© 1997 JDM Enterprises
UNDERRATED SOUVERAINby Jerry D. Mead
It's a funny thing about wineries. Image and perception are not always based on reality, and only sometimes is price directly related to quality.
Some very expensive wineries offer only mediocre wines, while some wineries that make superb, critically acclaimed, award-winning wines have downright bargain-basement prices.
Proof of this comes every year at the nation's major wine competitions, when time after time, value-priced wines take the gold over competitors selling for more.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that all expensive wines are a rip-off. There are truly great and exceptional wines, almost always limited in availability, that are worth every penny of their astronomical prices...assuming one can afford them. Affordability, of course, being a very relative and personal thing.
Image is also more than price and is often unexplainable. Some wineries seem to have charisma from the day they open their doors, while others spends tons of money, hire p.r. professionals and do all the seemingly right things, never to be seen as more than good craftsmen of a quality product. No matter what they do, they'll never inspire the awe of a Jordan, Far Niente, Stag's Leap or Ferrari-Carano...even with wines of comparable quality.
One of those wineries which has never had "the magic," though it has consistently produced excellent to outstanding quality, is Chateau Souverain, of the northern Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.
And this has always been a bit of mystery. Not only are the wines super, but there is an actual showplace chateau, open to the public, with a restaurant, a gorgeous fountain, numerous settings conducive to special events and weddings and an address in the same growing region as Jordan, Silver Oak and Ferrari-Carano. Go figure.
A recent tasting of current offerings only adds to the mystery of this lack of mystique...every wine gets a value rating, with many in the "Best Buy" range.
Ch. Souverain 1996 "Alexander Valley" Sauvignon Blanc ($8) Combines varietal flavors of grapefruit and herbaceousness, but it's 100 percent barrel fermented (a stylistic change for Souverain) so it is nicely oaked without being oaky. A "Best Buy." Rating: 87/90
Ch. Souverain 1996 "Sonoma" Chardonnay ($13) Another barrel-fermented wine, but with a larger percentage of new French oak, makes for much more forward and pleasantly overt oak vanillin aromas and flavors. Big, voluptuous tropical fruit flavors. Delicious. Rating: 90/90
Ch. Souverain 1995 "Alexander Valley" Merlot ($16.50) Really big flavored Merlot. Dark cherry, roast coffee complexity and what winemaker Ed Killian calls "brown spice" (think nutmeg, cinnamon, etc). There is a firm tannic structure to give it aging potential, but those tannins are round and inoffensive. Rating: 89/85
Ch. Souverain 1994 "Alexander Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) Talk about big flavors! Black cherry and cassis with really spicy oak flavors. Very bold and extractive. Rating: 89/88
Ch. Souverain 1994 "Winemaker's Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) Just being released. Your market may not yet have it. Made for distance...this wine has a long way to go to peak maturity. Really heavily extracted. Very bold intense fruit flavor ranging from dark cherry through black currant and blackberry. Bolder, tougher tannins, but with enough fruit to see them through being resolved. Rating: 92/84
Ch. Souverain 1993 "Winemaker's Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) The "Reserve" that you're most likely to find on the retail shelf, having been released some time ago. Ripe blackberries and cassis dominates. Very earthy and smoky and very complex. Wood very forward and noticeable. It's one of those wines with flavor that enters strong and that then builds to a crescendo that isn't reached until long after you swallow. It's $5 less than the 1994 and much better for immediate consumption. Rating 97/88
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
Chateau Souverain wines have broad national distribution via wine specialty shops and restaurants. For assistance tracking down a particular wine: Ch. Souverain, P.O. Box 528, Geyserville, CA 95441 (707) 433-8281.
In a future column, we'll list some of the top winners, but for now will just tell you how to order the complete results via the official awards book. Send $5 to: L.A. Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702.
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.