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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

It's a fact that this year's Los Angeles County Fair "Wines of the Americas" wine competition had the largest number of entries in its 59 year history. That may be due to a very positive wine market, but I prefer to think that it's due the adoption of a policy introduced at the Orange County Fair more than 20 years ago...judging wines in appropriate price classes.

Under the previous policy at L.A., a $10 Chardonnay had to compete against $40 "Reserves," which tended to discourage inexpensive, large volume wines from entering. It was too tough to go up against handmade wines that amounted to only a few hundred cases with wines that numbered in the tens of thousands of cases.

Judging by price allows consumers to determine the best wines from the price range in which they're most comfortable shopping, and all wines are judged against their price peers.

L.A., under new judges' chairman, Dr. Robert Small, also added a special class for "limited production" (fewer than 2500 cases) wines, which attracted more than 300 entries.

Space always limits the publishing of results here, but you can order the official awards book containing all the winners by sending $5 to: L.A. Wine Winners, P.O. Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702.

To get you started on your summer wine shopping here are some of the "Best of Class" winners:

King Estate 1996 Pinot Gris comes as no surprise, this crisp white is always a winner.

In the up to $10 range for Sauvignon Blanc was Fetzer 1996 "Echo Ridge." At over $10 look for Handley 1996 "Dry Creek Valley."

Hart Winery 1996 "Temecula" was the big winner for Viognier.

Chateau St. Jean winemaker Steve Reeder must be especially proud that both his 1997 Gewurztraminer and Johannisberg Riesling (the former a recent "Wine of the Week" here and the latter scoring a 90) were declared "Best of Class."

Two Chardonnays in the over $18 range were named, ZD 1996 "California" and Raymond 1996 "Generations."

A Meritage Red that we recently raved about and gave big points, the Beringer 1994 "Knights Valley" Alluvium received the top honor in its class.

Staying red, in Zinfandel from the 1996 vintage, Windsor (the mail order specialist) won for its Sonoma County wine and at $18 plus Benziger "Sonoma County" was the one.

From the 1995 vintage and at $10.01 to $18 it was Beringer "North Coast" for Zinfandel. And $18 plus it was Dry Creek "Sonoma Reserve."

Best of Class Petite Sirahs were Bogle 1996 "California" and Mirassou 1996 "Monterey."

The Gamay "Best of Glass" and probably the medal-winningest of all time in California, is J. Lohr 1997 "Wildflower" Valdiguie. (Valdiguie is the name ATF is insisting be used for the grape we've called Gamay here for more than 50 years.)

Best Port honors went to Geyser Peak 1995 "Henry's Reserve" Shiraz Port.

We'll save Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Merlot for another report.


One of the more consistent new value brands is Stonehedge of Napa Valley. Winemaker David Sayre has been making the owners very happy with medals, stars and high point ratings the past several years.

Stonehedge 1997 "California" Sauvignon Blanc ($7) Blended to a bit of barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc for richness, this is a pleasantly herbaceous white wine long on citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit. Rating: 87/90

Stonehedge 1997 "Barrel-Fermented" Chardonnay ($8) Melon and tropical fruit with some toasty barrel flavors. Solid, above average, everyday Chardonnay. Rating: 87/92

Stonehedge 1997 "California" Merlot ($8) Very young but very pleasant. Mostly cherry flavor but a little grapey. Very easy to drink. Rating: 85/90

Stonehedge 1995 "Napa" Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) Serious Cabernet flavors; mostly berry. Nicely oaked; some earthy complexity; tannins mostly resolved. Rating: 88/88

Stonehedge 1995 "Napa" Zinfandel ($15) For the second vintage in row, this is my favorite Stonehedge wine. Big, chewy (but not overripe) red wine with raspberry and blackberry flavors. Flavor builds from entry through aftertaste...really intense in the middle. It's a solid "Best Buy." Rating: 92/90


Geyser Peak 1997 "Sonoma" Sauvignon Blanc ($8.50) Ordered this one for dinner at a restaurant last week and drove my partner crazy oohing and aahing about it all through dinner. It is simply one of the best wines of its type made in America and it always puts me in mind of delicious wines like Sancerre from France's Loire Valley (with visions of that turreted castle with the moat we once stayed in). When I saw the wine on the list it decided my appetizer...a dozen oysters on the half shell, but it worked equally well with the seafood stew that followed. Crisp, minty, pleasantly grassy herbaceousness, bone dry but oh so fruity. Great with all kinds of seafood, but so tasty it's fun to drink all by itself. Rating: 100/95

If you have trouble finding any of the wines reviewed contact Mead's office for help tracking them down: (800) 845-9463 or e-mail:

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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