Mead On Wine
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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

The brand that started out as little more than a second label for Beringer, a label to front for surplus grapes and wine a dozen years ago, has really come into its own.

Napa Ridge has its own winemaking facility (though not open to visitors at this time), its own "celebrity" winemaker in David Schlottman and a line of "Reserve" wines that are pushing it into competition with the big boys and heavy hitters.

Wines that were $5 in the mid-80s have now edged up to $10, and are still offering better than average value, even if they aren't the "steals" they once were.

Where Napa Ridge once functioned mostly with grapes its parent company had on contract but couldn't use elsewhere, Napa Ridge and Schlottman now have long term contracts of their own, exclusive to the brand and guaranteeing consistency of supply into the 21st century.

Schlottman's success with Napa Ridge has earned him other responsibilities with the Beringer Wine Estates operation, acting as consulting winemaker for properties in South America and Europe.

Napa Ridge 1997 "North Coast" Triad ($10) Scheduled for a July 1 release, this unique proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent Chardonnay, 21 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 19 percent Semillon. Tasted blind I would have guessed it to be a Chardonnay, but the other two varieties do make their contribution. The Sauvignon Blanc adds a leanness of texture and mouthfeel. The Semillon adds a note of ripe fig complexity. The end result is a better food wine by far than the vast majority of 100 percent varietal Chardonnays. Rating: 90/90

Napa Ridge 1997 "North Coast" Chardonnay ($10) Nice, straightforward melon and apple style; light to medium bodied; very subtle oak influence. Rating 84/86

Napa Ridge 1995 "Napa Reserve" Chardonnay ($15) Smoky, toasty, nicely oaked with big fruit including some tropical flavors on an apple base. Not ponderous for its big oaky style...crisp acid keeps it food friendly. Rating: 90/85

Napa Ridge 1995 "Central Coast" Zinfandel ($9) Soft berry flavors dominate; some vegetal notes. A pleasant beverage...just not very exciting. The price is right. Rating: 84/84

Napa Ridge 1996 "Central Coast" Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) This really is a very pleasant, easy to drink red wine. Mostly berry flavors; very round and appealing; feels good in the mouth. Tastes like a Cabernet...drinks like a Merlot. Rating: 85/89

Napa Ridge 1994 "Napa Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) Deep black cherry and cassis fruit. Very elegant French oak barrel char complexity. Mouthfilling, but round, velvety and silky supple. Call it a "Best Buy." Rating: 90/90


Napa Ridge 1996 "North Coast" Pinot Noir ($11) For the past decade this wine has been "the" dominant value Pinot Noir in America. It has won more gold medals, defeated in blind tastings more wines selling for twice and three times the price and yet this is the first time its list price has edged above $10. (You can still buy it for less through the discounters.) And it is amazingly food compatible. When an earlier vintage was matched against a dozen food flavors alongside white wines, champagne, pink wines and other red wines, Napa Ridge Pinot worked well with more foods, including seafood and chicken, than any other wine. And it's a natural with beef, pork and veal. Classic cherry and soft blueberry flavors and a little rose hips in the after-flavor. The aroma leans to the fruit, enhanced by some fading rose perfume. Soft, supple and immediately drinkable. Rating: 90/94

Napa Ridge wines are available nationally, but you may encounter problems with finding the "Reserve" wines. The marketing company (Beringer) has this strange policy of doling out a few cases each quarter, until no one even remembers the wine anymore. And this makes it nearly impossible for your retailer to special order for you. You can call the winery to help track down a particular bottling at (707) 857-4459.


Some big changes took place at the 59th edition of the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition. There was a new chief judge in Dr. Robert Small from nearby Cal Poly Pomona, and judging by price category for major varietal classes was established for the first time. A total of 2319 wines from North and South America were evaluated by 51 judges.

Space won't permit more than the mention of a few top award winners, but we'll let you know when the official awards book is available in a few weeks so you can check out a complete list.

The top award, the overall best of show, is called the "Governor's Award," and this year it went to a small Santa Cruz Mountain winery, Kathryn Kennedy, for 1996 "Maridon Vineyard" Syrah. Don't expect to find it at the corner 7-11.

Another small vintner claimed the white wine sweepstakes award, McIlroy 1996 "Russian River-Aquarius" Chardonnay, and if you're going to be in Canada, a B.C. Ice Wine from Tin Horn Creek Vineyards won the "late harvest" sweepstakes award.

The best of show pink wine was Swanson Vineyards 1997 "Napa" Rose of Sangiovese, and may be the wine you'll have the best chance of tracking down through a wine specialty merchant.

Next time we'll give you best of class winners for some of your favorite varieties, like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and so on, many of which have real commercial availability.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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