for $21,000, and many other lots featuring tastings and dinners with winery owners attracted high bids.

The final lot of the auction, 20 cases of wine blended from components submitted by all 106 members of the vintners, was won by Gerrett Copeland, a member of the DuPont family and a frequent bidder at these auctions. He paid $35,000 for the wine, which was blended by 90-year-old Andre Tchelistcheff, dean of California winemakers.

On a heartwarming note, a giant bottle of 1989 Hans Kornell Champagne Cellars sparkling wine drew a bid of $10,000. The auction chairwoman this year was Paula Kornell, a vice president of the winery, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with creditors threatening to sell it. "It was our way of showing our support for the Kornells," said one bidder.

Proceeds from the auctions go to medical institutions in the Napa Valley.

Following the success of Sutter Home Winery, which earlier in the year sold 250,000 cases of a fresh, low-alcohol red wine called Soleo, the Louis M. Martini winery has released its own version.

Called Fresco Rosso, the Gamay Beaujolais-based wine is made with low alcohol and low tannins and is off-dry--even a bit sweeter than Soleo.

The wine, to be released July 1, will sell for $6 a bottle.

Two of the most storied wines in recent California history may be heading for an early grave. Those who have 1968 and 1970 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Cabernets should probably think about drinking them soon, to judge from tastings I've done of those wines in the last year.

Except for some bottles that have been perfectly stored at very cool temperatures all their lives, both wines seem to have aged rather quickly in the last three years and are now at a peak. Some bottles I have had are actually a bit past their peak--even bottles under perfect storage conditions.

The '68 and '70 BV-PR wines are among California's most heralded Cabernets of the last 25 years, and were predicted to last much longer.

Idaho has become the ninth state to pass a reciprocal wine shipments bill, permitting residents of Idaho to buy wine directly from any state that has a similar law. It also permits Idaho wines to be shipped to residents of states with reciprocal laws.

California was the first to pass a wine reciprocal trade law. Since then, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington have passed similar bills.

Under the agreements, private parties may order wine from licensees in states that have reciprocal wine trade laws.

As part of its move toward premium wines, the E & J Gallo Winery is phasing out use of its own name on its low-end dessert wines.

A spokesman for Gallo confirmed that the winery is testing the name "G and Q" for its inexpensive fortified wines including Port and White Port, which sell for just over $1 in pint bottles.

Ed Everett, a San Francisco wine industry analyst, points out that many Gallo brands, including Carlo Rossi and Andre, have never carried the Gallo name.

"Gallo has tried to make it appear that some of its special proprietary brands had their own separate origins . . . and 'G and Q' would be right in keeping with that move," says Everett.

He says the company is trying to elevate the Gallo brand by attaching the name only to its finest wines, "and this is another move to put some distance between the Gallo name and the ordinary commodity-range products that they make."

Gallo also announced it would release five wines in 187-milliliter bottles with screw caps. The bottles are one-fourth the size of standard bottles. The wines--White Zinfandel, White Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon--will be available singly or in four-packs.

Wine of the Week

1990 Chimere Pinot Noir ($15)-- The Pinot Noirs of Santa Barbara County, especially those from the two great vineyards Sierra Madre and Bien Nacido, have a very distinctive aroma. Their exotic suggestion of cherries, cinnamon and clove, with traces of cardamom, brings to mind wines from some regions in Burgundy. Chimere is a brand developed recently by Gary Mosby, and this first Pinot Noir under the label is a perfect example of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. From Bien Nacido Vineyard fruit, the wine has more blackberry fruit than cherries, a trace of spinach and cinnamon, and just a hint of toast from aging in French oak barrels. I especially liked the finish of the wine, which is soft and generous without excessive tannin.

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