THE FIRST time that track competitors encountered the backward flip in the high jump or the aluminum pole in the pole vault, they, to their dismay, witnessed a revolution in their sport. Only time will tell whether a similar revolution occurred at the Eastern Finals to pick the American Amateur Wine Tasting Team. Tom Feitel, the solid winner, stayed up the night before quaffing beer. The idea: a parched palate is more sensitive. "It worked out well," Feitel acknowledged. "If I had tried the same thing with bourbon, though, I probably wouldn't have been able to see the wines."
Feitel correctly identified seven out of eight grape varieties, missing only a California cabernet sauvignon while picking a rioja and a pouilly fume, among others. He scored an astounding 67 out of 102 points, on a scale in which points were awarded for identifying the vintage and commune as well as the grape variety and country of origin. The low score was four.
Of the contestants from this area, Michael deMaar pulled out a tie for third with 56 points. That entitles him to buy a ticket to Chicago to compete in the national finals for the five-person American Amateur Team. Then, he hopes, it's on to meet the undefeated British team.
The winemakers of New York State, the country's second largest producer, are holding their collective breaths. Just when they seemed to be well on their way to making good vineferas, particularly chardonnay, a brutal frost hit them in December. While the initial reports painted a picture of massive vine destruction caused by the early freeze hitting the still damp ground, current reports are less bleak. "It's too early to tell whether the wines themselves have been damaged, but I do not see any evidence of that at our vineyards," said Guy Devaux, winemaker of the Gold Seal Wine Co. His cautious optimism is echoed at other vineyards, which now expect losses to be confined to the buds and thus affect just a portion of one year's crop.
The French wine industry is beginning to react visibly to seeing its share of America's table wine import market shrink from 36 percent in 1969 to 12.9 percent currently, the first time it has dropped to third place. The change is attributed to price resistance, and the response is to stress quality rather than price. Locally, Kronheim Co. put together an extraordinary tasting of French bordeaux for about 85 Maryland wine and liquor retailers. It was a vertical tasting of 10 vintages of Chateau Batailley, a classified growth from Pauillac, most of which are not even available to buy. Nationally, what is billed as the largest contingent of French wine exporting firms ever assembled in this country will take part in the 1981 Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America convention in San Francisco starting March 29. France's effort to downplay price in the competition is apparent in the title of its exhibition: "The Imcomparable Wines of France."