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© 1999 JDM Enterprises
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by Jerry D. Mead

The first time I visited Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley, the tasting room was in a barn-like structure across the street from Louis Martini and didn't appear to have changed much from when it was built in 1906. The wines had little if any national distribution.

    We're talking more than 30 years ago, and at the time the winery specialized in semi-generic jug wines, flavored aperitifs and a sweet wine made from Muscat. Purchased by the Mario Trinchero Family in 1947, it was young Bob Trinchero who I recall most often waiting on me.

    No one had even the slightest hint that this roadside tasting room would evolve into the home of one of America's most popular and largest selling wine brands with international distribution. And while most folks are aware that Sutter Home is the winery that put White Zinfandel on the map, and that conversely White Zinfandel made Sutter Home the major player it is today, it is not Sutter Home's only major first in the modern California wine industry.

    In the early 70s a Sacramento wine merchant named Darrell Corti asked the Trincheros to make a Zinfandel especially for his store, and specifically from a century old vineyard in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills.

    The wine was a huge success for Corti's store and, recognizing a good thing, the Trincheros begin purchasing the balance of the grapes from the vineyard, making their own "Deaver Vineyard-Amador" Zinfandel. The wine became the darling of wine collectors and led directly to the revitalization of the entire Sierra Foothills grape and wine industry which had never recovered from Prohibition in the 20s and 30s.

    Many years later the Trincheros purchased Montevina Vineyards and Winery in Amador and expanded the property considerably.

    And all of this became possible because an Italian papa bought an abandoned winery to be a small family business.

    To honor the memory of the founder the overall company name has been changed from Sutter Home (though the popular Sutter Home wines will continue to be produced) to Trinchero Family Estates, and a new line of upscale wines targeted at the wine cognoscenti under the M. Trinchero label has been introduced. Star winemaker Derek Holstein, formerly with Guenoc Winery, has been retained to oversee the project.

    Sutter Home, Montevina and M. Trinchero wines have broad national distribution, but for further information: Trinchero Family Estates, P.O. Box 248, St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-3104;

    M. Trinchero 1998 "Coastal" Chardonnay ($12) Extremely attractive bouquet...very toasty, very complex, and all of that carries through the entire taste experience. Delicious tropical fruit flavors; just a hint of heat in the finish disappears in the company of food. Rating: 86/86

    M. Trinchero 1997 "Coastal" Merlot ($12) The major proportion of the fruit comes from the always excellent Smith & Hook Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Very intense black cherry with some hints of smoky, char-like complexity. Superior value. Rating: 88/94

    M. Trinchero 1996 "Napa-Founder's Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) Really intense, really, really big, almost over-the-top style that appeals to so many. Think of all the black fruits, blackberry, black cherry, dark plum and a little cassis, and then throw in some earthy, dusty, Rutherford-region type complexity and a solid dose of oak complexity and you have this Cabernet. Very long aftertaste. You can safely cellar this one for ten years. Rating: 94/84


    M. Trinchero 1996 "Coastal" Cabernet Sauvignon ($13) Primarily from Napa fruit but with 18 percent of Santa Barbara County in the blend. Blackberry and cassis nose with mostly blackberry fruit to taste. Full mouth with plenty of backbone, but also very supple for immediate drinking. Long finish. Case purchases recommended. Rating: 90/94


    Jory 1998 "Central Coast-El Nino" Chardonnay ($15) A very stylistic, unfiltered, barrel-fermented wine of considerable complexity. Appley fruit served up with a very toasty-smoky bouquet, flavors and after-flavors. Definitely influenced by heavy char barrels. For information on nearest retail outlet call the winery (800) 347-2134 where you can also request the free newsletter. Rating: 92/90


    There are always more good wines I want to tell you about than there is space to do so. Here are a few you might want to seek out. In the interest of space I can't list contact information for every wine so call my office at (800) 845-9463 if you need help tracking a wine down.

    La Doucette 1997 Pouilly Fume ($28) The Loire Valley wine made from Sauvignon Blanc that inspired California's wines called Fume Blanc. More aggressively herbaceous than its California cousins, with a gooseberry nose and tart, white grapefruit and lime flavors. Bone  dry. A delight with oysters on the half shell. Rating: 88/80

    Baron de L 1996 Pouilly Fume ($65) I've got to tell you two things about this wine: I love it but I would never pay this price and at restaurant pricing of $100 or more it's totally out of reach. But if you have money to burn, are looking for an ultimate Sauvignon Blanc experience in a "Reserve" style, then this one is memorable. Loads of that gooseberry quality in a very rich, very elegant, very satisfying, mouthfilling white wine. Lots of wood with its special smoky, toasty, barrel char quality. Rating: 97/78

    Christopher Creek 1997 "Russian River Reserve" Syrah ($19) Big, black-fruited Syrah with mostly spicy plum flavors and a hint of black pepper. Intensely flavored; firm backbone; plenty of tannin but no offensive astringency. A consistent medal winner. Rating: 94/86

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