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After a spell of chanting "Anything But Chardonnay," I'm revising my attitude about the great white grape of Burgundy. I think you will, too, if you follow my tastings of an outstanding California Chardonnay and an exceptional, fairly priced White Burgundy, in the next two editions of the Wine Advisor Premium Edition. This biweekly E-letter makes it easy to shop with confidence when you're considering a more pricey bottle for a special occasion ... and your subscription helps support WineLoversPage.com. Subscribe today and get this week's edition in your E-mail box tomorrow ...
Napa, not Napa
When is a Napa wine not a Napa wine? When it's not made from grapes grown in Napa County.
This bit of wisdom may seem self-evident, at least to those of us who are not lawyers nor marketing people. In fact, though, it has taken several years of sometimes contentious litigation to establish this principle in the California courts. A state Supreme Court ruling on the point last week, according to one observer, had "huzzahs resounding through the whole (Napa) Valley."
The case turned on a subtle legal loophole, in a controversy that pitted Napa's traditional, upscale wine industry against an iconoclastic mass-market producer.
Specifically, for consumer-protection reasons that should be obvious, both U.S. and California law insist that if a wine label bears a geographical name, then at least 75 percent of the grapes used to make that wine must actually have been grown in that region.
However, the federal law includes a "grandfather clause" exempting specific producers whose geographical names had been approved before the law took effect in 1986.
California lawmakers sought to close that loophole in 2000, passing a state law that specifically bars any use of the name "Napa" (or Napa sub-regions such as "Rutherford") to label wines not made from at least 75 percent Napa-grown grapes.
The primary target of this move was apparently Bronco Wine Co., which owns production facilities in Napa and whose owner, Fred Franzia, had made a point of purchasing the rights to old, no-longer-used brands including "Napa Ridge," "Rutherford Vintners" and "Napa Creek," among others. (The Supreme Court noted that only Bronco wines currently violate the state law, but pointed out that at least 32 other Napa-based producers have registered label names that would be restricted under the law should they choose to make wines fron non-Napa grapes.)
Bronco made wines under these labels from grapes grown outside Napa and, as the law required, disclosed the source of the grapes on the label. This did little to salve the outrage of Bronco's Napa competitors, however, as the small-print "appellation" was easy to miss, overshadowed by the much larger "Napa" in the brand name.
Bronco sought an injunction barring enforcement of the state law, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it restricted the company's free speech and forebade a label that federal regulators had previously approved. The company's lawyers also held that the federal law should override the stricter state law. An appeals court agreed, suspending enforcement; but the Supreme Court's ruling last Wednesday upheld the state law.
(Bronco, by the way, also makes its widely publicized "Charles Shaw," nicknamed "Two Buck Chuck" because of its ultra-low price tag at California's Trader Joe's stores, in its Napa facilities.)
Just out of curiosity, I thought I would try a Bronco-made wine, Napa Ridge 2001 Pinot Noir ($7.29), a brand that Bronco purchased from the Beringer winery early in 2000. As pictured above in our Graphics Edition, the brand name "Napa Ridge" appears in large black type on the front label. The specific appellation, "Central Coast," shows in much smaller print in a reddish/maroon color near the bottom of the label. The back label offers a bit of advertising copy in tiny print, "Our vineyards in the Central Coast provide the optimum soil and climate for growing Pinot Noir grapes," an assertion with which some wine experts might quibble.
I wasn't expecting much Pinot Noir varietal character for the price, and my limited expectations were pretty much on target. It wasn't a horrid wine, but its grapey aromas, green and peppery underripe flavors and rather harsh, edgy finish struck me as being a long way from Burgundy ... or even Napa. No value, even at the low-end price. I won't publish a formal tasting note.
Full text of the California Supreme Court opinion:
Readers of our text-only edition may view the Napa Ridge label photo in our online archives at
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To get that taste of forgettable not-Napa Pinot out of our mouths, let's travel a few thousand miles south from California to Argentina, following up on Friday's Malbec-tasting report with yet another affordable delight from Argentina. Kaiken, a new label, is the first Argentine venture of Aurelio Montes, the respected wine maker of the Chilean Vina Montes, producers of the excellent Montes Alpha wines. The name "Kaiken" comes from the Patagonian native word for a wild goose that, appropriately, ranges on both sides of the Andes.Kaiken 2002 Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, with appetizing plums and blackberries on the nose and palate. The first taste is like biting into a ripe, sweet plum, with juicy but tart blackberries following after, adding a whiff of fennel and soft tannins as intriguing back notes on the finish in an exceptionally stylish Malbec. U.S. importer: T.G.I.C. Importers Inc., Woodland Hills, Calif. (Aug. 8, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Red-meat burgers of any description work well with Malbec (and so does pizza). My choice for this dinner pairing, a Thai-accented lamb burger, made an excellent match.
VALUE: Head and shoulders above much of the competition at the $10 mark.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's safe to hold it under good storage conditions for a couple of years, but I don't see it really improving with cellar time.
WEB LINK: Kaiken is so new in the marketplace that it's not yet easy to find. Grab it when you see it, and you may be the first kid on your block to give it a try. There's no Kaiken Website yet, but you can get information about Montes on the winery's English-language site,
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Similarly, Kaiken is just beginning to trickle on to Wine-Searcher.com, where only a British vendor currently appears in the free search version:
The California Wine Club:
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Oxford Town Wine: Cowboy wines
WebWineMan: Good Gris, Great Gris!
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Good value Malbec (Aug. 6, 2004)
More wine-shipping politics (Aug. 4, 2004)
The screwcap revisited (Aug. 2, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Steak and sauce (Aug. 5, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Aug. 9, 2004