NEW RELEASES from California and France are now making their appearance on the shelves of Washington area wine shops--and that's good news for local oenophiles. Better yet, there are even a few bargains to be had among the high-quality bottles.
Among the California wineries that are producing better and better wines at reasonable prices are Beringer, Rutherford Hill and Buena Vista. All three have ignored the ill-advised "I'll top your price" syndrome that seems to be infecting more and more California wineries. In particular, Beringer vineyards, under the dual leadership of winemakers Myron Nightingale and Ed Sbragia, seems to be producing excellent wines at prices that make them some of the best values anywhere. The Beringer 1980 Chablis at $2.99, is one of the very best generics on the market. This bargain has an appealing fatness and fruitiness with a dry finish. Don't miss it; it is a great wine for someone who wants to spend only $3. But for a couple more dollars, seek the Beringer 1981 Dry French Colombard, $4.99. A delightful summer wine with an aromatic, delicate bouquet of moderate intensity, this medium-bodied wine has crisp, fresh fruit, surprising character and a clean, dry finish.
Further along the price spectrum, the new Jordan 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon has been released for about $15 to $16 a bottle. It is the best structured and most impressive cabernet yet from Jordan, but priced $2 to $4 above its real quality level in today's world of wine.
One of the most popular white California "generic" wines is Trefethen's Eshcol. Though its price has jumped to as much as $6.99 a bottle, it is still the best generic white table wine on the market. And its price is attributable in part to the high percentage (87 percent) of chardonnay in the blend used to make the wine.
Two more attractive California merlots have also come on the market. The Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1979 Merlot ($12.99 to $13.49) and the 1979 Rutherford Hill Merlot ($8.99 to $9.49) are not inexpensive, but the quality is in line with the price tags. The Stag's Leap Merlot is the best merlot to date from that vineyard. It is fully mature and offers complex, cedary, fruity flavors and a spicy, intense bouquet. The Rutherford Hill 1979 is quite well made and a bit more tannic and closed at this point than Rutherford Hill's attractive 1978 Merlot.
French wine sales are rebounding as strongly as I have expected. The strong dollar plus some attractive vintages are resulting in some very nice bargains. The 1979 bordeaux, a good vintage of early maturing wines, are now coming on the market, and offer good value except for the top-of-the-line first growths. In addition, be sure to look out for the 1981 beaujolais and 1981 macons (made from chardonnay grape), which should retail for $5 to $7.50 a bottle. My early tastings of the 1981 beaujolais reveal good fruit and depth. They should make ideal drinking over the next two summers, and are truly the best beaujolais we have seen since the 1978s.
As for the 1981 bordeaux, my sources in Bordeaux are elated over the quality of the pomerols, graves and St. Emilions, with spotty reports on the medocs.
Looking for some great French burgundies? There is no doubt that much of what is currently on the market is overpriced and mediocre. But if you are inclined to indulge in one of these temperamental wines, I have had good luck with burgundies imported by Vineyard Brands of Vermont and Robert Chadderdon of New York. These two importers specialize in small, estate-bottled, authentic burgundy, and while their selections are not inexpensive, a bottle with their import label on it is as close to a guarantee of quality as you are likely to find in wines from this region.