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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

If you want one book in your library on West Coast wines and wineries, plus the general basics of winemaking, wine geography, vintages, wine grapes, wine types and even wine jargon and terminology, then you want the fully revised and updated fourth edition of The Connoisseurs' Handbook of the Wines of California and the Pacific Northwest ($20) by Norman Roby and Charles Olken. If it was a wine, we'd score it in the high 90s for quality and value.

And it makes a great gift if it's knowledge you want to give. If you want to impress someone with an expensive gift, there are fancy, hardbound coffee- table books, of which this is not one.

Olken is co-publisher of the newsletter Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wines, while Roby is a correspondent for the magazine Decanter and was a long time columnist for The Wine Spectator. These guys know their stuff.

More than 1000 wineries in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho are covered. Each listing tells you about the background of the winery, what it does best and rates recent vintages. Some listings are as short as a paragraph, others take up a couple of pages.

It does not list winery addresses and phone numbers, but there are dozens of wine touring books with that kind of information, and virtually no other that contains the depth of information that this book does.

Criticism? Previous editions have all been in a deluxe leatherette hardbound format with high quality paper and sold for $27.50. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf lowered the quality of the paper in this edition (400-plus pages), went to a trade paperback format, didn't lower the price that much and barely got it out in time for the holidays. It should be available at major bookstores or can be ordered via the mails at (800) 845-9463.


Does the story of the this excellent and too often underrated Napa Valley property need to be retold? How Roy Raymond Sr. married the boss's daughter, whose last name happened to be Beringer, and then managed the Beringer Brothers Winery for decades before establishing the Raymond Vineyard and Winery with his two sons in the early 70s.

In the 90s, they sold to Japanese interests, but you'd never know it. There are Raymonds everywhere. Raymonds run the vineyards, supervise the winemaking, administration and communications and there are family members in sales and marketing too. Corporations are usually lying when they say they're going to have a hands-off policy regarding a property recently purchased. It has been several years now, and this corporate owner has kept its word and left the professionals in full control.

Raymond 1997 "Napa Reserve" Chardonnay ($15) Ripe tropical fruit flavors with a subtle but effective use of oak. There's a hint of apricot. Long finish. Rating: 89/87

Raymond 1995 "Napa Reserve" Pinot Noir ($18) From a winery best known for its Cabernets, the Pinots just keep getting better. Big, bold, mouthfilling glass of Pinot with ripe black cherry fruit. Visions of companion foods include duck in a not-to-sweet cherry sauce, prime rib and sweetbreads. Rating: 92/86

Raymond 1996 "Napa Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) Black cherry, blackberry and black currant. Smoke and cedar complexity. Very mouthfilling and rich with no harsh tannins. Rating: 90/85


Raymond 1997 "Napa Reserve" Sauvignon Blanc ($10 or less) Full bodied, ripe and nicely oaked, the wine has classic Sauvignon Blanc flavors of citrus and grapefruit with a hint of kiwi. It has the mouthfeel of a Chardonnay, but with a crisp, lemon-tart finish that makes it compatible with a much wider array of foods than most Chardonnays. A piece of swordfish or halibut with a simple lemon-butter is the first thing to come to mind, but it could work with a veal piccata, a plate of oysters or a sauteed chicken breast. Rating: 88/92


I love French wine. I love French cuisine. I love French bread. But I think the thing I love most about France is French cheese and the tradition of presenting the cheese cart between the main course and the sweet dessert. And this is not just at fancy white tablecloth restaurants, it's everywhere. One never leaves any wine undrunk when there is a cheese course.

Recreating that wonderful tradition here is not easy. Restaurants don't sell enough cheese to warrant stocking it and because most of the European cheeses that reach these shores are pasteurized they just don't taste the same. Pasteurized cheese just does not taste the same as naturally fermented cheese made from raw milk, be it cow's, goat's or sheep's milk. If the label on your French cheese says "au lait cru," you've got the real thing.

I recently discovered an Internet website for a cheese company in France that will overnight parcels of natural raw milk cheeses to anywhere in the U.S. It is not inexpensive, with the airfreight and all, but if you get to craving a great piece of cheese as I do some times, then neither is it all that expensive as an occasional special treat. I like to think I'm worth it; my significant other knows that she is.

The order I placed left France on a Thursday, arrived here in perfect condition on a Friday morning around ten, and with a couple of locally produced baguettes and a bottle of good California wine became our entire dinner. (My personal favorite was the Epoisse, a high butter-fat, strongly flavored semi-soft from Burgundy.)

The website is:, and it has not only an order form, but a directory of French cheeses with basic descriptions of each one, information on how to care for cheese, how slice or cut the different types and more.


Omaka Springs 1998 "Marlborough" Sauvignon Blanc ($12) Truly intense, lime-tinged grapefruit citrus flavors. Unbelieveable concentration of fruit. Aftertaste hangs on for a very long time. Distribution of this New Zealand white is very limited. Call the importer toll free for details: (888) 655-8442. Rating: 95/90

Omaka Springs 1998 "Marlborough" Chardonnay ($12) Slightly tropical flavors with a bit of pineapple and more of that famous NZ lime citrus. Full- flavored no oak style for those who favor fruit over wood. Rating: 89/89

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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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