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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
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by Jerry D. Mead

This is the time of year when dozens of new wine titles are released. One that is bound to be a popular gift this holiday season definitely takes honors for longest title: A COMPANION TO CALIFORNIA WINE: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present ($39.95 University of California Press), by Charles Sullivan, is a 455 page reference work.

Sullivan is known as a historian and has several other books and numerous articles for periodicals to his credit. The history portions of this book are probably its best, along with his straightforward descriptions of wine terms.

This is a book I wanted to like more than I do. There hasn't been a really good California reference work since the last edition of the late Leon Adams' The Wines of America (still available in paperback), and with the ever- changing, ever-growing California wine industry wine books become dated very rapidly.

While I will use this book as a reference, it won't become a favorite. Sullivan's writing is not particularly warm or inviting and I've found numerous small mistakes along with a number of curious inclusions and omissions.

For my taste, the entries about dead guys from the 1800s of whom most of us have never heard are far too long, while important modern figures get too little note. The aforementioned Leon Adams, as an example, aside from writing the definitive American wine history, co-founded Wine Institute at the Repeal of Prohibition and from behind the scenes wrote many of the laws and regulations governing wine at both the state and federal level. With the possible exception of Ernest Gallo or Robert Mondavi, Adams may have done more for post-Prohibition California wine than anyone. Sullivan gives him one short paragraph.

The names of some entries are misspelled and he has a habit of only mentioning one principal when two or more are important. He credits Jerry Cain with founding Cain Cellars, when it was wife Joyce Cain who was the more active manager and driving force behind the winery. Of Matanzas Creek he mentions Sandra MacIver, but ignores husband Bill, a major social and political activist as well as co-owner of the winery. He has Jekel Vineyards founded by Bill Jekel alone, ignoring Bill's twin brother Gus, an equal partner in founding the enterprise (now owned by Brown-Forman).

In listing wine writers, he mentions Jancis Robinson, a British writer who has written relatively little about California, while ignoring prolific California writers like Bob Thompson and Dan Berger.

Under the entry for The Wine Spectator, America's biggest circulation wine magazine, he mentions founder Bob Morrisey who started it as a 12-page tabloid newspaper, but manages to avoid mentioning the current owner, Marvin Shanken, who turned it into the slick and successful publication it is.

You'll want the book in your library, but you may want to double check some of what you read.


The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association has just released its 1999 touring map, a 4-color fold-out number listing all 43 local wineries with address, phone and facilities available and of course the map to direct you to each one.

The other side includes hotels and b&bs, wine oriented restaurants, wine shops and information on special events.

And it's totally free. Call (800) 218-0881 or E-mail:, to ask for yours.


The cleaning out of my tasting note book before year's end continues. Availability of the wines in this group range from national in scope to very limited. Contact my office if you need help tracking something down: (800) 845-9463 or E-mail:

Codorniu NV Brut (about $10) An affordable bubbly from Spain, made by the authentic "methode Champenoise." A couple of bottles of this in the bottom of the "fridge" will take care of emergency holiday entertaining quite nicely (when unexpected guests pop in). Citrus, mostly lemon, flavors and very fine carbonation. Soft enough for the second glass at cocktail time, dry enough to accompany hors d'oeuvres or a main course. Rating: 85/90

Baron Herzog 1997 "California" Chardonnay ($13) Very forward fruit with lush melon and tropical flavors. Subtle oak presence with nice vanillin aromas, flavors and after-flavors. Very enjoyable and a good value. For those who care, it's also produced Kosher. Rating: 89/87

Folie A Deux 1996 "Amador" Syrah ($24) Fewer than 600 cases of this dandy for the world. Ripe plum and black cherry fruit. Bold in structure, but also supple and satisfying. Along with Zinfandel and Barbera, Syrah is going to be an important red variety for this Sierra Foothills region. Rating: 92/85

King Estate 1996 "Oregon" Pinot Gris ($14) Pleasantly tart grapefruit and lemon-citrus aromas and flavors. Light, crisp body and structure. Good fruit throughout. Very good oyster wine, which means it's dry. Rating: 86/84

King Estate 1996 "Reserve" Pinot Gris ($21) Richer, riper and more lush and softer on the palate. The flavors are quite similar to the less expensive version, but there's a greater awareness of oak. Rating: 88/85


Le Rime 1996 (about $10) This proprietary Italian white wine is a blend of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay and the result is an excellent beverage to accompany food. There's a touch of lime with an earthy, minerally undertone that adds a complex note. There's also a hint of something herbaceous, but it's not a greenness, more like straw or hay. Dry enough for oysters and well suited to accompanying antipasto or seafood. Note that the equally tasty 1997 vintage may be out some places. Rating: 86/90


Caves des Papes 1996 "Heritage" Cotes Du Rhone ($10) This is the third bargain wine I've reviewed from the same marketing company in recent weeks. These guys must share my palate for value. Really pleasant earthy, berry fruit with a very appealing spicy background...nutmeg and black pepper. It's a delicious quaff and would be great with blackened anything, barbecue, rabbit, duck, game birds or semi-soft cheeses like Brie, Epoisse, or Camembert. Rating: 87/92

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

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