How drinks the wine in jugs? Jugs, the little wines in the big containers, are the base of the wine trade. The question is: how base are they? And the answer, after four days and 100 wines, is: not bad at all. Most were as advertised. Honest wines. Good value. Only a few were undrinkable, the plastic-bottled Summit white and red having particulaly discouraging noses.
With the much-appreciated help of the staff of Georgetown Wine & Cheese, whose tasting room was taken over by the panel, and of the local wholesalers, we put together as broad a tasting as possible. The rules were few: as long as the wine cost less than $6 for a 1.5 liter bottle (including those that are frequently on sale at that price), it could be from any country, of any color and any grape variety. All jugs were wrapped in brown bags and tasted blind. After three days of preliminary rounds, the top four or five from each round were restoppered, kept in the regrigerator (regular treatment for jugs) and brought back to room temperature for the finals on the fourth day.
Forty-two white entrants were equally split between American and imported. Of the 15 that went forward into the final round, the panel was pleased (surprised?) to find that nine were American. California whites are cleaner, fresher and drier than they were five years ago. And with this year's surplus of quality grapes, they can only get better.
The Europeans will also be keen to sell us more wine in large bottles. Stories of dumping are probably true, but, by and large, the Washington area is spared the worst. It's useful to have a reputation for being fussy, even about jugs.
The panel's white jug favorites, in no order, were:
Louis Martini Chablis, $5, California; fragrant, lively, dryish.
Rimini, del Triveneto, $4.50, Italy: light, a pleasant bitter-almond taste; it survived the week well.
Robert Mondavi '80 White, on sale at $6, California: deeper flavored, fuller, good with food.
Charles Fournier Chablis, Gold Seal, $5.50, New York State: probably includes California grapes; a winner in a medium-dry style.
Le Jug, Bordeaux Blanc, $6, France: lightly fruity, easy drinking.
Cuvee Bistro, Corbieres, $4.50, France: a newcomer, dry, smooth, lightly bitter taste; at its best when first opened.
Only one entrant was any sweeter than medium-dry, but it did well enough to deserve mention. The '82 Liebfraumilch, Schmitt Sohne, $5, Germany, is light and spritzy.
Next week, the red jugs.
Christian Brothers: I shouldn't say it, but I was more interested in talking to Brother Timothy about his hobby than his work. Winemakers come by the hundreds, corkscrew addicts by a mere 50. Brother Timothy is a member of the Intenational Conference of Corkscrew Addicts and, being one, was quite willing to chat about corkscrews, rare and antique.
Not that he's your everyday winemaker. As cellmaster for The Christian Brothers of Napa, he's been responsible for most of the innovations and successes in their range of table and fortified wines.
Keep an eye on Christian Brothers' vintage dated varietals (for example, the '81 Chardonnay, not yet released). For their centenary last year, the Brothers bottled a handsome gold leaf embossed magnum (1.5 liters) of the '78 Zinfandel. The wine is lively, fruity, ready to drink and available for $17.