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Star-Bulletin Features


Wednesday, December 29, 1999


Values on the Vine

Close the year with
a big red bang

By Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant Features Editor
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

We close the first year of our new wine column with a self-indulgent look at its editor's (that would be me) personal favorite type of wine, big reds.

Values on the Vine was conceived as a guide to the burgeoning selection of wines available locally. Our hope was to appeal to both the novice and experienced wine consumer, as well as all those somewhere in between.

I am grateful for the patient guidance offered by our panel and for the response from readers who have helped keep the column on track.

Please send suggestions for column topics or ways to improve Values on the Vine to features@starbulletin.com.

We offer this New Year's toast from early 18th-century English dramatist John Gay:

Fill ev'ry glass,
For wine inspires us,
And fires us
With courage, love and joy.

Now, on to big reds!


Richard Field

Owner of R. Field Wine Co.

Tapa

Bullet Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Syrah, California, $12.99: There seems to be a growing consensus that Syrah will be the next Merlot in terms of rapid rise in popularity. Personally, I hope that this will be the case along with my other favorite, Zinfandel. KJ's Syrah has ripe juicy fruit that's right up front. And Jess Jackson didn't hold back with his use of expensive oak, which contributes a touch of sweet vanilla. Great smoothness at a great price.

Bullet Charles Merlot, 1998, California, $16.99: Last year, all the bottles we could get sold out before Thanksgiving. This year we were able to get a little more. Created by Hawaii's own Chuck Furuya, this is as good a bottle as you can get, supple and soft with bright cherries and a smooth finish. The label is a beautiful watercolor by renown local artist Mapuana Schneider.

Bullet Chateau Montelena St. Vincent Red 1996, California, $19.99: Long awaited, Montelena just released its proprietary red wine. This wine is crafted in the style of the Super Tuscans. The grapes come from a specially designated section of the estate and took six weeks to harvest. This is serious wine with aromas of cherry, tar, chocolates and earth. It is fat and almost sweet in ripeness and finishes with substantial but ripe tannins.

Bullet Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry 1996, California, $24.49: This is a classic "Bordeaux blend" in the style of Opus One, except these types of wines sell for well over $100 per bottle. The Oct. 15 issue of Wine Spectator Magazine gave its highest recommendation, the Spectator Selection, and 92 points to Tapestry 1996. This honor is awarded to wines considered an outstanding purchase. The best part is this wine sells for $35 in Napa Valley and just $24.49 at our stores.



By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all
sparkling wine is champagne. To be called
champagne, under French law, the wine
must be from the Champagne
region of France.



WHAT CHAMPAGNE?

The Star-Bulletin's wine columnists made their champagne suggestions Nov. 24. Look it up at your library or on our Web site here.



Lyle Fujioka

Owner of Fujioka's Wine Merchants

Tapa

Bullet Pietra Santa Sasso Rosso 1997, California, $10.95: For all those who fell in love with Amano Primitivo here's Pietra Santa Sasso Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese, Dolceto, Cabernet and Merlot. This may come as a surprise because there is rarely a California Italian that rocks us, but Sasso Rosso is packed with all the right stuff. A mouthful of juicy cherry, luscious blackberry and ripe raspberry, full-bodied texture and nice chalky tannins that lavishly coat your mouth. It delivers a very big bang for very few bucks. Gracie California!

Bullet Librandi Gravello 1993, Italy, $21: Back to Italy for "the bomb," Librandi's Gravello, a show-stopping, stunning blend of native Gaglioppo varietal and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has an intoxicating, heady perfume of cherry with hints of citrus; ripe red fruit flavors with new barrique oak and balsamic overtones. Velvety and fat, it's very concentrated stuff with impressive, richly complex structure. A monster at $21.


Chuck Furuya

President of Fine Wine Imports

Tapa

Bullet Vinas del Vero Merlot, Spain, $9.89: A wonderful Mediterranean-styled Merlot at a fair price. Grown high in Spain's Pyraness Mountains near the French border, this Merlot has loads of flavor, and a slightly rustic edge (well-suited for foods) without being heavy or overly done. Serve with roast chicken, meatloaf, steaks and barbecued foods.

Bullet Rhone-sters: Through the years, one of my favorite red producers has been Michel Faraud of France's Rhone Valley. He and his wife make very small batches of a handcrafted, totally mesmerizing red wine called Gigondas ($30.74). Ripe and opulent with an intriguingly rustic Old World character that I just love. Serve it with grilled and roasted meats and all kinds of wild game. The best Rhone-inspired red wine I've had from California, to date, has to be Qupe's "Hillside Estate" Syrah ($44). Deep, dark, lavishly rich and alluring, this red wine has such a smoky, gamey, peppery yet provocative character on the palate. This wine will wow you.

Bullet Mountain grown: Two of our favorite hillside grown Cabernet-based red wines from California come from Howell Mountain. The first is grown on the mountain's steep side slopes and is called Viader ($57.87). We are amazed at every vintage, not only by the sheer concentration of the wine, but how elegant, well-balanced and world-class they turn out to be. There is no other wine like this. Up further on Howell Mountain is Chateau Woltner ($59.69). This is the same family that used to own the fabled Chateau La Mission-Haut Brion in Bordeaux. Thick-skinned, "mountain grown" grapes -- under the French-trained expertise of California winemaker Ted Lemon -- make truly a majestic, though thankfully restrained and tempered, wine.


Jay Kam

President of Vintage Wine Cellar

Tapa

Bullet 1998 Hedges Columbia Valley, Eastern Washington, $11.99: This is a blend of 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 54 percent Merlot. While most wineries will use second-tier juice in a blend of this type, Hedges uses higher caliber vineyards on Red Mountain, regarded as the best area in Washington for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cabernets from the mountains develop more concentration and often exhibit dark cherry and cocoa flavor. This is dark, lush, thick and amazingly well-priced from one of the leaders of Washington wine. The 1998 was a great vintage in Washington; this wine is ready to drink tonight.

Bullet 1996 Chateau Les Fiefs de Lagrange, France, $25.99: You can't talk about big red wines without mentioning something from Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux takes the best qualities of five grape varietals -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot -- and blends then to produce a powerful, yet supple, wine. At a recent tasting, Les Fiefs de Lagrange exhibited power, depth and concentration, along with cassis and berry fruit that matches a Ruth's Chris steak to perfection. When you consider the escalating prices of the competition in California, a Bordeaux from a great vintage like 1996 is a bargain.


Values on the Vine is published on the last Wednesday of each month. To produce the wine column, the Star-Bulletin asks each expert on its panel to recommend a pair of wines, at least one of which must retail for about $10. Retail estimates on Chuck Furuya's recommendations are provided by Richard Field as Furuya's company does not set retail prices.



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