© 1996 JDM Enterprises
ROUND HILL VALUEby Jerry D. Mead
Once upon a time, a couple of decades ago, Round Hill was primarily a private label brand of a chain of liquor stores. California (and many other states) used to have something called "fair trade" (actually legalized price fixing), which made it impossible to discount the most famous brands. So new brands were created over which the retailers controlled the prices instead of the producers or middlemen.
Round Hill is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Then man behind the liquor chain and the Round Hill wines was the same, and when the courts ruled "fair trade" unfair and ended wine price fixing in California, Ernie Van Asperen could have gone back to selling vodka and jug chablis and everyone else's wines at a discount.
But a funny thing happened along the way. The winery that was created as a matter of expediency got under the man's skin. In time, it was the liquor chain that was disposed of and Van Asperen became ever more serious about the winery.
Since it was founded in 1977 there have been lots of changes at Round Hill, including a move to a new address on Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, an eye-catching new label recently debuted and the acquisition of additional vineyard property, but one thing has not changed...an emphasis on value. Round Hill was created to sell at lower prices than wines of comparable quality. Twenty years later it's still doing just that.
Round Hill 1994 "California" Chardonnay ($7) Youthful, tropical (banana, ripe pineapple), big fruit and vanilla style, yet drier than most wines in this price range. Good wine; great value. The vintage you're most likely to find on retail shelves at the moment. Rating: 82/90
Round Hill 1995 "California" Chardonnay ($7) Just being released, this one will appear on shelves in coming weeks. Maybe it's youth, or maybe it's the vintage, but while the styles are similar, this one seems to have crisper acidity and a pleasantly tart finish. Flavors include some citrus fruits. Rating: 82/88
Round Hill 1995 "Napa Valley" Chardonnay ($12) Really tasty, toasty, big vanilla, big tropical fruit, with hints of toasty-smoky complexity. Very pleasant, lingering aftertastes that really hangs in there. Rating: 88/94
Round Hill 1994 "Napa Valley" Merlot ($14) Very youthful, with nice cherry and some berry flavors. A year or two in the bottle should resolve the moderately astringent tannins. Rating: 84/84
Round Hill 1994 "Napa Valley" Zinfandel ($12) Lovely, ripe, but not overripe, medium-bodied claret style. Raspberry and violets aromas and moderately intense raspberry fruit flavor. Black and white pepper, spicy background complexity. Great with lamb or duck. Rating: 89/90
Round Hill 1993 "Napa Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) Big, bold, berry and black cherry fruit with some ripe cassis notes. Firm but not tough backbone. Enjoyable with bold or highly seasoned foods now, but will be much better with three to five years bottle age. Rating: 87/84
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
Round Hill wines are available in most states, though you may have to seek out the select retail establishments that carry the wines. It's also a popular restaurant pour. For nearest retail outlet, or to make an appointment to visit: Round Hill Cellars, 1680 Silverado Trail, St. Helena, CA 94574 (800) 799-3070.
On a recent visit to the Midwest, Kansas to be specific, I ran into the following:
At one lovely Swedish restaurant in a small town, I asked if it was possible to have a glass of wine or perhaps a beer. I was quickly informed that, no, I was in a dry county, but that I could drink those beverages with my meal in a private club...which just happened to be in the same building, served by the same kitchen. Catch 22. We'd have to come back on the weekend as the "club" was only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
At a hotel in Topeka, after a hard day of driving and playing tourist, my lady and I opted for room service and straightaway got comfortable and into our nighties. When I ordered our steaks from room service I tried to order a couple of glasses of red wine. (I knew we weren't in a dry area because I had passed the bar on the way in.) Alas! The law would not permit room service of wine (or beer or spirits). But! I could, I was told, walk down to the bar, buy the wine there, and carry it back to the room myself!
Being already undressed, I settled for coffee. I missed the pleasure of wine with my meal. The house missed a sale. And the state missed some tax money. Who gains from these stupid rules?
It wasn't a legal thing, but at a new, fancy (for the area) restaurant in Great Bend, Kansas, had wines available by the glass only. There were no bottle prices listed. When I asked why, the manager replied, "We don't sell much wine by the bottle." I got a blank look when I pointed out that it might be because they didn't offer wine by the bottle, and that it wouldn't cost him a thing to list a bottle price alongside the glass price on the little card that served as a wine list.
Oh! And Kansas liquor stores may sell only wine, beer and spirits. Want mixers, mineral water, snacks or a newspaper? You're going to have to make a second stop.
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value. For a reprint explaining the scoring system in depth and a pocket scoring guide, send $1 to: Mead's 100 Points, P.O. Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702-1598.