Mead On Wine

© 1996 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. I No. 5


by Jerry D. Mead

When you think of Fetzer you probably think of well made, even extraordinary wines, almost always reasonably, even very reasonably, priced. And you should. Fetzer has worked very hard to develop and earn just that image, while earning critical praise and tons of gold medals in the process.

To make reasonably priced wines, however, requires some economies of scale...translated, you have to make a lot of wine to be able to make quality high while the price remains low.

And do not panic, I am not setting you up for a big shock. Fetzer is not going to start charging tons of money for that popular Gewurztraminer, or price the "Sundial" Chardonnay out of your range. Fetzer's going to keep on doing exactly what it has been doing so well for so long.

But Fetzer has a new trick or two up its company sleeves as well. You see, wineries have egos just like people. And people at wineries definitely have egos.

The collective ego at Fetzer got tired of seeing other wineries, their competitors, charging lots of money for small lots of special wines and getting all kinds of accolades. "Why aren't we getting all that credit and all that cash," I can just hear the collective ego thinking.

Then there's Dennis Martin (not the one on tv), the winemaker at Fetzer, whose ego is at least as large as any other talented winemaker's, and getting lots of medals and good reviews for making lots and lots of good wine just wasn't enough to satisfy Martin's ego anymore. In fact, I suspect Martin was getting just a little bored with it all. I wasn't there, but I can just hear Martin's ego saying, "I can make small lot, hand-crafted wines, from special vineyards, with all the bells and whistles, as good as any of those guys who are getting more press.

The collective ego decided to feed the winemaker's ego and beginning with the 1993 vintage Martin started making and holding back special "Reserve" quality lots. We're talking wines available only in the kind of quantities that small farm wineries usually make...a few hundred to a thousand cases of each wine at most.

For the first time, I'm going to have to tell you that you may have trouble finding a Fetzer wine, that you should look at the specialty wine merchants rather than the supermarket, or call the winery directly for information on possible retail outlets in your area. Call Fetzer at (707) 485-7634 and ask to speak to George Rose.

I will tell you up front that I liked all the wines in the new "Reserve" line except one, and scored most of them in the 90's for quality, which says that Martin's ego was right. He can make "bells & whistles" wines.

Fetzer 1995 "Sangiacomo-Sonoma" Chardonnay ($18) Scheduled for a Feb. 1 release, this the most available of the specialty wines with a thousand cases produced. That's still a drop in the bucket compared to other Fetzer Chardonnays. Spicy wood notes from lots of new French barrels, on an apple and melon fruit base, complemented by vanilla flavors and smells, a lean tight structure and a very long finish. Rating: 88/84

Fetzer 1995 "Beckstoffer-Mendocino" Gewurztraminer ($18) Warning: If you are a fan of Fetzer's traditional Gewurz, you probably won't like this one. The one you're used to is pretty sweet and soft. This one is bone dry and 100 percent varietal with no hint of the bitterness that sometimes plagues dry Gewurz. Spicy, perfumey aromatics of lichee, grapefruit and rose petal, with more of the same in the taste and aftertaste. It is truly one of the best wines of its type in the state, but it's a little pricey. Rating: 95/81

Fetzer 1995 "Bien Nacido-Santa Barbara County" Pinot Blanc ($20) Yes, this Mendocino winery is going far afield in sourcing grapes, but since great grapes come from vineyards all over the "golden state," that makes sense for this kind of program. Barrel-fermented and it shows in the very big vanilla bouquet. Lots of fruit, mostly in the lemon-citrus vein and a very long, nicely wooded finish. Like most good Pinot Blancs it's a little more delicate than Chardonnay and better than most examples of that most popular white variety when it comes to accompanying a wide range of foods. Rating: 91/82

Fetzer 1993 "El Dorado County Reserve" Zinfandel ($18) My least favorite wine in the collection. It's 98 percent Zin and 2 percent Petite Sirah. It's great fun to smell with lots of plum and berry fruit, and there's good fruit flavors throughout the taste experience. Alas! The tannins are out of control...the wine finishes with an astringent note that I don't think time will help much. It costs too much for what it is too. Rating: 80/79

Fetzer 1994 "Bien Nacido" Pinot Noir ($24) I recommend this wine highly, but only if you can keep your paws off of it for 2-5 years. It really needs some time in bottle to begin to show its real mettle. From one of the best vineyards, in one of the best Pinot growing regions in the world (and yes I've heard of Burgundy, Russian River, Santa Cruz and Oregon), this still very youthful wine is showing tremendous promise. It has considerable intensity and length already. Black cherry, crushed rose, a little tea leaf, and that wonderful smoky, earthy complexity that makes serious Pinot serious. Rating: 94/84

Fetzer 1994 "Eagle Point Ranch-Mendocino Reserve" Petite Sirah ($24) This entry is destined to become a cult wine. There are only 200 cases, Rhone-style reds are fashionable and it's one of those big, ripe, chewy California reds that the wine geeks go crazy for. Big, intense, mostly ripe plum (but other black fruit flavors as well) and earthy, leathery complexity. Everything about the wine is big, including the tannins, but even they are in balance with the fruit and the structure. Should age for decades but enjoy now with bold foods. Rating: 94/84

The Wine of the Week will be back next week.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.


The Mead On Wine Web Page is designed, maintained and hosted by Wines on the Internet. Reproduction rights reserved.
Latest Update: February 15, 1997