Wines are improving in California and in many other parts of the world. Are the Outsiders or the Golden State bottles better at the start of the 21st century? To get an idea, we paired 30 Outsiders with 30 California wines in our last S.F. State (College of Extended Education) course. Both sets had an average price of $22. Here's what happened.
There were 18 bottles costing $10 or less. Costs are lower outside of California, so imports will walk off with this category. WRONG! California won both the white and the red Best Buys. Here they are.
White—Sutter Home Chardonnay, California, 1999, $6
Red—Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 1999, $8 (second label of Geyser Peak)
White Still Wines
We slipped a couple of the best Northwest wines in among the imports, and one of them beat the top California entry; here are the finalists.
89 Rating, California, Chardonnay by Grgich Hills, Napa Valley, 1998, $30
91 Rating, Washington State, Eroica Riesling by Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley, 1999, $20
Red Still Wines
Great finalists here...the best wine from South America that I've ever tasted and a Napa Valley Bordeaux varietal that's dazzled my panel in the past. Here they are.
91 Rating, Chile, Sena red wine, joint effort of Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick, 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, 1997, $60
95 Rating, California, Cabernet Sauvignon by Jarvis, Napa Valley, 1996, $80
California doesn't whip French champagne in my classes, but this time it came close.
89 Rating, California, L'Ermitage Brut by Roederer, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, 1994, $42
90 Rating, France, Classic Brut Champagne by Deutz, Importer—Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, No date, $38
Port wines did very well in the course, but Muscats won the day. Here are the finalists.
90 Rating, California, Moscato Rosa (Black Muscat) by Topolos, 1994 (from my cellar), $8 some time ago (375 ml.)
94 Rating, Italy, Moscato di Pantelleria by Pellegrino, Importer—Wildman, '98, $18
So Who Won?
California won the two Best Buys and Best Red. The Outsiders won the other three Best Wine categories...3 wins apiece. and that's the way the course turned out. of the 30 pairs, California won exactly half, as did the Outsiders. Neither group dominated.
Notice a Riesling won Best White Wine of the Course, not a Chardonnay. How did that happen? Well, centuries ago Germans developed the world's greatest Rieslings in their cold climate. Washington State has the cold climate, but not the Germans...until:
Nearly ten years ago renowned Moselle vintner Dr. Ernst Loosen tasted a Washington State Riesling made by Chateau Ste.Michelle. He could see the potential and proposed applying his German techniques in Washington. It was a done deal. A lot of changes were made both in the vineyard and the winemaking to increase flavor intensity and freshness.
Here are a few:
Shoots were thinned, reducing grape production 30%, increasing flavor intensity.
Leaves were stripped, increasing sun exposure, again deepening flavors.
Yipes! Harvest time was moved back starting at midnight and stopping by 9 A.M.
Fresher flavors. The grapes went straight to the press. No use of the crusher-destemmer, which can reduce freshness.
Change yeasts to those that do very well in a long, cold fermentation, including improving aroma.
The class and my pro tasters both gave it an EXCELLENT. Is it America's best Riesling? Try a bottle to find out...available nationally. Contact: Keith Love, (425) 415-3738, FX (425) 415-3657
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.