- Q & A
March 1996 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 189 Rejected: 161 Approved: 27 Selected: 2
THE TALE OF TWO COUNTIES
One has been producing premium quality wine for over 100 years. The other, less than 10. One has a great reputation, the other is hardly known. One is in France, the other California. Which one is the premium producer?
If you've been a WOMC member for a long time you probably would have blurted out "France!" And, you'd be wrong! Yup, we finally found an area in Europe without the long, winemaking history that goes back to the dark ages. Not that this has anything to do with the quality of the wine. One taste will tell you just how far Cotes de Gascogne has come in 10 years.
Our California selection comes from an old favorite, Buehler Vineyards, high atop St. Helena in the picturesque Napa Valley. His Dear John Chardonnay is a light and non-threatening way to get into wine. But, don't let the easy-going style fool you. This is a serious wine with more flavor than we imagined and a finish that lasts for days.
There isn't a hotter grape right now than Merlot. The prices for California Merlot have risen out of sight. It's just a matter of time before the Europeans fig¬ure it out and go ballistic on us as well. Fortunately we scored a winner from an up-and-coming area of France which borders Bordeaux, and thus shares its grape varieties, one of which is Merlot. The Comtesse de SaraLena is an age-worthy gem which will reward the pa¬tient in a few years. We think it's super now and should be a blockbuster in a few more years.
Domestic SelectionCHARDONNAY, '94 DEAR JOHN
Just like Howard Hughes, John Buehler, Jr. took a million dollars and turned it into a fortune. Well, maybe it wasn't just like Howard Hughes. Okay, maybe it wasn't even a million dollars. Come to think of it, John probably isn't making a fortune either, but it's a great opening line, don't you think?
John Buehler, Sr., bought this 165-acre property above St. Helena overlook¬ing majestic, vine-ribbed hills and Lake Hennessey in 1972. He planted 60 acres to grapes and eventually sold those grapes to such stellar wineries as Grgich, Cuvaison and Ch. St. Jean. Buehler, hav¬ing retired as an engineer from Bechtal Corporation, turned the day-to-day run¬ning of the operation over to his son, John, Jr. From there things really took off.
John built the winery in 1978 and released his first Cabernet Sauvignon from that superb vintage in 1981. It be¬came a legend in its own time, selling out so quickly that the price tripled within six months after release. Us old-timers remember the frenzy in trying to get our hands on '78 Buehler Cabernet back then. Imagine what it's like today?
That first Cabernet was made by Heidi Peterson, daughter of famed wine-maker, Richard Peterson of Beaulieu Vineyards and later The Monterey Vine¬yard. Heidi went on to a more noble calling, making babies with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. Wonder what kind of wine their kids will make?
To know John is to love him. He's got one of those whimsical senses of humor which causes you to eagerly await his next off-the-wall comment. In this case, John put his off-the-wall comments on the label. The "Dear John" label features a hand-written note which "shares some candid moments which could eas¬ily be a page out of anyone's scrapbook" says the accompanying material. We would probably take issue with the term "anyone." Not anyone could have come up with this self-effacing, rather whim¬sical, non-threatening medium to sell wine. It's pure John Buehler. And, as they say about any classic, "they just don't make 'em like that anymore."
The same could be said about the wine. For as much fun as the label is, we suggest you serve this wine in a paper sack and ask your guests to guess how much it costs. We'll guar¬antee no one comes close. This Chardon-nay has $15 written all over it. Here is rich, expansive green apple and Asian pear fruit flavors endowed with texture and finesse reserved for the Reserves, at prices normally reserved for restaurants which accept no reservations. Chardon-nay is still the king of white wines and this wine is one of the reasons. The fla¬vors are enhanced by rich, toasty oak components, but not hidden by them. The finish stretches out to the next di-mension unless you can hold on while dining on fresh filet of sole delicately topped with fresh tomato, Kalmata olives and chopped green onion.Cellaring Suggestions: Beautiful now. Could improve over the next year, but why wait?
Imported SelectionMERLOT, '94. COMTESSE DE SARALENA
MARE-Low Koine TESS day Serra-LAYNA
Yvon Mau is one of the largest negociants in Bordeaux. They select wines from over 250,000 acres, 10,000 chateaux and 15,000 wine¬growers. From this vast array of choices, Mau chooses less than 10% of the wine to carry its name.
Founded nearly 100 years ago by its namesake, Yvon Mau is currently run by a 4th generation member of the family, Michel Mau. While the company was known for solid values in the area of Bordeaux and surrounding regions, like this one from the Cotes de Gascogne (pronounced "Gas-CONE-yeh), it has recently taken on research to improve grape quality in collaboration with the Oenology Institute of Talence in Bordeaux. As a result, techniques like lowering the temperature of the grapes before fermentation to extract more fruit flavors and analyzing grapes for sub¬stances responsible for flavor and body in order to produce more consistency, has led to an overall increase in quality of the wines, even in off vintages. (See Member Inquiry on page 4.)
Mau has also discarded many of the old ways and brought the computer age to winemaking. Since 1990, an ultra¬modern bottling plant performs both fil¬tration and bottling in perfectly sterile surroundings, while the entire operation is monitored by computers to identify any problem before it affects the wine. Innovation, attention to detail, modern techniques and a family history are only a few of the reasons for Yvon Mau's success. It ranks seventh among French wine brands and produces nearly 4,000,000 bottles of wine annually. One out of every 22 bottles of Bordeaux are sold through Yvon Mau.
Ten years ago there was so little table wine produced in the Cotes de Gascone, most wine books didn't even list it in their index. Much of the wine was distilled and made into inex¬pensive French brandy. With the fall of the dollar and the resultant increase in French wine prices, this area, along with many others, was converted to a prime wine-growing region. High yield, char¬acterless grapes were re-planted with more noble grapes which were cared for as if they were planted in one of Bordeaux's grand cru vineyards. Fortu¬nately for the producers, it was Caber¬net Sauvignon and the most sought-af¬ter grape in America, Merlot, which seem to do the best.
Because of its easy-drinkability upon release, as well as the press given to red wines in lowering the risk of heart problems, Merlot has become the new darling of wine drinkers. This fact has caused the grape in California to rise to the top of the heap in price, outdistanc-ing even Chardonnay. Reasonably-priced Merlots will come from other countries like our Comtesse de SaraLena.
And here is all the seduction you would expect from a terrific Merlot. Warm, generous blueberry and choco¬late coat the mouth and linger long after consuming. Try with a peppered steak flamed with (what else) French brandy.Cellaring Suggestions: Super now, but will show more complexity with another year or two in the bottle.
Member Inquiry"Paul, There have been a lot of sto¬ries lately about wine production being down world-wide and prices increasing as a result. I thought there was a glut of wine and people were drinking less."
T. J. N., Venice, CA
This has to be one of the most-asked questions lately as there seems to be a lot of confusion on the topic. Let me explain the situation as I see it. First of all, wine production has been off the past two years. Way off. In 1995, for instance, Italy's produc-tion was down an AVERAGE of 40%. Some areas made no wine at all. Since Italy produces nearly 25% of all the wine made in the world, we're talking a big dent here. Add to that decreases in production by 30% in California (50% off in the Central Coast) and France and you can un¬derstand how we can go from boom to bust in a hurry. These reductions were strictly the result of weather conditions in the Northern Hemi¬sphere for both the 1994 and 1995 harvest. This is a very rare occur¬rence.
There weren't the same circumstances in the Southern Hemisphere, however. Normal harvests were experienced in Chile, Australia and South Africa. But, so little wine is produced there as compared to the world total, that it's really not going to make much of a difference. Combined, they produce less than Sicily!
Other reasons come to play here too. Italy's production has dropped off 20% to 25% in the last 20 years.That's because 20 years ago, nearly half of the grapes were used for distillation, not bottled wine. Growers couldn't make enough money to grow the grapes, so they worked on growing grapes good enough to make wine from and thus, increase the price they received. Modern technology has allowed even small producers to make better wine, even in bad vin¬tages, than was ever possible before. The price for this process, however, is less quantity. In order to compete in the world market, the wine had to be better than average. This meant more stringent selection of grapes. For instance, several high-end Chianti producers who would make 10,000 cases of wine in an average vintage, made half of that in vintages like 1992. They selected only the best grapes from the best vineyards which survived the torrential rains to pro¬duce as good a wine as possible. They charged less, produced less and earned less.
Since the great 1990 vintage all over the world, Europe has had "ser¬viceable" vintages at best and down¬right disastrous ones at worst. The quantity has suffered so that the qual¬ity could be salvaged. This is pretty obvious when we go to major tastings. There are probably more good wines produced now than ever before. Un¬fortunately, the prices are rising and the bargains are getting tougher to come by. With the short crops of '94 and '95 on the horizon, it could be a few years before things ease up. It makes our job a little tougher. Pray for a good '96 harvest!
Adventures in EatingPotatoes vs. Pasta
And the debate continues. I divide my food-loving friends into two groups; the pasta lov¬ers and the potato lovers. Now most, mind you, love both (how could you not?) but usually they have a preference. My mission is usually to make a pasta dish for po¬tato lovers they go nuts over, and a potato dish for pasta lovers they can't live without.
Now, of course, you can always cheat and put potatoes in a pasta dish like that wonderful Italian dish made with new red potatoes, pep¬pers, garlic, parsley and tuna. But, that's cheating. I'd prefer to keep it on the up and up and just make this potato pie. It's guaranteed to make your guests go nuts. Of course, matching potatoes with bacon and butter sounds like heaven right from the start, doesn't it?
I try to cut down on the fat whenever possible. Forget it with this dish. The potatoes just love all that fat and you can't deny them when impressing a pasta lover is at stake.POTATO PIE FOR PASTA LOVERS
1 /2 cup whole milk
6 oz. bacon (approximately 6 slices)
2 eggs separated
1/2 stick butter (1 /4 cup)
1/4 cup flour
1 large onion
Heat oven to 400°.
Peel potatoes and grate coarsley. Place potatoes in cold water.
Chop onion and bacon finely and sauté over low heat in butter.
Add flour to onion and bacon mixture and sauté until incorporated. Turn off heat.
Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks.
Add yolks and beat approximately 30 sec. or until incorporated.
Fully drain potatoes and add to eggs. Add onion mixture and fold to incor¬porate.
Place in glass 9x11 inch baking dish (actually any dish that is about 1" to 2" high will do) and bake in preheated oven at 400° for 15 min. Reduce to 375° and bake 1 hr. Remove for 20 minutes.
Garnish with sour cream and green onion. Serves 8.
Do not consider fat or calorie content.
Earlier SelectionsItem: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #396A Chard., '94. Dr. John "Rich, pineapple and vanilla." Reg. Price $8.29 20.00% disc. $79.56/case $6.63/each
#396B Merlot, '94 Com. SaraLena "Blueberry and spice." Reg. Price $6.69 25.41% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
#296A Claret, '89. Gust.Niebaum "Cherry, cassis and vanilla flavors." Reg. Price $11.99 41.70% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#296B Sauv. Blanc, '95. Bay View "Flinty with pear and grapefruit." Reg. Price $5.99 20.00% disc. $57.48/case $4.79/each
#196A Fumé/Chard., '94. Hedges "Fesh fruit and herbal flavors." Reg. Price $6.69 20.00% disc. $64.20/case $5.35/each
#196B Chi. Clas., '93. Cas. di Fab. "Black Cherry and earth tones." Reg. Price $8.29 20.00% disc. $79.56/case $6.63/each
#1295A La Pilla, NV. Ramano "Creamy, smooth black cherry" Reg. Price $8.99 33.37% disc. $71.88/case $5.99/each
#1295B Brut, NV. Jaume Serra "Citrus and melon" Reg. Price $9.99 30.00% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
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