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Grape Expectations

The quest for quality wines under $20, featuring Kiwis, J. Garcia . . . and screw-tops?


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THANKS TO THE LAW of supply and demand, bountiful harvests around the world and advances in winemaking technology, the retail shelves of your favorite wine merchant are packed with an unprecedented array of pleasures for the palate and pocketbook. It’s particularly evident in wines under $20. The timing is right for summer shopping. With grapes from the new harvest ready to arrive for fermentation, wine must move through the supply chain. Merchants need to make room on their retail shelves for wine waiting in distributors’ warehouses, which must find space for new vintages arriving from the wineries. The wineries have their own chain: grapes, fermentation tanks, barrels, bottles, cases and aging cellars.

Wineries, as the first link in the chain, are pressured to empty their gaining popularity. Clos du Bois has issued bottlings under the J. Garcia label, celebrating the artwork of the late Jerry Garcia, leader of the Grateful Dead. Dick Arrowood, who launched Chateau St. Jean and then began issuing wines under his name in 1988, offers a rich Cabernet Sauvignon under Grand Archer.

The competition is also heating up from countries where land, production and labor costs are lower, including Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. New entries from South Africa (Goiya and African Spirit labels) are under $10. During a recent visit to New Zealand, we tasted a spectacular array of under-$20 wines that were being queued for the U.S. market.

cheese We also applaud the Kiwis for rallying wineries to advance the screw-top revolution. The screw-top advocates say the closure is clean, suffers no bottle variation or corky smell, maintains wine quality indefinitely and eliminates premature oxidation. More than half the winners at the recent Air New Zealand annual wine competition were in screw-tops—some in the $50 to $75 range. We like the convenience, plus no more crumbles in the wine from a cheap, disintegrating cork.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Sebastiani, 2000, Sonoma County, $17 (top score).
J. Garcia (Clos du Bois), Sonoma County, 2001, $15.
Grand Archer (Arrowood), 2001, Sonoma County, $14.
Rodney Strong, 2001, Sonoma County, $12.
Beringer, 2002, Founders Estate, $9.
Grove Street, 2001, Sonoma County, $8 (best value).
Pepi, 2002 (screw-top), California, $8.
Ravenswood, 2001, California, Vintner’s Blend, $7.
New Zealand: Craggy Range, Te Mata, Ngatarawa, Te Awa.

Pinot Noir
Sebastiani, 2002, Sonoma Coast, $16.
Chateau St. Jean, 2002, Sonoma County, $15 (top score).
Erath, 2002, Oregon, $14.
Ponzi, 2002, Tavola, Williamette Valley, Washington, $13.
Estancia, 2001, Monterey, $9.
Castle Rock, 2002, Russian River Valley, $8.
Rex Goliath, 2001, Central Coast, $5.49 (best value).
New Zealand: Martinborough, Margrain, Ata Rangi, Lawson’s, Chard Farm, Peregrine, Brancott.

Merlot

St. Clement, 2001, Napa Valley, $18 (top score).
Chateau Souverain, 2001, Alexander Valley, $18.
Sebastiani, 2001, Sonoma County, $17.
Chateau St. Michelle, 2001, Columbia Valley, Indian Wells, $16.
J. Garcia, 2001, Sonoma County, $15.
Hogue, 2001, Columbia Valley, Genesis, $15.
Dynamite, 2001, North Coast, $15.
Avila, 2001, Santa Barbara County, $10.
Pepi, 2002 (screw-top), California, $8 (best value).

Other Reds
Ca’ del Solo, 2002 (screw-top), Monterey, Sangiovese, $15.
Ca’ del Solo, 2002 (screw-top), Monterey, Barbera, $15 (top score).
Seghesio, 2002, Sonoma County, Zinfandel, $15.
Castle Rock, 2002, Russian River Valley, Zinfandel, $9.
Don Miguel Gascon, 2002, Mendoza, Argentina, Malbec, $8 (best value).

Sauvignon (Fumé) Blanc
Chateau St. Jean, 2001, Le Petite Etoile Vineyard, Russian River
Valley, $18 (top score).
Murphy-Goode, 2001, Alexander Valley Reserve, $15.
Chateau St. Jean, 2002, Sonoma County, $13.
St. Clement, 2002, Napa Valley, $12.
Beringer, 2002, Napa Valley, $12.
Pepi, 2003 (screw-top), California, $8.
New Zealand: Cloudy Bay, Isabel, Konrad & Company ($11, best value), Babich, Lawson’s, Matua, Brancott.

Chardonnay
St. Clement, 2001, Napa Valley, $16 (top score).
Burgess, 2001, Napa Valley, Triere Vineyard, $9 (best value) (2002, $15).
Benziger, 2001, Carneros, $14.
Cambria, 2002, Santa Maria Valley, Katherine’s Vineyard, $13.
Souverain, 2002, Sonoma County, $12.
Selby, 2000, Sonoma County, $12.
Villa Mount Eden, 2001, Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido
Vineyard, $11.
Franciscan, 2001, Napa Valley, Oakville Estate, $10.
St. Francis, 2002, Sonoma County, $9.
Angeline (Martin Ray), 2002, Russian River Valley, $8.
Estancia, 2001, Monterey County, $7.

Other Whites
Conundrum, 2002, Napa Valley White Wine (blend of
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon), $18.
Chateau St. Jean, 2002, Sonoma County, Gewürztraminer, $12.

The wines listed above in order of price have been tasted over the past six months and rated 85 and higher using a 100- point scale. All wines are under $20 (prices may vary). The top score and best value are identified in each category.

A Few Merchants

Holiday Wine Cellar, 302 Mission Avenue, Escondido, 619-696-9463.

San Diego Wine Company, 5282 Eastgate Mall, San Diego, 858-535-1400.

Vintage Wines, 6904 Miramar Road, Suite 101, San Diego, 858-549-2112.

The Wine Bank, 363 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, 619-234-7487.

WineSellar & Brasserie, 9550 Waples, Suite 115, San Diego, 858-450-9557.
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