TUESDAYS ARE OUR big tasting days in San Francisco, when tasting coordinator Tom Garrett lines up new releases and Harvey Steiman, Jeff Morgan and yours truly sit down to size up winedom's newest offerings from California, Washington, Oregon, Australia and New Zealand. . . .
Some days you win, some days you lose in these blind tastings, as quality and styles can be exhilarating or downright ugly depending on the vintage, wine type, appellation or mood of the tasting coordinator. . . .
These tastings are like going fishing, where there are days when it's cold, gray and windy, you only get a few nibbles and you wonder where all the good wines went. . . .
OTHER TIMES THE sun is shining, the sky is blue and the fish are jumping in the boat, if you know what I mean. . . .
Last week the bite was definitely on, with so many hookups that we hated to bring in our poles and head home. . . .
Here then are the highlights of the best wines we liked, all terrific, most value-oriented, so take note and place a call (where necessary because of limited cases) to reserve your bottles before they're gone. . . .
Stay tuned for more indepth reviews of these and other hot new wines in Wine Spectator. . . .
RABBIT RIDGE in Sonoma County has been on a big roll of late, hitting high water marks with its Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Merlot, but wow—the Sangiovese 1994, with a California appellation and $13 price, is one you won't want to miss, a remarkably harmonious, supple and flavorful rendering of this up-and-coming grape. . . . 707-431-7128
WOODBRIDGE is ROBERT MONDAVI in Lodi and this wing of the wine company is known for its excellent values, but tune in to the new Lodi-grown, limited-edition Port, Porto Cinco 1992 ($20, 2,000 six-bottle cases), one of Harvey's discoveries. . . .
It is ripe, sweet and complex, layering its prune, black cherry and plum flavors before the tannic grip kicks in, attributes that should carry it decades. Takes its name from the five Port grapes used, those being Touriga Nacional, Bastardo, Alvaralhao, Sousao and Tinta Cao. Though it's targeted primarily for restaurants, you can try and buy a bottle by calling 209-369-5861. . . .
Zinfanatics will want to pay special attention to RENWOOD'S Ice Wine style of Zin, a super-sweet, Amador-grown 1994 dessert wine that serves up delicious strawberry, melon and exotic spice flavors that hint at chocolate on the long finish. . . . 209-245-6979
THEN THERE'RE A couple of newcomers, with showy new Napa Valley Cabernets. . . .
DEL DOTTO's 1993 ($30) made just 497 cases, but if you can lay your hands on a bottle you'll be pleased by the wonderful core of rich, concentrated currant, earth, mineral and spice flavors. . . . toll-free number. . . . 888-335-3688
Another terrific effort comes from ARNS, another 1993 ($30), with grapes that used to go to DUNN and PAHLMEYER. As you might expect, this is a ripe, rich, dark and concentrated wine, with layers of currant, black cherry, anise and wild berry, all well focused and tightly wound. . . . 707-963-3429
Washington's COLUMBIA CREST has a knack for producing delicious wines, so it comes as no surprise that the 1995 Estate Series Chardonnay from Columbia Valley is rich, silky smooth and well worth the $14 price tag. . . .
Along the same lines and price range, check out the 1995 J. LOHR Chardonnay from Monterey, a wonderful balancing act, with a core of juicy pear, apple, pineapple and citrus with toasty vanilla oak shadings that keep the flavors fresh and lively. . . .
WHILE WE'RE TALKING values, two more you should seek: CHATEAU SOUVERAIN Sonoma County 1995 ($13), a smooth, supple, harmonious wine with pretty pear, apple, hazelnut and vanilla notes and FETZER Mendocino County Barrel Select 1995, which is fresh and lively with pear, peach, honey and butterscotch notes and costs only $11. . . .
Also well worth the money, BELVEDERE's 1995 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($10), that starts out earthy but works its way into more interesting flavors, with a core of peach, nectarine and pear flavors. . . .
Famed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola directs his best Merlot, the 1994 NIEBAUM-COPPOLA Napa Valley ($24), a supple elegant, wine with a juicy core of ripe black cherry, plum and currant flavors, finishing with a dash of spice and herb. . . .
AMITY in Oregon often walks the quality tightrope, and occasionally slips, but the Late Harvest Gewurztraminer from Juliard Vineyard $8 is sweet without being cloying, with lots of spice and orange cream flavors. . . .
Liked the STORYBOOK MOUNTAIN 1994 Napa Valley Zinfandel too, as it carries a $15 price tag and Mayacamas Range appellation, with lots of ripe . . . .
Not to be missed are the RIDGE Paso Robles Zinfandel 1995 and a couple more Pinot Noirs from STEELE, but you can bet that any wines from either of these producers is going to be delicious, so be on the lookout. . . .
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