The closest we've been to holding a Heublein auction in Washington is an occasional preview tasting. And if some members of our wine trade continue their discouraging ways, we're not likely to get any closer. Their opposition, you'll recall, caused Christie's to cancel its second auction here last year.
What a pity. And how shortsighted. As Heublein's Sandy McNally says: "Auctions help, not hinder, the market. We're not in competition with the trade, but supplementary to it."
Anyway, no auctions as yet, but there is a Heublein preview tasting here this week. A preview is a chance for potential bidders to taste some of the auction wines before mailing or telexing their bids. It should also be an enjoyable opportunity for non-bidders to have a go at some genuinely rare wines.
It should be. Our last Heublein preview, in 1980, was not a happy occasion. Too many people wanted to taste the same wines at the same time. This time, says McNally, it'll be different. This time there will be plenty of space (at the Sheraton Washington Hotel on April 21, noon to 4 p.m.) and plenty of wine (our allocation is valued at $20,000), and he will post a schedule of the times at which the rare bottles will be opened.
The auction itself, the 15th, in Los Angeles on May 26, includes pre-phylloxera French and California wines, 28 vintages of the Beaulieu Private Reserve Cabernets and a collection of Hungarians, some pre-World War I.
The Washington preview lists such rarities as an 1897 Inglenook Cabernet and a 1914 Egri Bikaver. The entry fee is the price of an auction catalogue: $35 from Heublein Inc., Box 505, Farmington, Conn. 06032; or $40 at the door.
Rare Bit--Just when you thought we'd closed, if not concluded, the subject of Welsh rabbit (see Free For All, Washington Post, any Saturday this past winter) up hops one from France. No, French Rabbit is neither fromage-sur-toast, nor a gas saving Peugeot. It's a brand of wine. What a dream for a marketing man: Find a catchy name; put it on an arty label; wrap that around a bottle of inexpensive French wine, white or red; and sell it to America. The packaging's great. But name and label do not a good wine make. What's underneath the pretty picture? A pleasant surprise. Two delightful party/summer outdoors/anytime wines, at an equally delightful price of $3. The white, Blanc de Blancs, is predominantly chenin blanc from the Loire. It's light, fresh and just fruity. The red, Vin Rouge Sec, is a blend from the southern Rhone, with a good dose of flavor in a light-to-medium body. Widely available.
Tales From the Nightingale--Myron Nightingale has stories to tell, colorful tales of pioneers and personalities from his 40 years o winemaking in California. And they sound all the juicier over a glass or two of the most recent fruits of his labors, the wines of Beringer, where he's been the winemaster since 1971. Beringer's '81 Fum,e Blanc, Sonoma, $7, is a dry sauvignon blanc, with a smooth touch, rather than any overly grassy or herbal character. The '81 Chardonnay, Gamble Ranch, $15, is totally barrel fermented and barrel aged. It's full now and will be rich, but not overpowering. I look forward to drinking it again--in a few years' time and preferably over some more anecdotes from its maker. Beringer's whites and excellent cabernets are well-distributed here.