The Sarah Jane English Newsletter: 9th Edition
April 8, 1998
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DAVID FICKLIN, Winemaker Emeritus Ficklin Vineyards, died peacefully from leukemia on March 20.

BRL HARDY Wine Company, Australia’s second largest wine company, has opened a new $18 million South Australian Winery in Padthaway. The winery opening follows the $50 million vineyard acqisition and expansion program undertaken by BRL Hardy during the past three years.

CHALONE Vineyard survived El Nino’s rage which pounded California’s Central Coast. In a flood report published by the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner ‘s office, "over $800,000 in damage to vineyards has been reported to date (Feb.). Most of the damage is to the infrastructure and flooded acreage. Because Chalone is on the hillside, it survived the flooding."

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE’s President Allen Shoup and Tuscan Winemaker Piero Antinori announced the formation of a new partnership. They will make a Columbia Valley, internationally-styled red wine, Col Solare—which means "brilliant or shining hill." It will debut next spring, 1999, with the release of the 1995 vintage, limited to 1,500 cases.

PORTO RAMOS-PINTO inaugurated the Museum of Ervamoira in honor of an unexpected archaeological discovery that saved one of the Douro regions’s finest port vineyards from destruction. Destined to be submerged in order to build a dam by the Portuguese Electricity Authority, plans changed when archaeologists discovered rock engravings that turned out to be Europe’s finest collection of open-air Paleolithic art and bones dating back to 26,000 B.C.

WILLIAMS SELYEM Winery, a top pinot noir producer, has a new investor—former New York State Agricultural Commissioner John Dyson. Ed Selyem, who heads the business side of the winery, is suffering from a debilitating back problem that surgeons said would paralyze him in three years if he continued working. It prompted them to find a new partner committed to their quality. Williams will remain the winemaker for at least two years.

BOUCHANE offers two excellent new wines: 1995 Estate Reserve Carneros Chardonnay $24. Only 400 cases of this wine were produced. "Every available piece of equipment and vineyard worker—including a plane for aerial dusting—was used to mitigate damp conditions. Rain at flowering caused shatter, but the mini-sized grapes packed concentrated flavors."

BOUCHANE 1995 Carneros Pinot Noir $19 (5,200 cases) suffered the same weather conditions with the same results—ripe fruit with intense flavors, ranging from cherries and berries to spicy to hints of leather and dried mushrooms.

DOMINUS 1995 Napanook vineyard red table wine $90 is the California expression of Winemaker Christian Moueix, whose family manages 15 properties in Bordeaux ( Please see MASTERS OF FOOD AND WINE, 8th Newsletter). Moueix says, "Comparable in quality to the lovely 1992, the 1995 DOMINUS shows intense ruby color and ripe, handsomely balanced flavor. Lively and fresh, the nose has hints of raspberry. While tannins are present—as expected in so young a wine—their exceptional suppleness makes them discreet. With a few minutes in the glass, the wine evolves nicely and is very enjoyable to drink now." The blend is 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, 4% merlot.

CHÂTEAU ST. JEAN 1996 Sonoma Fume Blanc $9, a blend of sauvignon blanc/semillon, 30% of blend barrel fermented in French and American cooperage and aged sur lie, the remaining 70% was tank fermented, then barrel aged. Winemaker notes: perfume of pear, fig and spice with palate of grapefruit, vanilla and fig and smoky notes.

VERAMONTE 1997 Chardonnay $10 comes from a good vintage. Winemaker notes: "Citrus and floral perfume aromas and flavors of apples and tropical elements with rounding oak." 1996 VERAMONTE PRIMUS Merlot $15: "Dark, dark red, wild herbs and spicy oak, a massive and mouthfilling yet supple wine with smooth tannins and layered flavors with chocolate accents."

MERIDIAN 1996 Paso Robles Syrah $16 is the first vintage from a "new" vineyard. Winemaker Chuck Ortman says "My friend and neighbor, Gary Eberle, planted our estate Syrah vineyard in 1973. We found phylloxera a few years ago and I was devastated. After talking to Gary and our research department, my fears were alleviated. Before tearing out the old vineyard, we took cuttings and grafted onto disease-resistent rootstock. Throughout the course of a year, we grew enough new vines to re-plant the entire vineyard. The 1996 is the first from that vineyard—deep purple, concentrated black and red berry fruit framed by subtle pepper and smoke. I am a happy man!"

GEYSER PEAK offers three stunning wines: 1995 Reserve Alexandre "Meritage" ($28)—a stylish, full-bodied and extremely complex wine. "1995 in Alexander Valley had near perfect climatic conditions, achieving optimum color and development." 1995 Reserve Merlot, Alexander Valley $32—the second release of GEYSER PEAK Reserve Merlot—powerfully structured, a nose of exotic dark cherries and clove, mint and cigar box and a big, rich palate. 1997 Gewurztraminer $7.50, "a lovely, delicate clean wine with spicy character."

FLORA SPRINGS is busy. There’s a new label with a highly stylized figure holding a bunch of grapes against a water-image background. Marketing director Julie Garvey says it will be used on several new wines and some current offerings. "We wanted to create a central female figure who would personify the spirit of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and be a tribute to our mother, Flora Komes." Then there’s also the new tasting room on St. Helena Highway, and the completed, new, state-of-the-art, 6,000- square-foot cave. Intended for aging the FLORA SPRINGS red wines, it is 450 feet long and stores 1000 barrels at a constant temperature around 60 degrees with humidity of 90 per cent.

FLORA SPRINGS has four new releases: 1996 Merlot $15, "We want our Merlot to show the intense fruity characteristics of the grape," says Winemaker Ken Deis. "The 1996 is rich and plump with lush fruitiness and smooth lingering flavors, showing plums and black cherries with earthy cedar aromas." The 1996 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) "has a concentration of floral and fruity notes and hint of herbs. The mouthfeel is silk, yet crisp and refreshing." 1996 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $23, "shows tremendous complexity and character, a mix of tropical fruit and spices, clean and creamy." 1996 Sangiovese $15—first released in 1994--"is a lively, bright wine that pairs well with all foods—especially fresh ripe tomatoes," says Deis.

SHAFER has released two of my favorites: 1996 Red Should Ranch, Carneros, Napa, Chardonnay $30: rich, intensely flavored chardonnay, whole cluster-pressed and fermented exclusively with wild yeast, 15 months sur lie aging with weekly batonage, no malo-lactic preserves its lively acidity. The vineyard is named for the red-shouldered hawks which play an important role in Shafer’s sustainable agricultural practices.

SHAFER 1995 Firebreak (88% sangiovese/12% cabernet sauvignon) $27, Shafer’s first proprietary red wine (introduced ’91), is named after a wildfire that scorched the hill above the winery. Firebreak names the wine and the vineyard, planted to sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon.

SHAFER produces a total of 28,000 cases, 100% Napa Valley, of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sangiovese. Chairman John Shafer bought the Stags Leap District estate in 1972 and established the winery in 1979. Doug Shafer became winemaker in 1983 after graduating from U.C. Davis with a degree in enology and viticulture and is president today, overseeing the winery and 146 planted acres, while Elias Fernandez is winemaker. Doug manages an intensive program of low impact, sustainable agriculture to preserve the long-term health of the soil and environment. Cover crops on level vineyards are mowed and left to enrich the soil, give better aeration and drainage. Cover crops help leafhopper control by preserving the habitat of insects that prey on leafhoppers, such as, wasps, spiders, ladybugs, lacewings, damsel bugs and flies.

On the steep hillside vineyards where mowing isn’t possible, clover is used as the cover crop. It won’t overtake the vines in seeking moisture and nutrients, and it chokes out unwanted weeds. It does, however, attract gophers and other rodents, so Shafer constructed nest boxes for barn owls and perches for hawks.

STERLING VINEYARDS Winemaker Rob Hunter and I enjoyed luncheon and tasting Sterling wines at Romeo’s. He became winemaker in July and stated his goals.

"I told Greg Fowler (vice president and senior winemaker) when I interviewed for the job that I wanted to re-engineer the winery—look at the operations and make recommendations. While Sterling wines have received acceptable reviews and sometimes good ones, it’s time for a change. I said I wanted to be a winemaker exclusively—to focus only on the wines. I want Sterling to be the best wine in California-not just Napa. With our resources in vineyards and people—such great tools—why hasn’t it come together sooner? The wines are good, but I want greatness. It’s like going back to a favorite restaurant—you like the food and you’re comfortable going there; then a new chef arrives and takes the food to a new level. That’s what we’re trying to do without pricing the wines out of reach.

I began in July ’97 when the grapes were being delivered to the winery. Timing is crucial. Grapes can be ripe without being mature. Grape ripeness is a measure of sugar and acidity and pH, but seeds need to reach maturity, too—a golden brown, when tannins change from stemmy or green tea to the varietal character. There’s a sudden burst of flavor of whatever that character may be. I want to add flavors, to get the varietal characteristics. You can lower sugar, heighten tannin or add acid—but you can’t add flavor.

One device is to use rotary fermentors. They give good extraction without excessive tannins. Taste has become the important factor among American wine drinkers, not just drinking.

1995 Sterling Sauvignon Blanc: fresh lime, fennel, subdued tartness.

1995 Sterling Winery Lake Chardnnay: oak, vanilla, rich and buttery.

1995 Sterling Winery Lake Pinot Noir: classic nose of cola, nutmeg, leather, nicely textured and lively acidity—lovely expression of this varietal.

1994 Sterling Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: intense, blackberries, well-structured with smooth tannins.

1994 Sterling Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: complex, well-integrated flavors, delicious and rich.


SWEET WINES may be the dessert, may accompany a dessert and, in some cases, complement several different foods. The classic food pairs with Sauternes, for example, are foie gras and Roquefort or other blue cheeses. My tasting group enjoyed these delicate and delicious wines with blue cheeses and chocolates.

When I think of light, fanciful wines to start an evening, the EBERLE MUSCAT CANELLI $13, ST. SUPERY MOSCATO $13 and the MARTIN BROS. "ALLEGRO" MOSCATO $11 come to mind. They’re fresh, fruity and delicious without being too sweet.

For sweeter wines, several are recommended. The 1995 FLEUR DU CAP NOBLE Late Harvest is made 100% from Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the cool Coastal Region of the Cape of Good Hope where they ripen slowly and evenly, building up a high concentration of flavors and aromas. Well-made and reasonably priced, $12.50 for 375 ml.

1995 COLUMBIA CREST ICE WINE, White Riesling, Columbia Valley is rich and aromatic and irresistible. This wine sold out almost immediately upon release—understandably—so it may be difficult to find. It was harvested entirely in the estate vineyard. $25 for 375 ml.

1994 VIOLETTA is the premier bottling of a late harvest wine named for Mike Grgich’s capable daughter Violet. The exquisite decal label is designed with highlights of green and gold to punctuate the bouquet of violets. The wine is a luscious, elegant dessert wine with 12% sugar and reminiscent of a Sauternes. It has its own special character with a wonderful balance of sugar and acidity and a clean, refreshing finish. $25 for 375 ml.

1993 MAYACAMAS Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is a dense wine with lovely extracts. It was harvested at 34.6% Brix and the residual sugar at bottling was 10.2%. We loved it with chocolates and blue cheeses. $18 for 375 ml.

1994 P.J.Valckenberg MADONNA Berich Wonnegau Beerenauslese Rheinssen Qualitätswein mit Prädikat—was good enough to warrant learning how to pronounce all those words. $16 for 375 ml.

1992 DOLCE (dol-chay) was inspired by the romantic Italian phrase "Dolce Far Niente" (Sweet doing nothing). The bottlings of this incredible wine began at Far Niente; however, now in its own facility, Dolce is the only winery in California (to my knowledge) to specialize solely in the production of late-harvest wines. 1992 Dolce is a blend of 66% semillon and 34% sauvignon blanc, fermented 100% in new French oak barrels and aged over two years for the flavors to combine and develop. They do! $50 for 375 ml.

1995 CHÂTEAU STE. MICHELLE Reserve Ice Wine Columbia Valley White Riesling is a treasure. This elegant elixir is satin and pears, silk and honey. It’s truly a rare treat. ($ NA)

SEAVIEW, Australian sparkling wine, deserves attention. Try two delightful SEAVIEW wines: 1993 SEAVIEW Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut $13 (my favorite) and the SEAVIEW Brut $7.50. You’ll want to have bottles of this well-made, reasonably price wine on hand for impromptu celebrations daily.

LA FAMIGLIA di ROBERT MONDAVI has a new home. The formerly Vichon Winery on the Oakville Crossing has been artistically brightened with Italian murals. The Tasting Room—featuring a vineyard scene along one entire wall—has a conveniently long bar as well as a lovely array of selected gift items to purchase. I tasted through the new releases and was delighted by the freshness and fruit in all the wines:

CERETTO 1993 LA BERNARDINA Monsordo Bianco (It’s viognier, but Italian law prohibits mention of this variety since it’s non-traditional for the region), $24 is stunning, beautifully structured and invitingly full of restrained fruits and fresh country smells. Look for current vintage.

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The Highlands Inn offers nature’s drama and the art of nurture annually at the Masters of Food and Wine. This year (1998) mother nature mercifully ceased her roiling exhibit for the week to let in the sunshine, the chefs, the vintners and the guests.

If you tire of the view from Highlands Inn, you probably belong on another planet. And as if the rugged beauty of the Pacific coastline and prolific gardens aren’t enough, there’s the ambiance and hospitality surrounding the excellent food and wines.

Opening night is an extravaganza of feasting. Vintners and chefs offer tastes of their exquisite fare. Jamie Shannon of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans prepared thin slices of smoked salmon wrapped around a concoction of fresh crab meat; Alan Wong of Alan Wong’s in Honolulu seared tuna and topped it with a nest of sheer shredded vegetables, ginger sauce and cilantro; Dawn Sieber of Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Florida, offered crab claws polished like porcelain dipped in creamy horseradish sauce and a pan sauteed orange roughy with citrus and black beans, and Janet Rikala baked her grandmother’s lemon meringue pie.

Meyer Lemon Tartlettes with Sucre Crust
by Pastry Chef Janet Rikala of Postrio

Ingredients for pie filling:
2 ½ cups sugar
pinch of salt
3 cups water
10 each egg yolks (beat in one at a time)
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
¼ cup lemon zest
4 ounces chilled butter, cut into pieces

Ingredients for sucre shell:
1 lb. unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 each egg yolks
1 each egg
1 1/2 lbs pastry flour

Ingredients for the meringue:
8 egg white
7 ounces sugar
½ tsp. Cream of tartar
pinch of salt

Filling: Sift together the sugar, flour and salt in a metal bowl. Place the bain marie over a pot of boiling water. Whisk in the water until thick and translucent. Remove from the heat and add egg yolks, beating after each addition. Return the bain marie to the heat, stir constantly and add the lemon juice and zest. Whisk until think. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter. Chill Before using.

Dough: Combine butter and sugar in Kitchen Aid. Cream with the paddle attachment. Separately, lightly whisk egg yolks and an egg. Add to the butter mixture. Sift the flour and add to mix just until combined. Wrap the dough in saran wrap and chill at least two hours. Roll the dough out on a well floured surface ¼ " thick. Cut into small 3" circles for tartlettes or a large 8-9" circle. Press dough into greased pan. Freeze dough. Fill dough with parchment and baking beans. Pre-bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. Let dough cool before filling.

Meringue: In a non reactive bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Place over a pot of warm water, whisk until the sugar has dissolved (approximately 3 minutes). Using the whisk atachment on a kitchen aid, whisk the whites with the cream of tartar and salt until stiff peaks, but not dry.

Final preparation: Fill the shells with the filling. Pipe the meringue on top of each shell. Bake at 350 degrees until the meringue is golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Champagne Jacquesson was served by Jean-Hervé Chiquet before every event. All expressions—Blancs de Blancs, Signature Brut, or Rosé—were elegant with minuscule bubbles.

I tasted delicious viogniers from Beringer (available only in the tasting room) and Pride; cabernet sauvignons from Staglin and Ferrari-Carano; chardonnays from Chalone, Pahlmeyer, Joseph Phelps and Bernardus; merlots from Havens, Duckhorn and Château La Grave; pinot noirs from Acacia, Domaine de l’Arlot Nuits St. George and many others.

Chefs Charlie Trotter, Wolfgang Puck and Lydia Bastianich held cooking demonstrations on three different mornings. Lydia and Felice Bastianich combined their given names and opened Felidia Ristrorante in 1981 in a converted old brownstone. Lydia develops the menu while Executive Chef Nicotra Fortunato cooks.

Sarah Jane: How do trends get started and what do you think about them?
Lydia: I’m leery of trends and chefs that claim to invent something overnight. The culture of food, I think, is in direct response to the evolution of the land and the people where it is eaten. Therefore, it’s a slow process. It’s in response of that need, whether it be social, pleasurable or just the land and what it gives. So, have I invented anything? I don’t think I have. Have I revisited my culture? Yes, I have. Have I made conscientious changes because of the health issues and concerns of my customers? Yes, I have. But to say that it’s mine, that I invented it and it’s new, I’m leery of that. But what I think is happening in America, and it’s valid, is the fact that American chefs are presenting different cultures just as I do mine. I’m very religious about that, I’m committed to that and that’s what I want to do. I think the American chefs will expand in the presenting of different cultures--like having a pasta dish as well as a Chinese rice dish reflected on the menu. I think we’ll see more of that in the future, providing that the chef is conscientious enough and dedicated enough to do diligent research–to know that he is communicating a culinary history of a people. A lot of the really good chefs are doing that today. You can see it in their cooking. The Asian influence here in the West is obvious. The two major cuisines, Mediterranean and Asian, show a lot of similarity and the philosophy of eating is so sound. They use a lot of vegetables with a sense of diversity.

In the Mediterranean culture the ratio is one-third protein to two-thirds vegetables and starches on the plate. Still, here in America, protein reigns, and I think it’s a measure of whether or not the diner received his money’s worth. I think this ratio of the items on the main course plate is the next frontier that American chefs will address. I hope so, anyway.

SJE: What percentage of a population sustains a food trend?
LB: There are always the leaders and the explorers. You represent one end of it. You record what is happening to stimulate and help set trends. If you’re going to write something about me and my philosophy, an aspiring chef will read it and try to emulate and so you are very instrumental in this process. But, yes, there is always a group of explorers, some more professional than others. I think any revolution or whatever you want to call it, needs a large momentum. Take the nouvelle cuisine, it was a big momentum—a consciousness to improve presentation. The nouvelle itself—at the end—didn’t have much, but it instigated a process of thinking about presentation and the message was very positive.  So I think in these kinds of things that sometimes we tend to be overtaken by the revolution itself. Periodic revolutions in the food industry will happen, but these will not be the ones that remain. They will be stimulated by something that needs to be addressed and then the conscientious chefs will incorporate it into their work.
SJE: Certainly, evolutions of food styles depend on indigenous products. Technology and transportation have made the world smaller, so products from anywhere are available in short periods of time. Is it still best to use what is out your backdoor?
LB: Absolutely. I think the Industrial Revolution made possible the quick processing and reprocessing of foods until they have none of the characteristics of their original source. The populace in general has come to realize (chefs have known it for decades) that we want products as close to the source as possible and to enjoy as close to its natural state as it can be. If I could deal directly with the farmer, I would be happy. I think we’re working towards that. Chefs need to demand it, not merely respond to what is given to them, and let growers and the industry respond to them.
SJE: Often, in adapting food styles to traditional ones, things get contrived and overdone. How much do we have to endure before there’s an honest approach to what is good?
LB: Simplicity is best in everything and so it is with food to reach that absolute best product. Chefs need to be secure and confident about their cooking and understanding of the product. They must feel comfortable working as little as possible with that product. This requires simplicity at its best, but it is the hardest because all the elements have be in place. It’s easy to mask something with a cup of this or a cup of that, and often the consumer doesn’t know if it’s right or wrong. Consumers can’t know if the correct technique was used. How is the perfect point of completeness reached? It’s buying the right product, being trained and self-confident in knowing how to handle it and being secure enough to refrain from showing your style, imposing your personality on that plate rather than exalting what’s there. That takes a lot of security. Some chefs are under pressure to create this gigantic architecture—to design towers on plates. In simplicity you see the true artists.
SJE: Do you have limitations on the number of ingredients?
LB: Use as little as possible. There are certain combinations of spices and herbs that express themselves well and it depends on which direction you want to go. But if you mix cloves and rosemary and bay leaf and cinnamon you get nothing. It’s an awful mess. It’s a confusion. Food is like music. You need to create harmony. If you think of each section of an orchestra playing the wrong music and creating confusion—that’s how some dishes appear to me.
SJE: If Italians hadn’t had pasta what would they have eaten?
LB: I would have died (laughter).
SJE: What are the new directions and what will remain?
LB: Pasta is going to remain. There will be additions. Starches are a big part of the Italian diet. Pasta is the biggest, but there’s polenta and rice and I think those elements will be featured more but will not lessen pasta. Maybe people will eat pasta for two days and then have a risotto or polenta. Vegetables and meats can be added to them just as to pasta. Sour cabbage and polenta with olive oil is a dish that my mother still makes today. I make it in my restaurant—sour cabbage in olive oil served next to polenta and add a little sausage or bacon. That’s a whole new culture that has to come to light.


DEHLINGER: Started in 1975 by U.C. Davis-trained enologist Tom Dehlinger, the Dehlinger Winery islocated in the heart of its 50-acre vineyard in Sonoma County’s cool Russian River Valley. Production remains under 10,000 cases annually with a focus on perfection of technique and refinement of style. Dehlinger believes in dealing with small, individual portions of the vineyard , harvesting grapes at advanced states of maturity and extended aging in small oak cooperage.

ROCHIOLI: The Rochioli family has been growing grapes at their 130-acre ranch since the 1930s. In 1983, Tom Rochioli, a banker, was drawn back to the family ranch to work the land with his father. The wines they began to create from the Rochioli estate grapes were an instant success. Rochioli wines have consistently received very high ratings in wine magazines and one year the winery was christened "1993 Top Estate Winery of the Year."

1996 J. Rochioli West Block: purple garnet, perfumed spices, rich clean cherry nose, great focus, firm texture. (J.R. The wine spent 15 months in 100% new oak (tight grain, medium toast) and grew 2.2 tons per acre.)

1995 Dehlinger, Octogon (single vineyard) Reserve: dark purple garnet, spices, nutmeg, tea, cola, bing cherry, tight and big, large structure. (T.D. In my vineyard, 15 acres equal 15 wines, each fermented separately and blended after racking.)

1995 J. Rochioli West Block Reserve: deep purple ruby, subtle fruit, cedar box, balanced evolution over palate, nicely structured, evidenced tannins manageable.

1994 Dehlinger Reserve: deep, dark purple garnet, lovely concentration of fruit, complex and integrated nose, big, tightly textured but balanced and generous, delicious and clean.

1994 J. Rochioli West Block Reserve: deep purple garnet, cherry-vinous odors, integrated and perfumy, lovely soft tannins add flavor and texture, nice evolution, elegant and big. (J.R. The wine macerated for three days at 58° to 65° on its own yeasts.)

1992 Dehlinger Reserve: mahogany rim with brick-orange hints to light garnet, subdued nose, fresh red meat, cola, powdery perfume, big tannic structure but fruit holds, lovely evolution. (T.D. Warm, whole-cluster grapes with some stems were chilled to 55° and fermented up to 90° in open top tanks, punched down twice a day, one-third new barrels, medium to heavy toast.)

1993 J. Rochioli West Black Reserve: mahogany-chestnut-dark-brown garnet, cola, smoky, leather, spice hints, forest floor, compelling complexity on nose, perfumy, palate of earthiness with firm fruit proliferating, delicious.

1991 Dehlinger Reserve: mahogany tinge, dark brown-red, nose of smoky, charred oak, forest floor, older aging characteristics evident, fruit is gone, palate show tannins and diminished finish. (T.D. One should drink wines at five to ten years of age. The best years have small berries. There are three zones in my vineyards: hilltop grows more slowly, one portion is too vigorous and the other third is just right. The wines that come from areas—even 20 feet a part--make a big difference in their ripeness. )


BERINGER: Ed Sbragia is the third generation member of his family to work in the California wine business. Ed’s father taught him winemaking. After earning a master’s degree in enology at California State University in Fresno and working for a year at a Sonoma winery, Ed became assistant to winemaker Myron Nightingale at Beringer. When Nightingale retired in 1984, Ed was named chief winemaker and has been making lovely Beringer wines since, including the successful Private Reserve program.

DUCKHORN: Dan Duckhorn has been involved in grape growing and grape plant propagation since 1971. This experience, combined with his strong background in corporate finance, has been instrumental in guiding the growth of Duckhorn Vineyards (founded 1976) to international prominence and acclaim. Margaret Duckhorn coordinates all aspects of marketing and sales for the winery, which produces the world-class Merlot sold worldwide.

LEONETTI: Gary Figgins makes superb merlot and cabernet sauvignon, only—and to the disappointment of many wine-lovers—very limited productions. Knowing quality grapes are in short supply, rather than meet the demand with something less than the best, he opted to handcraft rich red wines with small harvests from his vineyard and selected lots from other growers. In an age of powerful red wines, Leonetti Cellar wines are known as among the best in the world, combining intensity of fruit and oak with a finesse mastered by few. Gary’s elegant, beautifully balanced wines are treasures.

PAHLMEYER: A California trail lawyer who found he spent more time reading wine journals than law journals, Jayson Pahlmeyer emerged in the wine field fifteen years ago. His goal has been to make great Bordeaux-style wines by blending classic Bordeaux varietals. Pahlmeyer harvests grapes with high sugars late in the growing season to make big, expansive wines with high viscosity, flavor and alcohol. Since Pahlmeyer’s first release in 1986, his wines have received outstanding reviews from the press and consumers.

1996 Leonetti Cellar, American (50% Cal.): deep purple, luscious, opulent fruit, explosive and lovely perfume nose, tightly structured, oak overtones on fruit, young and elegant.

1996 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley: bright dark purple, charcoal, smoky, some bell pepper, big tannins some harshness, modest elemental fruit with oak sweetness, will age well.

1994 Beringer Vineyards Howell Mountain: garnet purple, aromatic earthiness, perfume, spices medley, complex, big tannins and good flavors, plum and pepper.

1994 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley: deep purple, cola, hint brett, less forward nose, fruit underneath, big tannins, nice palate evolution (13 blocks of vineyard in blend).

1995 Leonetti Cellar Columbia Valley: dark purple garnet, fruit forward with coconut and gardenia, fruit and oak complexity, nicely balanced, full-flavored and delicious long finish.

1995 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley: dark purple, fennel, anise, liquorice, lovely fruit and wood complex nose, big/fat/rich, perfume evolves with fruit hints.

1991 Beringer Vineyards Howell Mountain: dark garnet, smoky, toasty, soil character, mint and berries, red meat, big tannins, nice complexity and long finish. (big crop, finished picking Nov. 10—long hang time).

1993 Duckhorn Vineyards Howell Mountain: bright garnet with purple highlights, complex nose, fruity/pepper/subdued fruit, soft tannins, good flavors, nice palate.

1994 Leonetti Cellar Columbia Valley: dark purple, lovely nose of coconut and flowers, frutiness, herbal nuances, burst of flavors on palate, rich, forward, opulent, big and delicious, excellent wine, a classic Leonetti—stunning!

1994 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley: garnet, hint of brett, smoky, dusty, big tannins, nice palate, concentrated on center with a slow evolution.

1987 Beringer Vineyards Bancroft (first vintage release): brick edged garnet, herbal backbone, charcoal, tea, mint, tar, complex, green olive, full flavor with some softness, forest floor.

1987 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyards: brick ruby, complex integrated nose, tea, oak, soft fruit, big structure, nice sweet focus of oak and fruit, dry, it has piqued. (75% merlot—must add a lot of cabernet to this vineyard and new French oak).