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© 2000 by Randy Buckner
May 3, 2000

New Releases:
Spring brings a flood of new releases, with Chardonnay leading the pack. The warm weather brings out the shorts, sandals, and the barbeque grill. Red, white and Rose wines all find their niche at this time of year. Here are descriptions of 100 new and current release wines to tempt you to open that wallet or purse. While I do not care to give ratings, special value wines have been noted herein.

Cabernet Sauvignon:
1997 Barwang, Cabernet Sauvignon, Winemaker's Reserve, Hilltops, Australia, $27. Plums and blackberry jam are supported with brisk acidity.

1997 Bookwalter, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $25, 514 cases. Cassis, bing cherry, a suggestion of chocolate, and manageable tannins come together to form a savory wine.

1997 Chateau Souverain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, $20. A ripe plum bouquet introduces flavors of black cherry, coffee, herbs, and a hint of mint, finishing with moderate tannins.

1997 Clos Du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, $48, 2,076 cases. Part of the new Terroir Series of wines, these grapes come from the Palisade vineyard. This tasty wine has aromas of black fruit and licorice, backed by blackberries, blueberries, moderate tannins and nice acidity. A very long, complex finish.

1997 Clos Du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Georges III, Rutherford, Napa Valley, $48. A creamy mouthfeel leads to lovely French oak that does not overwhelm the black fruits and olive nuances. Sturdy tannins mandate bottle age for this one.

1997 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Valley Oaks, California, $9. Sweet vanilla, berry and cherry flavors are diminished by moderate green tannins on the finish. Perhaps they will moderate with time?

1997 Geyser Peak, Cabernet Sauvignon, Block Collection, Kuimelis Vineyard, Alexander Valley, $28, 1,239 cases. Black cherry and American oak aromas extend to the palate, with moderate drying tannins on the finish. Needs bottle time.

1997 Geyser Peak, Cabernet Sauvignon, Block Collection, Vallerga Vineyard, Napa Valley, $35, 1,646 cases. From 25-year-old vines and aged in 100% American Oak. An opaque crimson color, the nose and palate share blackberry and cassis, with sweet American oak flavors and plucky tannins. This one needs some bottle aging to round out.

1998 Hogue, Cabernet-Merlot, Columbia Valley, $10, 51,448 cases. Most of the fruit comes from the Yakima Valley, as evidenced by characteristic mineral tastes. Flavors of blackberry, olive, licorice, chocolate and vanilla spice are supported by moderate tannins and a lingering finish. Very good value.

1997 Kendall-Jackson, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintner's Reserve, California, $17. A nicely balanced, medium-bodied Cabernet, with soft tannins and black fruit flavors. Approachable now.

1998 La Palma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Rapel Valley, $10. Imported by Corus Brands. A bouquet of mixed red and black fruits, mint, with notes of red fruits and tobacco on the palate.

1996 Powers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mercer Ranch, Columbia Valley, $16. Leaning towards the dark black fruit, leather and tobacco spectrum, this is a big wine with substantial tannins and needs bottle aging.

1997 Powers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State, $10. Rich aromas mingle with mixed black fruit and olive flavors, finishing with brisk acidity and supple tannins. Match this one with a grilled steak. Good value.

1999 Rosemount, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, South Eastern Australia, $11. This wine has crushed berry aromas, unassuming black currant fruit flavors and soft tannins, made for early drinking.

1997 Rosemount, Traditional, McLaren Vale, $20. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot. Raspberries, plums, black olive, chocolate and smoky American oak qualities prevail, finishing with generous tannins.

1996 Taltarni, Cabernet Sauvignon, Victoria, $22. A Clos Du Val import. This is a light-styled Cab, with cedar, spice and mixed berry flavors. There are soft tannins on the medium length finish. Drink short term.

1997 Ivan Tamas, Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, $10, 7,000 cases. Bright cherry and cranberry flavors, with soft tannins made in an early drinking style. A good wine for those big summer parties.

Chardonnay:
1999 Bookwalter, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $10, 3,000 cases. A tropical fruit bouquet opens to pineapple and banana accents, nice balance and a soft feel on the palate. Drink over the next year for the fruitiness.

1999 Clos Du Bois, Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented, Sonoma County, $14. Quite floral, loaded with tropical fruit flavors, with a creamy mouthfeel and a light hand on the oak. Finishes clean and crisp. Good value.

1999 Fetzer, Chardonnay, Sundial, California, $9. Always a consistent, value wine, this offering is fresh, with crisp acidity and a hint of vanilla supporting the lemon and melon fruit. 0.5% residual sugar.

1998 Geyser Peak, Chardonnay, Big River Ranch, Russian River Valley, $23, 550 cases. Part of a new series of "Block Collection" wines, focusing on distinctive sites from the best independent growers. A rich, elegant Chardonnay, with 46% new oak that is obvious but not overwhelming, and 50% MLF. Pears, melons and green apple fruit sum up this tasty package.

1998 Hanna, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, $17, 6,435 cases. Tropical fruit aromas lead to apple, pear and grapefruit flavors, with judicious use of oak. Light acidity -- drink over the next year. Scrumptious. A good value.

1998 Hogue, Chardonnay, Fruit Forward, Columbia Valley, $10, 80,000 cases. Another yummy value from Hogue. Layered apple and pear fruit is balanced by delicate spicy oak. 70% of the fruit is fermented in stainless steel, 30% in seasoned French and American oak.

1998 Jekel, Chardonnay, Gravelstone, Monterey, $11, 50,000 cases. This well-balanced wine has a butterscotch bouquet that is followed by apples, peaches, and mild oak spiciness. Good value.

1998 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Camelot Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, $17. Lemon drop aromas are a prelude to citrus and pear fruit flavors, finishing with moderate mixed French and American oak notes.

1998 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Paradise Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, $17. Refined, with rich apple and lime notes in the forefront of creamy French oak. Good value for the style.

1998 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Vintner's Reserve, California, $12. Tropical fruit, apple and vanilla aromas and flavors are supported by buttery flavors and a crisp finish. Always a good value for the genre.

1998 Kenwood, Chardonnay, Reserve, Sonoma, $25, 3007 cases. This is a well-balanced, zingy Chardonnay, with apples, spice and a moderate amount of oak that does not predominate the taste of the wine.

1998 La Palma Chardonnay, Gran Reserva, Rapel Valley, Chile, $14. Tropical fruit on the nose is also appreciated on the palate, along with caramel and vanilla flavors. 0.31% residual sugar. A fair value for the style.

1998 Mirassou, Chardonnay, Coastal Selection, Monterey County, $12, 12,982 cases. This winery deserves a second look for their value wines. Green apple and pineapple aromas, tropical fruit on the palate, a light hand on the oak, all balanced by crisp acidity. Tasty.

1998 Mirassou, Chardonnay, Showcase Selection, Monterey County, $32, 1,775 cases. Apple and pineapple flavors on a framework of toasty oak accents and a creamy finish.

1997 Rosemount, Chardonnay, Giants Creek, Hunter Valley, $12. Oak aromas lead to a wine with crisp, natural acidity, heavy oak spice and obscured fruit.

1998 Rosemount, Chardonnay, "Rose Label," Orange District, $23. Crisp acidity, opening on the palate to reveal peach and fig flavors, along with a healthy dose of smoky oak.

1998 Santa Barbara Winery, Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, $16, 10,000 cases. Clean, bright, with layered fruit, food-friendly acidity, and a long finish of green apples. Good value.

1997 Santa Barbara Winery, Chardonnay, Reserve, Santa Ynez Valley, $24, 1681 cases. This tasty wine is soft on the palate, viscous, impeccably balanced, with yellow delicious apple fruit that takes the forefront to the creamy oak. Nice value.

1997 Ivan Tamas, Chardonnay, Reserve, Livermore Valley, $18, 1,500 cases. Pear fruit is partially obscured by moderate to heavy oak vanillin.

1998 Valley of the Moon, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, $17, 7,990 cases. Malolactic fermentation creates a soft mouthfeel in this wine, with green apple and pear fruit predominating. There are light to moderate toasty vanilla flavors on the finish.

1998 Villa Mt. Eden, Chardonnay, Grand Reserve, Santa Maria Valley, $17. Golden yellow, full-bodied, with apple and butterscotch aromas that are also appreciated on the palate, along with tropical fruit and substantive vanilla flavors.

1998 Windsor, Chardonnay, Private Reserve, Alexander Valley, Simoneau Ranch, $16. Butterscotch aromas lead to pear and oak spice flavors, with a slightly hot finish.

1998 Windsor, Chardonnay, Private Reserve, Barrel Fermented, Russian River Valley, $17. In contrast to their Estate, this wine has green apples, less but obvious oak vanillin, and a brisk, butterscotch finish. 0.38% residual sugar.

1998 Windsor, Chardonnay, Private Reserve, Estate, Russian River Valley, $21. This is a pretty big Chardonnay, with butterscotch on the nose and palate (50% new French oak, 24% new American oak), loads of sweet apples and figs, and a very long, crisp finish. Good value for the genre.

Merlot:
1997 Barwang, Merlot, Coonawarra, Australia, $20. This wine is sure to polarize people. Very unusual herbal aromas precede blackberry fruit, green olive and American oak flavors.

1998 Bookwalter, Merlot, Columbia Valley, $18, 400 cases. Blackberry and spicy oak aromas lead to layered, luscious black fruits, a healthy dollop of oak that is held in check by the amount of fruit, finishing with spicy nuances. Good value.

1998 Fetzer, Merlot, Eagle Peak, California, $9. A clean, straightforward wine with mixed red and black fruit, minerals, and soft tannins. Tasty.

1997 Geyser Peak, Merlot, Reserve, Sonoma County, $32, 940 cases. Hang on to your hats! This is one big, blow your socks off Merlot. If you like BIG, this one is for you. Loads of blackberry and blueberry fruit, chocolate, and balanced smoky oak come together in a tasty offering. The tannins are generous but rounded. Drink over the next ten years.

1997 Jepson, Merlot, Mendocino County, $18, 3,000 cases. Lovely black fruit aromas lead to big, knock you down blackberries on the palate, with moderate tannins and a long finish. A good value for the style.

1998 La Palma, Merlot, Reserve, Rapel Valley, $10. Raspberry aromas, ripe plum and vanilla notes, finishing with firm, drying tannins.

1997 La Palma, Merlot, Gran Reserva, Rapel Valley, $14, 1,500 cases. A full-bodied wine with black fruit and olive aromas that enhance the blackberry, cherry, chocolate and vanilla flavors. There are firm but supple tannins on the finish. Very good value.

1997 Mill Creek, Merlot, Dry Creek Valley, $17, 4,997 cases. Black cherry and blueberry aromas are a prelude to plum, bing cherry and modest oak flavors (20% new American Oak), with supple tannins and substantial acidity.

1997 Powers, Merlot, Columbia Valley, $12. Black currant and blackberry fragrance and flavors, a hint of olive and minerals, and nice acidity combine to make a tasty package. Good food wine.

1997 Rodney Strong, Merlot, Sonoma County, $16, 97,000 cases. An honest, straightforward Merlot, with pretty, up-front black fruit, minerals, proper balance and moderate tannins that become apparent on the finish. A nice match for a variety of foods. Good value.

Miscellaneous:
1998 Lawrence Bargetto, Gewurztraminer, Monterey Valley, $10, 1,136 cases. Spice and citrus flavors prevail balanced by the acidity. Off-dry at 1.3% residual sugar.

1998 Clos Du Val, Ariadne, Table Wine, Napa Valley, $25, 923 cases. This is a blend of 69% Semillon, 28% Sauvignon Blanc, and 3% Viognier. A lovely aroma of figs opens on the palate to light apricot fruit, judicious use of oak, and delightful acidity. This wine was overwhelmed by Seafood Mornay (a Carignane worked better), so use a lighter entree.

1998 Columbia Crest, Semillon, Ice Wine, Columbia Valley, $28 (375 ml). Many US offerings come off cloying due to lack of acidity. This one breaks the mold. Very clean and crisp, with honey and fig aromas. Extremely concentrated and viscous, the wine tastes like pure pear nectar. This is a dessert unto itself. 22% residual sugar. Delicious.

1998 Coulson, Vintner's Select, El Dorado, $12. A Rhone blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 20% Mourvedre. Bright red fruits, spicy pepper and soft tannins combine with food-friendly acidity. Drink over the next year or so with grilled chicken.

1997 Geyser Peak, Cabernet Franc, Alexander Valley, $20, 231 cases. Bright berry fruits, moderate tannins and significant oak flavors intermingle, and will benefit from bottle time.

1997 Geyser Peak, Malbec, Anderson Valley, $20, 446 cases. Very fruity, with raspberry and blackberry flavors dominating, moderate sweet oak vanillin, and soft tannins on a long finish.

1997 Geyser Peak, Petite Sirah, Alexander Valley, $20, 201 cases. A delicious Petite that is very approachable now, but will benefit from bottle aging. Complex black fruit is supported by an undercurrent of creamy vanilla and road tar flavors. Very good value.

1997 Geyser Peak, Petit Verdot, Alexander Valley, $20, 206 cases. Virtually a black hole in the glass, the wine is fruity but somewhat unidimensional, finishing with bracing acidity and tolerable tannins.

1999 Hogue, Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, $7, 10,800 cases. Never to be confused with its Loire counterpart, this wine is nice in its own right. Very crisp and refreshing, off-dry, this wine offers melon and peach flavors, 100% stainless steel exposure, and should be drank over the next year for ultimate enjoyment. Good value.

1998 Mirassou, Pinot Blanc, Monterey County, $16, 1,238. Leaning more towards the Chardonnay spectrum of flavors, with pear, pineapple, moderate oak vanilla, and supple feel, this wine is somewhat atypical for the variety. Match with a Seafood Newburg dish.

1997 Pepi, Sangiovese, Two Heart, California, $15, 8,500 cases. Not too exciting until it was served with Veal Parmigiana. The acidic backbone smoothed out, revealing nice black cherry and plum flavors, with judicious oak nuances.

1997 Tarapaca, Zavala, Maipo Valley, Chile, $25. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 20% Syrah. Cherry vanilla and aged cedar aromas introduce black fruit, chocolate and earthy flavors, finishing long, brisk and moderately tannic.

Pinot Gris:
1999 Lawrence Bargetto, Pinot Grigio, California, $16, 1,527 cases. A very nice wine with floral aromas, melon fruit, and brisk acidity. It is drinking well now, and should do so over the next year or two. A very nice match with salmon croquettes.

1998 King Estate, Pinot Gris, Oregon, $14. A complex aroma of peaches, figs and apples, followed by tropical fruit flavors, with mango winning out. A nice value food wine, with refreshing acidity and a long finish.

Pinot Noir:
1998 Cenay, Pinot Noir, Rogers Vineyard, Napa Valley, $21, 250 cases. This is a clean, nicely balanced, light-styled wine, with red fruit prevailing.

1998 Chateau St. Jean, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $16. Plums dominate the nose of this nicely balanced wine. Dried cherry, cranberry and tea flavors combine with toasted oak and spice, finishing with supple tannins.

1998 Duck Pond, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $9, 8,500 cases. Red cherries and tea aromas are also appreciated on the palate. The acidity makes this a nice food wine. Match with grilled salmon and tarragon butter sauce.

1998 Kendall-Jackson, Pinot Noir, Vintner's Reserve, California, $17. Bing cherry and tea fragrance intermingles with raspberry, cherry, vanilla and white pepper spice. Good value.

1998 Kenwood, Pinot Noir, Russian River, $15, 20,000 cases. This light to medium-bodied wine is a pleasant blend of cherries and red plums, is very soft on the palate, refreshing, and has a surprisingly long finish of huckleberries. A very good value.

1998 Talus, Pinot Noir, California, $8. Medium-bodied, canned plum aromas, with big tea flavors. Herbs/spice and black cherries round out the wine.

1998 Villa Mt. Eden, Pinot Noir, Grand Reserve, Santa Maria Valley, $20. This impeccably balanced wine leads off with dried red cherry and tea aromas, followed by rich, red fruit flavors, leather, and nicely integrated oak. Good value.

1997 Windsor, Pinot Noir, Shelton Signature Series, Russian River Valley, $18. Made in a lighter style, this nicely balanced wine offers complex cherry fruit, together with chalky minerals and a very long finish. A good value.

Riesling:
1999 Geyser Peak, Johannisberg Riesling, California, $8, 35,000 cases. A sip of this wine is like biting into a green apple sweet tart. 2.5% residual sugar combines with inherent acidity and slight spritziness to make a pleasant, good value wine.

1999 Hogue, Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, $7, 42,970 cases. One to drink over the next year. Citrus and apricots flavors are balanced by crisp acidity and a lingering finish. Off-dry at 1.7% residual sugar. Good value that paired well with grilled salmon.

Sauvignon Blanc:
1999 Canyon Road, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $8, 17,200 cases. Grassy, grapefruit aromas typical of the grape. There are hints of gooseberry and citrus on the palate, with tangy acidity.

1998 Chateau St. Jean, Fume Blanc, La Petite, Russian River, $14, 2,910 cases. Rich melon and citrus fruit flavors compete with a healthy dose of French oak.

1999 Chateau Souverain, Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, $12. Aged sur lie, this aromatic wine has grapefruit/lime and melon flavors, brisk acidity, a light touch of oak, finishing with fruity, leesy characters. Good value.

1998 Columbia Crest, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $8. Clean, crisp, with threshold sweetness at 0.5%. Melon and citrus fruit predominate, with a hint of oak in the background from French and American barrel aging. A nice summer quaffer at a fair price.

1998 Pepi, Sauvignon Blanc, Two Heart, California, $13, 15,000 cases. An easy hand on the oak lets the fresh fruit play the predominate role here. Melon and citrus flavors are supported by just a kiss of vanilla spice and crisp acidity.

1999 Preston of Dry Creek, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, $12, 2,500 cases. Pineapple and grassy notes, with intense apples, herbs and spicy nuances, finishing crisp and clean. Good value.

1999 Shenandoah, Sauvignon Blanc, Amador County, $8. This wine leans towards the melon and tropical fruit style. Very clean, crisp, and refreshing. Not a long ager, but great for this summer's drinking pleasure. An excellent value.

1999 Taltarni, Sauvignon Blanc, Victoria, Australia, $14. A lime bouquet leads to tropical fruit, honeysuckle and citrus flavors, ending with brisk acidity.

1999 Tarapaca, Sauvignon Blanc, La Isla, Maipo Valley, Chile, $12. Pleasing grassy aromas are followed by grapefruit/citrus flavors, with a refreshing, clean finish.

Sparkling Wine:
NV Barefoot Bubbly, California Champagne, $8. Slightly sweet at 2.0% residual sugar, this sparkler is reminiscent of a sparkling Moscato.

1996 Clover Hill, Sparkling Wine, Tasmania, $29. A Clos Du Val import. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this wine shows apple, pear and toasty notes, with creamy consistency.

1996 Handley, Brut Rose, Anderson Valley, $25, 285 cases. Very pale salmon color, quite effervescent, with medium-fine bubbles, characteristic fruit with toasty subtleties and a viscous mouthfeel.

NV Taltarni, Brut Tache, Australia, $21. Tache is French for "stained." A red wine was added to "tache" the sparkler after disgorgement. The result is a wine with fresh, fruity flavors, a creamy mouthfeel, and lively acidity on the finish. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.

Syrah:
1997 Barwang, Shiraz, Hilltops, Australia, $20. A licorice and black plum bouquet leads to a palate of cherry fruit, anise, smoky oak and surprisingly delicate tannins. Enjoy now or over the next 3-5 years.

1998 Cline, Syrah, California, $10. Yet another value wine from Cline. Ripe cherry and raspberry flavors are enhanced by nuances of bacon fat and smoke, finishing with moderate tannins that would benefit from a year or two of aging, although the wine is certainly approachable now.

1998 Fetzer, Syrah, California, $11, 60,000 cases. Very floral, this wine has a soft mouthfeel, with plum and cola flavors, finishing with a kiss of oak. Drink over the next three years.

1998 Kendall-Jackson, Syrah, Vintner's Reserve, California, $13. This Syrah has blackberry, cassis, pepper and dusty notes, finishing with smoky nuances.

Zinfandel:
1998 Buffalo Ridge, Zinfandel, French Camp Vineyard, Central Coast, $12, 1,500 cases. This is the debut release and a good value to boot. Loaded with blackberry and raisiny flavors, modest oak spice, it finishes with supple tannins. Drink over the next 2-3 years.

1998 Cline, Zinfandel, California, $10. This is another wine that year in and year out can be counted on to provide good bang for the buck. Average vine age in this wine is more than 50 years old. Black cherry and raspberry fruit is supported by spicy vanilla nuances and moderate but supple tannins. Very good value.

1997 Coulson, Zinfandel, El Dorado, $13. This moderately tannic wine offers very ripe red fruit, a hint of pepper, and brisk acidity.

1997 Fetzer, Zinfandel, Home Ranch, California, $9, 46,000 cases. A cherry vanilla nose introduces jammy red fruit and a hint of cedar, finishing with vanilla cream and modest tannins.

1998 Preston of Dry Creek, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $16, 1,870 cases. Blackberry jam, very crisp acidity and moderate puckering tannins work together in this less than optimal vintage year.

1998 Sobon Estate, Primitivo, Shenandoah Valley, $18, 422 cases. A genetic match to Zinfandel, the vines and grapes are morphologically different than Zinfandel and have been classified as a separate clone of Zinfandel by U.C. Davis. This very tasty, well-balanced wine is loaded with jammy red and black fruit, buttressed by delicate oak flavors and a long, fruity finish. Good value.

1998 Talus, Zinfandel, California, $8. Ripe black cherries on the nose and palate, this is a light-styled Zin made for drinking over the short term. It delivers for the price.

1998 Ivan Tamas, Zinfandel, Beyer Ranch, Livermore, $14, 2,000 cases. This wine has jammy black fruit, soft tannins, and is made in an easy drinking style.

A special report: 25 Monterey Chardonnays

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