NEW YORK'S barrel tasting of California wines is Washington's gain. We get a larger-than-usual crop of wine personalities from the West Coast, combining the Big Night at the Four Seasons withe selling and courtesy visits to East Coast cities.

Bernard Portet, one of the first of the new wave of French wine men to settle in California, presented a selection of his excellent Clos du Val chardonnays, zinfandels and cabernets, plus the hard-to-find '78 merlot.

Michael Mondavi left his sister Marcia, to wave the Robert Mondavi family flag in New York and presented a somewhat simpler barrel tasting of his own at The View restaurant in the Key Bridge Marriott. Samples of the 1980 chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon showed the fine potential for this highly regarded vintage. Over lunch and a tasting of recently released chardonnays and cabernets, Mondavi talked of his family's continuing research into all aspects of winemaking. Included in the plan is the probability of an agreement with top French barrel maker, Philippe Demptos, to make French-style barrels using American oak, and a direct importing link with Portuguese and Spanish cork producers.

Tom Burgess is rationalizing his range. From the '81 vintage, Burgess Cellars will be producing three varietals only: cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and chardonnay. He intends to extend the wood aging of his cabernets, from two to three years, and will hold the wines in bottle for a minimum of six months before release. He feels that this type of cellar maturation best suits the full, rich style fo cabernet grown in his Napa vineyards. With an eye to developing a broad base for distribution, Burgess is keen to expand his exports, eventually to 10 percent of his production.

In person, Robert Finigan is a pleasant, polite, mild-mannered man. On paper, he has firm, clear, occasionally dogmatic opinions on wine. The author of Robert Finigan's Private Guide to Wines, one of the most respected newsletters in the country, makes frequent forays from San Francisco, where he lives. On a lightning visit to Washington in late March, he was pleased to learn of our continuing interest in wine bars. Subscription rates to Finigan's monthly guide are shortly to be increased from $24 a year to $36, the first rise since 1977, so now's the time to subscribe: Walnuts & Wine, Inc., 100 Bush St., San Francisco, Calif. 94014.