Thirty-two reds started the week of the jug tasting and 11 went into the finals. Choosing the favorites from the reds was more difficult than choosing from the whites. There was more variety. Some were firm, occasionally with a bite.They would be best with food. Others were lighter, both in color and body, ranging from dry to fruity, and could take a light chilling without coming to harm. Overall, the quality was cheering.
Of the finalists, more than half were American, representative of the number of entries. As you'd expect, the reds generally withstood the test of being open for one to four days before the finals better than the whites. The panel's favorites are divided below into the two styles:
Light to medium, sometimes fruity and/or soft:
Beaudet Rouge, $6, France: from the beaujolais producer; an easy drinking, all-purpose wine.
Porto Palo, Settesoli, $4.50, Italy: light color, with an attractive nose and touch of acidity. Better when first opened.
Fuller, dry, occasionally hearty:
August Sebastiani Mountain Burgundy, $4.50, California: new range and label design includes varietals such as pinot noir and zinfandel, all of which had their merits, but the good old burgundy came through unscathed. Softer on retasting.
Mirassou, '79 Santa Clara Burgundy, $6, California: deepish chocolate and spice in nose; heartier style, to drink with food, including peppery, spicy dishes.
Fetzer Premium Red, $5.50, California: a well-balanced all-rounder, with or without food; smooth rather than hearty.
One red stood out. It was deeper colored and deeper flavored than the others. It had more complexity in the nose and taste, a richness and strength not expected of jugs. The '79 Le Sable Cabernet Sauvignon, Algeria, is quite a buy at $5.50 for the 1.5 liter magnum. It's a wine that does need food.
The panel's verdict: A week in the jug was not hard labor. Virginia Gentleman: There's a still in deepest Reston. Not 20 miles from Chain Bridge, large cypress tubs of a yellow porridge-like mash of corn, barley and rye are being fermented into alcohol. Near the jogging tract, there's a warehouseful of bourbon maturing in white oak barrels. And it's all legal. Since Virginians drink more bourbon per person than the residents of any other state, it's good to know that the mellow life of a Virginia Gentleman flows without interruption from urban development.
The Smith Bowman Distillery was there long before Reston. It was a dairy farm when the Bowman family built the distillery in the year Virginia went wet, 1935. In those days, they grew their own corn for the mash and chopped their own oaks for barrels. Now they buy them, but the distillery itself hasn't changed much. It's small by industry standards.
Third largest selling bourbon in the state, it doesn't pretend to take on the big boys away from home. Virginia Gentleman sells 150,000 cases, compared to Jim Beam's 4 million and Early Times' 2 million. But, in an industry that slipped 6 percent last year, it had a sales growth of 5 percent.
The people at Smith Bowman have one serious problem. They're losing their loyal drinkers. The generation that graduated with the Bowman brothers in the late '20s is getting smaller. A younger generation of gentlemen, closer to 40 than 80, is the target for an advertising campaign. In the words of the governor's slogan, they will be told, "We have it made in Virginia."