For some wine importers, one of the most unpleasant side effects of a strong American dollar is the consumer's obsession with French wine When the dollar was weak during 1978-1981, importers of wine searched out values in fine wine from Australia, Spain, Italy and South America, as many French wines ha become exorbitantly expensive.
However, when the dollar regained strength in 1982, French wine prices dramatically dropped because of a favorable exchange rate, and the rush to stock up on these wines began and has continued through today.
However, in the last eight months the value of the dollar has dropped almost 20 percent against the franc and, in addition, France had a mediocre crop in 1984. The combinaton of the dollar's drop in value and an average quality crop has caused prices for practically all new French wines to rise significantly.
Not only will domestic wine producers benefit immensely from the renewed interest in "made in the U.S.A." wines, but importers of wines from less prestigious wine producing regions will also see increasingly strong interest in their wines.
For the consumer who once again seeks honest values of high quality outside of France, I recommend very highly the red and white wines produced by Chile's most famous and, by virtually all accounts, best winery. Long considered the finest producer of Chilean wine, it is the Cousino-Macul winery, located in the Rip Maipo Valley just southwest of Santiago.
The winery, founded in 1870, produces wine only from its own 651 acres of vineyards, which are planted on the slopes of the Andes Mountains, with the highest slopes planted with cabernet sauvignon. Top wine of the Cousino-Macul winery and the top wine of Chile is the Cabernet Sauvignon Antiques Reserva, a wine that is made in a manner very much like a French bordeaux, and not surprisingly resembles a fine bordeaux.
The wine is produced from 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged two years in small oak casks, and then three years in the bottle before being released by the winery. The winery also makes another cabernet sauvignon from its vineyards planted on more fertile soil and lower lying slopes of the Andes. This wine is usually blended with 10 to 15 percent merlot and is meant to be less age worthy than the richer, more classic Antiques Reserva. The winery also produces small amounts of white wines such as semillon, sauvignon blanc, riesling and chardonnay, but only the later wine is presently exported.
At a recent tasting of the top of the line Antiques Reserva wines, I was stuck by a richness and complexity that became even more stunning as the wines become older. Such vintages of 1967 and 1969 were still exuberantly rich and fruity and had developed very complex, cedary, ripe, plum-like bouquets that were remarkably similar to a fine bordeaux.
The following are my tasting notes on the wines from Cousino-Macul that are available locally. The prices listed are obviously sensational values. At present, Cousino-Macul wines are sold at the Calvert Woodley Shop, Morris Miller Liquor, Pearson's Wine and Liquor Annex, Rex Wine and Spirits, and Riverside Wine and Spirits. I would run, not walk, to one of these shops to try one of these exceptionally priced homemade wines.
1984 Chardonnay ($4.99): For years the white wines from Chile were heavy, course, oxidized wines, which despite their low prices, represented very poor value. This chardonnay represents the new breed of Chilean white wine. It is clean, crisp, fruity with good body, some subtle butter flavors and a good finish. It competes very favorably with the best Chardonnays from the Macon region of France.
1981 Cabernet Sauvignon "Regular Bottling" ($4.99-$5.79): This richly fruity, supple wine has medium body, lush black currant flavors, soft tannins and much of the character of a good bordeaux. It is excellent for drinking now and over the next two to three years.
1979 Cabernet Sauvignon Antiquas Reserva ($6.49): This wine will not be released locally until Nov. 1, so mark that date down on your calendar. It is a much more profound and complex wine than a regular cabernet and has a lovely, rich, deep intense fruitiness with beautiful black currant flavors. There are also spicy and cedary scents in its complex bouquet and the soft, yet moderate tannins in the finish indicate that while this wine can be easily drunk now, it should improve for at least four to five more years. Needless to say, it is a great value.
1978 Cabernet Sauvignon Antiquas Reserva ($6.49): This is the current vintage of Cousino-Macul's top-of-the-line cabernet on the market. It is slightly less rich and powerful than the 1979, but has a wonderful supple richness, extremely fine balance and an expansive fragrant bouquet of spicy fruit. It should drink well for three to five more years. Wine Briefs
If you are planning to visit California, you should not leave home without the new 1985 edition of the Wine Spectator Wine Maps for California. This 112-page, soft-cover magazine includes valuable touring information for over 500 California wineries and lists 400 recommended restaurants. The maps are especially good when trying to locate a favorite California winery. The Wine Spectator Wine Maps book can be obtained by sending a check or money order for $3.95 plus $1.25 for postage and handling to The Wine Spectator Wine Maps, Order Department, Opera Plaza, Suite 2040, 601 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, Calif. 94102.