Taste of Wine

What’s in a name on the bottle matters

From Calistoga to Carneros, the going has gotten tougher for Napa Valley vineyards and wineries. Since the 1880s the spotlight has been shining on this blessed land of Cabernet Sauvignon, to the point that it has passed the Cabernet homeland of Bordeaux France as the elite world-beating appellation for this most-requested red.
As the wine world acknowledged this accomplishment and we came to pay homage and premium dollars at the altar of Napa Valley and its 300 or so wineries, two inflection points became game-changers: the recession, and a host of hustlers with cash to buy up over-produced grapes along with the advertising dollars to flood the market with their generic wines.
These broadsides have left the Napa Valley buckled but not bowed.
Both the 2006 and 2007 Cabernet vintages are the best in a decade, and progressive winemakers that understand the need for change  are determined to make wines that go to new heights of flavor and character.
In ’06 and ’07, weather factors kept the crop under control so the emphasis was on quality, and not so much quantity. This had the effect of somewhat limiting the vulture generics that prey on vineyards with too many grapes and production costs to cover.
Generics first launched a number of years ago to cash in on the Napa Valley reputation, with Charles Shaw, better known as “Two Buck Chuck,” leading the pack. This was really a wine processing company in a monster warehouse in Modesto that made box wine. A deal was made with Trader Joe’s, a large “organic style” food chain, and the rest is wine history. Success breeds imitators so in rapid succession we got Beverages and More and Costco house brands, Barefoot Cellars and their drugstore/supermarket high volume marketing, and lately, Cameron Hughes, a wine power broker with pencil-sharp margins that focus on the Napa Valley vineyards with big over-production problems.
If price is your major consideration, then these generics will certainly please. But be advised. There is no way of knowing exactly where and what wine you are getting.  Aside from knowing what color the wine is, the rest of the story of that bottle remains in the hands of the wine lab that put it together. For my money, I want to know the essence of that bottle of wine, which includes the history of the vineyard, the soil, the sub climate, the development of the harvest, the winemaker’s credentials and the unique, natural qualities that single out that lovely essence in a bottle. 
Be cautious when you consider that next manufactured generic brand. Study the label. Then, pay a few dollars more for an authentic Napa Valley wine with a name you can count on.
New winemaker
in town
David Raffaele has arrived at Keyways Winery in Temecula Wine Country, as the new winemaker. He comes from the nearby Maurice Car’rie and Van Roekel Vineyards. 
After three harvests under one of the leading winemakers, Gus Vizgirda, Raffaele can now express his own ideas of grape cultivation of more a Mediterranean style, that he believes does extremely well in the Temecula Valley.
Keyways is owned by Terri Pebley Delhamer and is unique as the only female-owned and managed winery in Southern California. 
Wine Bytes
— Golf and wine mix and mingle evenings at Temecula’s Pechanga Resort and Casino every other Wednesday with the next event May 26. 
There will be tastings, music, snacks, unlimited range balls and more. The cost is $18 per person. Mixer will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Call (951) 693-1819 for more information.
— The Westgate Hotel downtown San Diego has an artisan chocolate and Batasioli wine event from 5 to 6:30 p.m. May 22.
Taste Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto and Moscato along with Guanni Chocolates. Cost is $37. Call (800) 522-1564 for more information.
— The legendary Napa Valley Chateau Montelena will be poured at Wine Encounter in the Hillcrest area of San Diego from 7 to 9 p.m. May 22. This winery, founded in 1882, was the big Paris Tasting winner in 1976. The cost is $27 each. RSVP at (619) 543-9463.
— The Robert Renzoni Winery in Temecula has a second annual Spaghetti Western charity fundraiser the afternoon of May 23. Attractions include Italian buffet and two glasses of wine, line dancing, gunfighters, music and prizes. Admission is $35 for club members, $40 for nonmembers in advance. RSVP at (951) 302-VINO. 
— Just Sangiovese is the next event at Bacchus Wine Market in the Gaslamp downtown San Diego from 4 to 9 p.m. May 28. Taste Chianti, Brunello and Super Tuscans, which all have the Sangiovese grape. A total of six tastings for $15. Call (619) 236-0005 for more information.