And now for a roundup of this spring's wine news: From California: prices of small production, better quality wines are coming down. Aware that they are losing East Coast consumers to the more favorably priced imports, some producers have announced lower prices at the winery. Others, including Cakebread Cellars of Napa Valley, have changed their distribution system in order to "revise down" prices in the trade. Cakebread's lightly oaky, smooth '81 Sauvignon Blanc will be a better buy at its new $11.50, as will its '79 Zinfandel, a fine example of true zin bramble and black pepper flavors, at $12.50.
Burgess Cellars was one of the first to cut prices voluntarily on wines already on retail shelves. Its 1980 Napa Chardonnay, once $15, is now available here for under $11. From Bordeaux: Shippers are urging claret drinkers in America to buy the 1980 reds. Importers here agree. Premature adverse reports of the vintage in the American press angered growers and shippers. Negociant Philippe Quien says, "While it was a poor spring and summer and the size of the crop was small, like any year some ch.ateaux were more successful than others." Calling it a commercial vintage, of better quality than 1977, Quien describes the '80s as being light, pleasant and early maturing wines. He endorses tasting reports that recommend the following ch.ateaux, all quoted with approximate bottle prices in Washington: Margaux and Latour at $30, L,eoville LasCases and Pichon Lalande at $11, Ducru Beaucaillou and Figeac at $12.
However, local retailers are lukewarm. MacArthur's is not interested in the '80s: "We still have a selection of '79s and '76s, both better vintages and often at lower prices." Calvert- Woodley believes that the '80s will not be easy to sell, with the exception of the best-known ch.ateaux. And a spokesman for Harry's says that his customers are either buying the fine '78s or saving their money for the much publicized '81s and '82s. TFrom Italy: Chianti Classico producers in Italy's Tuscany harvested another good crop in 1982. Yet they are not happy, as they face another year of slumping sales, unprofitably low prices and overfull cellars. An exception on all three counts is Badia a Coltibuono. This is one estate that can afford to hold back much of its comparatively expensive, traditionally made riservas and offer them as mature wines to top Italian restaurants and to importers in the United States and Britain.
Owner Piero Stucchi Prinetti opposes recent innovations in chianti. Preferring to work with the traditional four grape varieties--sangiovese, cannaiolo, trebbiano and malvasia-- and with traditional cooperage, he says, "Chianti doesn't necessarily need the bordeaux treatment."
Badia's young '78 at $10 and its lighter '77 are generally available. The mature '70, with a characteristic nose of violets and an astrigent finish, at $17, is drinking well now. From Germany: The fine summer of 1982 was followed by a wet autumn. The result: a massive crop, plenty of the regional wines (Qba's), a small kabinett supply (the drier level of the quality wines), but a minimal amount of sweeter wines. However, prices are stable, says Peter Breuer of Freidrich Altenkirch, in the Rheingau's Lorch. Breuer's '82 Lorcher Kapellenberg, Muller-Thurgau Kabinett, $5.50, is a first-rate example of this fruity, early-drinking grape.
Next week, part two of the spring survey.