Mead On Wine
Last Week98 Indexsubscribearchive

© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

The world's most popular white wine variety is Chardonnay. And it's rapidly growing popularity (which really started here in the U.S.) is seeing it planted in large volume in parts of the world where it had not previously been a major factor, and often replacing local varieties.

Depending on your point of view, that's either a good thing or a bad thing, but Chardonnay acreage continues to grow in places like Chile, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and all over Europe, including Spain. Italy and in most of the former Eastern Bloc.

Chardonnays popularity is also very democratic, being available, as it is, in price categories that range from as modest as $5 to bottlings (mostly from Burgundy in France) that can cost $100 and more. $20 is not a particularly expensive price to pay for a good American Chardonnay.

At the 1998 New World International Wine Competition (NWIWC), this year's top Chardonnay and winner of the Beringer Vineyards/Myron Nightingale Memorial Trophy for Best New World Chardonnay is a $20 wine, Kendall-Jackson 1996 "Santa Maria Valley-Camelot Vineyard."

NWIWC is the competition that judges in at least four price categories, and then has a taste-off to determine the "best of variety." The Chardonnay champ happened to come from the top price category, but it isn't always so.

Other gold medalists from the top price category ($19.01 and up) include: Benziger 1996 "Carneros Reserve" ($30); Las Vinas 1996 "Monterey-Private Reserve" ($23); Venezia (super premium label of Geyser Peak) 1996 "Napa-Regusci Vineyard" ($20); Venezia 1995 Alexander Valley-Beaterra Vineyard" ($20) and Carneros Big Horn Ranch 1996 "Napa Carneros Reserve" ($20).

In the $14.01 to $19 price range the "best of price class" Chardonnay was Thomas Fogarty 1996 "Santa Cruz Mountain" ($19). Note that this wine is no stranger to either top scores or gold medals. It does well virtually every vintage.

Other gold medalists in the price range include a pair from Clos Du Bois, 1996 "Dry Creek Valley-Flintwood" ($17) and 1996 "Alexander Valley Special Selection" ($15). Also Concannon 1996 "Livermore Reserve" ($16); DeLorimier 1996 "Alexander Valley" ($16); Dry Creek Vineyard 1996 "Sonoma" ($15.75) and Gloria Ferrer 1995 "Carneros" ($19).

Also Gundlach-Bundschu 1996 "Carneros-Sangiacomo" ($16); Merryvale 1996 "Napa-Starmont" ($18); Orfila 1995 "San Diego County-Ambassador's Reserve" and V. Sattui 1996 "Napa" ($16.75).

The best of price class for Chardonnay in the popular "$10.01 to $14" range was Hidden Cellars 1996 "Mendocino Heritage."

The balance of the gold medal field are: Anapamu 1996 "Central Coast" ($12); Chandelle of Sonoma 1996 ($11.50); Pedroncelli 1996 "Dry Creek Valley-Frank Johnson Vineyard" ($13.50) and De Loach 1996 "Sonoma Cuvee" ($13).

Only three wines managed to win gold in the $10 and under Chardonnay class, all of them frequent winners of such honors and also frequent "Mead On Wine Best Buys." Fetzer 1997 "Sundial" ($8) is one of the most popular Chardonnays in America, and Concannon 1996 "Central Coast" ($10) has way more depth and complexity than you have the right to expect at this price.


Canyon Road 1997 "California" Chardonnay ($8) The third gold medal in the inexpensive price range at NWIWC and the wine named "best of price class." The brand is a low-priced sister to Geyser Peak and Venezia, yet manages to consistently win medals for this wine, a knock-out Sauvignon Blanc and a "Best Buy" Cabernet Sauvignon. This Chardonnay has bright melon and citrus fruit and more than a smidgen of oak presence. Blended for balance, it's a wine that will play companion to many foods, while being just plain delicious enough to drink by the glass at cocktail time. Buy a bottle...go back for the case. Rating: 87/93


Maynard Amerine didn't own a winery, wasn't a famous winemaker and most readers have probably never heard his name, even if they are serious wine hobbyists. Amerine, you see, was a scientist, a behind-the-scenes guy, operating out of U.C. Davis in his active years, living out his retirement in Napa Valley. Amerine died at 86 early in March.

A high school contemporary of Ernest and Julio Gallo while growing up in Modesto, he trained in plant physiology at U.C. Berkeley, where most of the wine and grape science was housed prior to Prohibition. At Repeal in 1934, that work began to be moved to the newly acquired campus at U.C. Davis. Among the early hires at Davis was an energetic young graduate student named Maynard Amerine.

Amerine's first project was to make experimental wines from each viticultural district in the state, from the hot interior valleys to the cool coastal areas. His list of publications number more than 400, many co-authored with other Davis scientists, and several of which are considered classics and standards, including "Wine: An Introduction" (with Dr. Vernon Singleton) and "Wines - Their Sensory Evaluation."

It was Amerine who is credited with creating early standards for judging wines, Amerine who developed a system for assessing heat summation in various growing regions and the appropriateness of growing specific varieties in each climate zone. He was at the forefront of restoring and advancing the technical knowledge that was lost during the scourge of Prohibition.

It is almost impossible to measure the total impact of this man you probably never heard of on the quality of the wine you drink today. It was in great part due to his work that U.C. Davis became an internationally recognized leader in the study and teaching of enology and viticulture (winemaking and grapegrowing), to which the sons and daughters of some of the most famous vintners in the world came to be enrolled.

I'd like to point out, by the way, that wine really must be good for you. Every time I write one of these remembrances of a passing wine personality, they were inevitably in the their 70s, 80s or 90s when they go. Have you had your glass of red wine today?

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

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
The Mead On Wine WebSite is designed, maintained and hosted by Wines on the Internet.