Mead On Wine
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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

Planning for a major surgery, even when you have a positive attitude and full faith in your surgeon, is a very nervous experience. I'm doing that as I write this, and it's not like I'm some kind of surgeon's virgin.

A slip of the knife when the neurosurgeon was removing that tumor from my spine some years back and I could have been a vegetable.

This time it's my heart and I need a valve job. I'm writing about it in the wine column for two reasons: It's on my mind like nothing else right now, and because the images of wine and heart health are so closely related I don't want wine to get the blame for my operation whether it's successful or not.

The truth is I'm a 58 year old man with no heart disease. The good news is that red wine evidently did do its job. They did one of those cardiac catheter things where they run the tubes all the way through your arteries and veins to check you out...clean as a whistle! No blockage.

And the valves that need to be replaced are a mechanical problem needing a mechanical solution, in this case valves made out of an old cow (I could have had metal-mechanical but I understand they keep you awake at night). So if I can survive the surgery, there's every indication that the red wine will keep my arteries unclogged and pumping for years to come.

Give me a couple of weeks off (first real vacation from the column in 30 years), and I'll plan on being back telling you about all the "Best Buys" in the very near future, and if your paper tries to hire a new wine columnist in the meantime, raise holy hell.


One of the absolutely best looking calendars of the season comes from Fetzer while they last. It's a large format 10 X 14, with 12 separate photographs from the winery's own George Rose, and it's designed to give you lots of room to write in appointments and such, plus previous and next month, and all the good calendar stuff.

In a special deal for Mead On Wine readers only, you can get the calendar and Fetzer will pay the postage for only $10 to: Fetzer Calendar Special, P.O. Box 611, Hopland, CA 95449 (800) 846-8637.


When I wrote my annual column on the medal winningest wines of 1997, I was able to do a teaser on the top Cabernet Sauvignon. It turned out to be the little known Bonterra, an alternative label of the Fetzer family of brands, devoted to wines made from organically grown fruit.

For such a new brand to come out of virtually nowhere (though ten years of research had gone into it) to become the top Cabernet of the year is no small achievement.

It piqued my curiosity to the point of checking out the entire line and the newest releases. In general, the wines are excellent in quality, and the value is actually exceptional in mainstream varieties such as Cabernet and Chardonnay. But when it comes to the newer and more fashionable Rhone and so- called Cal-Ital varieties, where production is limited, the prices are so inflated as to deflate the price-value relationship.

For quick review, all Bonterra wines are made from grapes farmed without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers and carry a California Certified Organic Farmers certification. You'll find them for sale at both traditional wine shops and markets, and also through the burgeoning natural foods industry.

Bonterra 1996 "Mendocino" Chardonnay ($12) One hundred percent barrel- fermented, in air-dried, fire-coopered American oak casks. Really yummy, forward, tropical and vanilla aromas and flavors. Dry but not austere. Very user friendly. Definite "Best Buy." Rating: 90/95

Bonterra 1996 "North Coast" Viognier ($22) Well made example of the variety, very aromatic and perfumey with that unique peach-skin quality. Fans insist it works with spicy foods. Think Chardonnay blended to Gewurztraminer or Muscat and you'll have a fair idea of what it is. Only justification for the fancy price is limited availability. Rating: 88/80

Bonterra 1995 "Mendocino" Sangiovese ($22) One hundred percent varietal. Earthy, dusty, berry fruit. Very complex for a light to medium bodied young red wine. Tasty but pricey. Rating: 89/82

Bonterra 1994 "North Coast" Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) This is the wine that won all the medals and that should be in the pipeline as you read this. A blend of fruit from Mendocino, Sonoma and Lake counties, including about 14 percent of Syrah. Amazing, lean, elegant structure, with classic berry and dark cherry fruit. Subtle oak; long finish; wonderful food compatibility. Tremendous value. Rating: 94/98

Bonterra 1995 "Mendocino" Syrah ($22) Lean, taut red wine, with fruit still a little green and tannins unresolved. Definitely needs cellaring. Rating: 82/79

If you have trouble tracking down Bonterra wines locally, contact: Bonterra, P.O. Box 611, Hopland, CA 95449 (707) 744-7448.


Bonterra 1995 "North Coast" Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) The follow-up to the medal winningest Cabernet of the year, and just being released. Some will prefer it, though I do not. It's bigger, riper, more intense by far, with flavors that range from blackberry to plum. If big is what you like, buy a couple of cases and sit on it. A year in bottle will work wonders. At the discounted price of often $10 or less it will be almost impossible to beat for value in the coming year. Rating: 92/96

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value. Feel free to call Mead's office at (800) 845-9463 for help in tracking down wines or products reviewed in any column.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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