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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

It's a story so often told that I will review it again in only the briefest form. I'm talking about the origins of Sebastiani Vineyards.

Actually, I'm surprised the town of Sonoma isn't named Sebastiani, since at one time almost everything else was. The theater, bus depot, a dance hall and some apartments, not to mention the winery and goodness knows what else, were all named after Samuele Sebastiani.

Samuele was an emigrant from Tuscany before the turn of the century, who made a dollar or two cutting and hauling cobblestones for the streets of San Francisco, and who was able to save enough to buy an old winery in 1904. Samuele survived Prohibition making legal sacramental and medicinal wines.

Samuele was survived by his son August and August's young wife Sylvia. The bib-overall wearing August died young in 1980 and left the winery to Sylvia. Oldest son Sam ran the winery for a time before a family squabble saw he and wife Vicki go down the road apiece and start Viansa Winery. His younger brother and former California assemblyman Don Sebastiani has been "the man" since then. Matriarch Sylvia Sebastiani remains the power behind the throne.

In recent years, the Sebastiani name has been almost exclusively reserved for the family's best wines, most of them red. Other brands have been created to offer the inexpensive value wines that the winery has always been noted for, brands such as Talus and Nathanson Creek.

Sebastiani 1995 "Dutton Ranch" Chardonnay ($35) Delicious but pricey. Big, ripe, tropical fruit with oaky vanilla and butterscotch notes. Dry, but with an implication of sweetness, from a combination of barrel extraction, ripeness of fruit and alcoholic intensity. Rating: 89/80

Sebastiani 1995 "Old Vines" Zinfandel ($17) Ripe, black raspberry and plum fruit with a undertone of spiciness and black pepper. Tangy, user-friendly mouthfeel. Should go great with the Sonoma duck in blackberry sauce at my favorite restaurant. Rating: 92/84

Cherryblock 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon by Sebastiani ($50) It was the 1992 vintage of this wine that I awarded 100 points a little over a year ago. There was no 1993. Sebastiani only releases a "Cherryblock" in exceptional years, and 1993 was very good but not great. It went to improve the "Cask" Cabernet from Sebastiani. I love this wine, but it lacks a bit of the voluptuousness of the '92. Still it's a gold medal winner at the New World International Wine Competition and a big, bold mouthful of black cherry intensity enrobed in bittersweet chocolate and earthy complexity. Limited and hard to find even at this price. A wine for the cellar. Rating: 96/84


Sebastiani 1995 "Sonoma" Barbera ($18) This wine has a track record of gold and silver medals dating back at least a half dozen years. I look forward to its release each year. Wonderful! Delicious! Ripe plum and spice flavors. At once velvety soft while being substantial and mouthfilling. Very long and satisfying. Rating: 98/88


Tiny Silverado Hill Winery in Napa Valley has a curious history. It's founding winemaker was Hungarian native Dr. John Nemeth. It has gone through several name changes, none of which you're likely to remember. And it currently has perhaps the only Japanese-born winemaker in the North Coast, Hisa Kawabe.

Silverado Hill's distribution is limited to California and a few other states. The wines are not yet available in Nevada. For appointments to visit or to inquire about retail locations: Silverado Hill Cellars, Box 2640, 3103 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558 (707) 253-9306.

Silverado Hill 1996 "Art Label" Chardonnay ($10) Stainless steel fermented to emphasize fruit, the flavors are pleasant and straightforward citrus with a bit of pineapple. For the technically oriented, the wine underwent 100 percent malo-lactic fermentation and was "sur lie" aged. It's a bargain. Rating: 84/90

Silverado Hill 1996 "Napa-Traditional Cuvee" Chardonnay ($10) Track this one down if you's a steal! Tank fermented, but 100 percent barrel- aged, 25 percent of it new wood. Delicious, user friendly, ripe tropical and sweet pineapple flavors, with noticeable but not astringent wood notes. Case purchases recommended. Rating: 89/96

Silverado Hill 1996 "Napa-Select Reserve" Chardonnay ($13) Barrel- fermentation yields a very forward oak vanillin bouquet. Tropical fruit and lots of oak flavors. Very pleasant overall, but with a touch of astringency in the finish. Better with six months to a year in the bottle. Rating: 86/84

Silverado Hill 1995 "Napa" Cabernet Sauvignon ($13) Another exceptional value. Ripe and rich; very round and supple; berry and cassis flavors. Nicely wooded but not oaky; very long finish. Rating: 89/90

Silverado Hill 1995 "Napa" Merlot ($15) The Merlot is bigger than the Cabernet! Big, chewy, ripe and flavorful. Very bold and intense with high flavor extract. Black cherry, berry and plum are the fruits. Another exceptional value. Rating: 90/88


The French folks who purchased highly regarded sparkling wine producer Scharffenberger Cellars, the pioneer champagne producer in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley, have decided to change the name. They don't think it sounds "American" or "Californian" enough. (Wonder what they think of the name of their competitor and America's premier sparkling producer, Schramsberg?)

And the new name? "Pacific Echo," which sounds just like what it is...a name some marketing type made up. Sounds like about $6.99 to us.

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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