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Retrospective Review: Volume I, Number 5 (April-May, 1980)

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We are currently reproducing a copy of the fifth issue of The Underground Wineletter. Below you’ll find an updated review of each article, where I will go over what we got right and what we got wrong. We will follow this format with each successive issue. So Volume I, Number 6 will be coming next. We think you will find the chronology will present a very interesting view of the evolution of many different wines as the “Wine Boom” took hold.  At the end of this review you can click to read the entire issue.  We welcome your comments [2].



featissue-aprmay80In Volume I, Number 5 April-May 1980, we began with “California Wines: Availability and Price.  Look Out World, Here We Come.”  The basic point was that California wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, were beginning to be noticed around the world.  The 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage had generated a great deal of interest and the number of different wines coming to market was increasing.  The famous Paris tasting in 1976 had focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but the Cabernets were from 1969-1973.  Since the quality of the 1974 vintage of Cabernet was widely heralded, the world’s attention immediately focused here.  And the notation “Look out world, here we come” was to prove to be very accurate as people from all over the world would be flocking to California to buy and plant vineyards and build or purchase wineries for years to come.

Our feature article was on 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon.  We tasted 90 different wines.  Two were rated outstanding, 20 were rated very good and 49 were rated good, and 10 were rated below average.  At the time of the 1974 harvest we estimated there were over 70 producers of Cabernet Sauvignon up from perhaps two dozen in 1970.

The two best wines were Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and Diamond Creek Vineyards Gravelly Meadow.  The Martha’s Vineyard production was some 4,500 cases, the Gravelly Meadow 105 cases.  These two wines are still great today.  The Martha’s Vineyard has exhibited some bottle variation over the years with some bottles exhibiting a touch of dryness.  But the wine can still be outstanding.  The Gravelly Meadow has been consistently superb and is still wonderful today. The Conn Creek Eisele Vineyard was ranked third just a bit short of outstanding.  This was too conservative.  The wine has been consistently great and is fabulous today. About 480 cases were produced. Today I would say the Conn Creek Eisele Vineyard is the wine of the vintage, followed by the Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow and Heitz Martha’s Vineyard.  The next few top wines have also aged very well.  The Ridge Monte Bello and Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill are particularly good.  And even in a year blessed with a great growing season, nearly 2/3 of the wines reviewed were not terribly interesting.  This was all about to change as upcoming vintages would show consistent improvement in the quality of California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Next we reviewed California’s unique wine, Zinfandel.  We reviewed 111 different wines, mostly from the drought  years 1976 and 1977.  The best wine was from San Luis Obispo, a 1976 HMR Sauret Vineyard bottling.  This can still be a lovely wine to drink today.  Interestingly, it was listed as 12 ½% alcohol.

Other top wines were also from San Luis Obispo, as well as Amador, Sonoma and Napa counties and a 1977 Ridge Monte Bello from vineyards on Monte Bello Ridge, Picchetti and Jimsomare.  Most of the wines reviewed were good, but not particularly distinctive with prices from $2-$10.  The 1976 HMR Sauret Vineyard was also $10 and we commented “Although no denying $10 is a lot for a bottle of Zinfandel, this one is worth it.”

We concluded with a brief article on a relatively new device called a “Screwpull.”  We said that “It’s as close to perfect as we can imagine.”  After numerous improvements over the years and lots of other “new and improved” devices for extracting corks from bottles, the Screwpull base model, along with the Ah-so, are my two favorite types of corkscrews.  I use mostly a Screwpull, but always have an Ah-so around to use to extract corks that are either too soft or that have a tendency to crumble.  For the other 99% of corks, it’s a Screwpull for me.

In Vino Veritas,

John Tilson

And take a look at the bottom of page 15 – “Some may find Zinfandels primitive, but they’re great for picnics!”

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