Mead On Wine
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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
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by Jerry D. Mead

Buying a wine based on a pretty package can be unwise. Some wineries pay more attention to the fancy bottle, shiny foil and artsy label, than they do to what goes in the bottle. But it's amazing how many purchase decisions are made on appearance, especially by beginning wine drinkers.

It used to be that I was suspicious of fancy wine labels and bottles. The old reliables came in staid and understated packages that were sometimes decades old in their design and style.

Wine in the nineties is a different animal. Marketing and pretty bottles and labels have become almost a necessity, so these days even really good wines have really attractive labels and come in pretty bottles.

That means it is more important than ever to taste before you buy anytime you can, or buy only a single bottle and go back for more if you like it. You just can't judge the book by its cover, or the wine by its label.

All this talk about labels is inspired by the new package of Monterra wines, which come from San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey County, now claiming to be the world's largest single vineyard property. The vineyard is so large it has 22 distinct micro-climates, permitting the growing of just about every premium grape variety around.

Because San Bernabe is primarily a vineyard business, selling grapes to many of the largest and most famous winery names in California, it has the flexibility to take only the best grapes from the very best vineyard sites, and in the very best years.

Because the enterprise is not dependent on its wine sales for the bottom line, Monterra's promise is that it will only produce wine in the very best years. Because it is a new commitment, we'll have to wait to see if they hold to it, but there's every reason to believe they will.

No photograph of the new Monterra label can do it justice. It's an original work of art, patterned after the kind of paintings that make me think of depression-era murals. And it's a label that is not only beautiful to look at, but that you want to feel, for its spectacular embossing and classy raised gold lettering. It's a label destined to win many design awards.

And the promise of these labels is fulfilled by the contents. The wines range from good to excellent and are line-priced at $10 or less. If you have trouble finding the wines, call the marketing company at (800) 758-9463.

Monterra 1996 "Monterey" Pinot Blanc ($10) User friendly and very food- compatible white wine. Delicate oak aromas and flavors on top of melon fruit. Rating: 86/88

Monterra 1995 "Monterey" Syrah ($10) Plum and berry fruit with a hint of spice and way more intensity than one expects at the price point. Finish is round and supple. A "Best Buy" and bound to win medals. Rating: 88/92

Monterra 1995 "Monterey" Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) Very young, almost grapey aroma with a slightly herbaceous note. Mostly cassis with some black cherry flavors. Big on fruit. Rating: 84/90


Monterra 1995 "Monterey" Merlot ($10) Very appealing, youthful black cherry aroma. Intense, juicy, almost concentrated black cherry fruit flavors. Delicious now and can only get better over the next two or three years. Can compete with wines selling for much more. Rating: 87/92


The William Hill Winery, at Napa, came out with a new label last year, a label shaped like a leaf. Now, leaves have been done before, but no one has ever bothered to make them anatomically correct before!

Not only is the leaf label an exact replica of an actual grape leaf, but each variety is represented by its own authentic leaf. One for Chardonnay, another for Merlot, and so on. You could almost become an ampelographer (grapevine identification expert) just studying the William Hill labels. This label is winning awards, including a gold medal for design at the New World International Wine Competition.

And you can write for a free booklet that explains the difference between grape leaves and describes the William Hill wines. Write to: William Hill Ampelography, 1761 Atlas Peak Rd., Napa, CA 94558.

William Hill wines have good national availability, more at wine specialty shops than volume outlets. If you have trouble finding one of the wines call (707) 224-4477.

William Hill 1997 "Napa" Chardonnay ($14.50) Ripe, highly oaked apple and tropical fruit style. A real mouthful with complex afterflavors. Rating: 88/88

William Hill 1997 "Napa Reserve" Chardonnay ($20) Very similar flavors to the wine above, but with more oak yet and some smoky, toasty nuance. Rating: 90/84

William Hill 1996 "Napa" Merlot ($20) Big, mountain style, with intense, almost Cabernet-like flavors of black cherry and cassis. Friendly tannins. Rating: 89/85

William Hill 1996 "Napa" Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) This is the variety that earned the brand its fine reputation. Big, bold, blackberry, cassis and bittersweet chocolate flavors. Cellar it for a decade or more. Rating: 92/85


William Hill 1994 "Napa Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) Great wine! Great value! Will hold its own or better with wines selling for $50 and more. "The" wine to impress the boss or your wine snob friends without spending a fortune. Really complex bouquet that is very Bordeaux-like. Obviously aged in lots of new, heavy toast French oak barrels, there is smoky, toasty, earthy complexity to the blackberry and cassis fruit. Lean, tightly structured red contains five percent Merlot and three percent Petit Verdot. Enjoyable now or cellar for 21st century enjoyment. Cases purchases highly recommended. Rating: 96/90


Atlas Peak 1996 "Reserve" Sangiovese ($24) Big, chewy, nicely wooded (it doesn't take much with Sangiovese), dark cherry and cherrystone (the taste of the meat right next to the pit) flavors and after-flavors. Round, supple and elegant. A fine companion to veal, pork and flavorful fishes such as tuna, salmon or sturgeon. Rating: 90/84

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