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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

Every few months my notebook gets filled with tasting impressions that haven't fit into a full-length review. It's "housecleaning" time.


This small brand represents the wines made from Central Coast fruit by the only winery in downtown Los Angeles. San Antonio Winery has been around since 1917 and I first tasted the wines there while lunching at the winery's restaurant more than 30 years ago.

If you're going to be in the southland, you'll enjoy visiting a working winery in the heart of the metropolis. It oozes atmosphere.

The Maddalena wines are its best and they can be found throughout California. Distribution in other states is expanding but limited. For information on nearest retail location: San Antonio/Maddalena, 737 Lamar St, Los Angeles, CA 90031 (213) 223-1401.

Maddalena 1996 "Monterey" Chardonnay ($10) Light tropical and pineapple fruit with a very subtle oak influence. Almost sweetish impression in the finish. Rating: 85/88

Maddalena 1996 "San Simeon Reserve" Chardonnay ($14) Barrel-fermented style with a fully developed and very pretty oak presence. Slightly toasty, caramelized, ripe apple fruit. Elegant and complex. Rating: 89/86

Maddalena 1996 "Monterey" Riesling ($9) Really pretty green apple aromas and flavors. Tart-sweet, really delicious, with some of that Germanic petroleum complexity. A dandy aperitif, brunch accompaniment or companion to Asian cuisine. Residual sugar is 1.8 percent, but crisp, cool-climate acidity makes it seem less sweet than it is. A solid "Best Buy." Rating: 92/90

Maddalena 1996 "Monterey" Gewurztraminer ($9) Kiwi and lichee fruit with slightly spicy undertones. Crisp and tart-sweet; another match for Asian food. Rating: 86/86

Maddalena 1996 "San Simeon Reserve" Merlot ($14) Really big, highly extracted, classic black cherry and cherrystone fruit flavors. A Merlot that will improve for 3-5 years, but that will be quite delicious with lamb or duck right now. Rating: 89/88

A third brand produced by the winery is its value-oriented label, and may be even more difficult to find, but offers exceptional value if you can.

Kinderwood 1997 "Coastal California" Chardonnay ($7 or less) No oak, but really delicious fruit...citrus, apple and pineapple...with lovely, mouth- tingling balance. Absolutely a "Best Buy." Case purchases recommended. Rating: 85/91


The mystery surrounding the origin of the Zinfandel grape continues. We know where most grape varieties originated, whether France, Italy or native American, but Zinfandel has always been a mystery.

We do know through genetics that it's a member of the European family of wine grapes known as Vitis Vinifera, other examples of which include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and so on. (There are several families of grapes native to America, but none make particularly fine wine. Vitis Labrusca is the best known, with examples being Concord, Niagra etc.)

It was discovered about 30 years ago that Zinfandel was the same as an Italian grape from the Adriatic side of the boot and called "Primitivo di Gioia." But that didn't solve the puzzle as to Zinfandel's origin, because Zinfandel had been known in the U.S. longer than Primitivo had been known in Italy.

The prime suspect as mother (or father, depending on your sexual orientation) of Zinfandel and Primitivo has been a grape from just across the Adriatic in Croatia, called Plavac Mali. It looked a lot like Zinfandel, it tastes something like Zinfandel, it's just across the Adriatic from Italy and there was a major immigration of Croatians to America in the 1800s. It really fit.

Alas! We're back to square one. Professor Carol Merideth of University of California, Davis, with help from Napa Valley's Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills (a Croatian native who fled during the war) and members of the viticultural staff of the University of Zagreb, collected more than 150 samples of Plavac Mali for DNA analysis.

While the two are closely related, Plavac Mali is not Zinfandel. The search will continue.


This small producer has limited but national distribution. The wines tend to be upscale in style and price and winemaker Tony Bell (former BV winemaker) seems to be as comfortable making stylish whites as he is making blockbuster reds.

For information on nearest retail outlet: Quail Ridge, P.O. Box 460, Rutherford CA 94573 (707) 257-6394.

Quail Ridge 1997 "Rutherford" Sauvignon Blanc ($15) Sauvignon made in a barrel-fermented Chardonnay style. Ripe grapefruit base flavors, but deliciously influenced by slightly smoky oak. Dry, but not austere, finish. A great food companion to the likes of swordfish, halibut, Dover sole or veal in lemony sauces. Rating: 95/85

Quail Ridge 1995 "Napa" Cabernet Franc ($15) Elegant berry aromas and flavor with hints of violet perfume. Light to medium bodied structure, the way most people expect Merlot to be. Nicely wooded and very complex end flavors. Rating: 92/86

Quail Ridge 1995 "Volker Eisele-Napa Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) Big, chunky, Napa style Cabernet with ripe flavors of black cherry and cassis. Nicely oaked. Firm, tannic, but not overly astringent, backbone. A cellar worthy keeper. A little pricey. Rating: 90/82


Simi 1997 Rose of Cabernet (about $10) Widely available. A wine to please almost everyone this holiday season. Fruity and sweet enough for beginning wine drinkers. Not so sweet as to turn off the connoisseur crowd. Great with a baked ham. Equally good with a holiday cold buffet. Pretty faded rose pink color; strawberry and cherry fruit; threshold sweetness. Rating: 90/90

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

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