© 1998 JDM Enterprises
CHATEAU ST. JEAN UPDATEby Jerry D. Mead
Since its founding 25 years, this unique chateau in Sonoma Valley has known three winemakers, always some great wines and some differences in style.
Richard Arrowood first made the winery famous as the first in California to truly emphasize vineyard designations. At one time, there were eight different Chardonnays and several bottlings each of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Under Arrowood, the emphasis was focused on white wines.
Don VanStaaveren, who had been Arrowood's assistant, took a newly success full red wine program and ran with, expanding it and truly building a red wine image. He also took the winery away from the vineyard designation program, though not totally, relying much more on blending for successful flavors.
The "new" guy, Steve Reeder, is capitalizing on all of St. Jean's history. He's doing some blending, to be sure, but he's also expanding the vineyard program once more, both with old favorites and some brand new growers.
Chateau St. Jean 1995 "Robert Young" Chardonnay ($22) THis famous Chardonnay is always released one year older than other St. Jean Chardonnays. That's because it's a late bloomer and doesn't really begin to show its stuff until around five years old. THis is one of the most immediately accessible "Robert Young's" ever. It has very rich, nose-filling aromatics with lots of fat oak vanillin on top of mild tropical fruit. The wine enters the mouth with full fruit and wood flavors and then expands even more on the palate throughout the taste experience. A wonderful Chardonnay now that will only get better. Case purchases recommended. Rating: 94/86
Ch. St. Jean 1996 "Durell" Chardonnay ($22) This wine from the Sonoma Carneros region is so limited I might not ordinarily review it. I do so for two reasons. It is very, very good, it's a new vineyard for St. Jean, and in coming years there will be much more of it. Leaner and meaner that "Robert Young," a little smokier and toastier and very European in style overall and especially in mouthfeel and structure. Fruit to the apple side. Only 360 cases produced; sales limited to Bay Area. Rating: 94/86
Ch. St. Jean 1997 "Sonoma" Johannisberg Riesling ($9.50) Grapefruit, kumquat and lichee aromas and flavors. Noticeable, but not cloying sweetness at just under 3 percent residual sugar. It has already won two gold medals and a "Best of Class" at this year's round of competitions. Rating: 90/88
Ch. St. Jean 1996 "Sonoma" Merlot ($18) Look closely or you may not recognize this wine's strange new label that has all this weird white space in the middle. It looks unfinished. The wine inside has traditional soft cherry fruit with some subtle wood notes and a bit of complexity in the aftertaste. Rating: 88/85
Ch. St. Jean 1993 "Reserve" Merlot ($40) This is the other side of the Merlot coin...the bold and intense side. We're talking really intense, almost concentrated, deep black cherry fruit. It enters boldly and then marches all the way to the finish getting ever bigger as it goes. Five years old and good for another ten at least. Rating: 95/84
Ch. St. Jean 1992 "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) Really intense black fruit...blackberry, black cherry and black currant. This is truly great red wine. The aftertaste is even bigger than the entry and middle flavors. And there's chocolate, cedar and smoke in that aftertaste as a bonus. Rating: 97/86
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
Chateau St. Jean wines in general have excellent national distribution. The reserve wines may be more difficult to find. For information on retail availability call the winery at (707) 833-4134.
WILD HORSE GOES WILD
As a very different kind of winery promotion, Volk got together with the folks at Rhino Records to produce a CD titled "Wild Horse, Wild About Wine, Songs for Wild Wine Revelers." Spanning four decades of music, there are two themes, "wild" and "wine." And it's a classic collection you will want to own. Send $16 to: Wild About Wine, P.O. Box 910, Templeton, CA 93465 or call (805) 434-2541.
Among my favorite cuts are some very old and pretty esoteric titles, including "Drinkin' Wine Spo De O'Dee" by Sticks McGhee & His Buddies, which happened to include his more famous brother, guitar player Brownie McGhee. This tune was top 10 on the Billboard R&B (then called "race music") charts in 1949.
I also like "Wine-O-Wine" by sax-blasting Willis Jackson from the same era.
Somewhat more contemporary tunes include the likes of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild," "Wine Do Yer Stuff" by Commander Cody, "Wild One" by Jerry Lee Lewis and "Walk On The Wild Side" by Lou Reed.
There are several more titles, some famous some not, closing with "Spill The Wine" by Eric Burdon & War and "This Magic Moment" by The Drifters, from the days when Ben E. King was singing lead.
Pour the wine, turn up the volume, have a great time!