Except for the dark-horse entry that crossed the finish line first, the final event in The Washington Post's tasting of red jug wines went pretty much according to prediction.
Almaden Mountain Red Burgundy compiled the best score, 12.7 on a scale of 20. Despite Almaden's fine performance, the sleek, relatively dry jug wines from France as a group outdistanced their California rivals, several of wich were made flabby with excess residual sugar. The next four wines after Almaden all were French: Alexis Lichine Rouge, La Fleur Rouge, Ecu Royal Country Red and Remy Pannier Rouge de France.
Seven domestic and seven imported wines, all but one sold in 1.5 liter bottles for prices ranging from $3.29 to $6.29, were matched in the "blind" tasting. These wines had finished at the top in earlier, separate tastings of 17 imported and 16 domestic wines. Ten persons participated in the final tasting. The final score for each wine represents an average of the tasters' individual scores.
Wine tasting is a highly subjective undertaking. It may be difficult at first to understand how wines could change position as they did. Neither Gallo Hearty Burgundy, which placed first in the domestic tasting, nor Vignolle, which tied for first in the imported tasting, repeated their achievements. This may be explained by several factors.
In the final tasting the wines were drier than in the domestic tasting; therefore, Hearty Burgundy's relatively high residual sugar stood out more. Also, the bottle sampled, while fresh-tasting, had a chemical aroma - perhaps sulphur - that has not been present (or at least, not been noticed) in the bottle sampled at the initial tasting. Conversly, in such robust company Vignolle seemed light and lost points for a very fint or "muted" nose.
There are, of course, other wines. Several readers have suggested - or demanded - that their particular favourites be included. The policy adopted at the start of this series was not one of exclusion, but one of limited inclusion. It was decided to select only 1.5 liter wines, or bottles of approximately that capacity. There are some excellent wines available only in .75 liter bottles that were not included, nor were the popular large jug wines of Spain that come in gallon or 3 liter containers.
These tastings are intended only as guides. The reader, first, should understand that the panel's collective taste may not be his or her's. Read the comments, some of which reflect differences of opinion within the panel. Second, the reader should perform an equation with ranking and price to determine where the best bargains lie. Third, the reader should not hesitate to perform independent comparisons. Use your own favourite or a new brand plus the leading wines here and have the confidence to drink what tastes best to you.
These wines were tasted in a clinical situation. They may taste better with conversation. Certainly all of them are suitable for social drinking, particularly as accompaniments to food. In the warm weather period, incidently, it is perfectly proper to lightly chill wines such as these. Chilling not only makes them more welcome with summmer fare, it tends to mask flaws; particularly in the heavier, more alcoholic California wines.
One detail illustrates the difficulty in establishing continuity in jug wines. The Bolla Valpolicella was purchased at the same store as was the bottle used in the tasting of imported wines. Less than a month had passed, but the wine was of a different vintage, 1975 instead of the 1976 purchased originally. The fact came to light only after the tasting was completed and may account, in part, for the Valpolicella's failure to stand out.
The results of the final tasting follow. CAPTION: Picture, no caption; Chart, Red Jug Wine Tasteoff