Changing wine signs of the times: Consumer Reports recommendations from 2000

My Mom really belongs in an episode of Hoarders Gone Mild. Although far from the extremes of this psychologically disturbing reality show, she saves pretty much everything, including old issues of Consumer Reports Magazine. There are a few book shelves devoted to issues, dating back to the 1980s. You know, just in case we need to check up on a washing machine built twenty years ago.

But, just for giggles, she passed on a Consumer Reports issue from 2000 — the one celebrating the best wine deals. Each year, the magazine tests wines for their quality to value ratio, in various varietals like Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. As I read through them, it shocked me how things have changed in 11 years. The featured wineries, then and now.

From Consumer Reports, October 2000 issue, “Great Buys in Wine”

Top Chardonnay:

#1) 1998 Chateau Souverain 1998 Sonoma County, $13
Before it was the lackluster winery owned by Francis Ford Coppola (now called Souverain), Chateau Souverain’s wines were solid. This Chardonnay cost $13 back then and the current wines hover in the $16-$18. But they pretty much suck (see my recent post on the worst wines I’ve tasted this month). RIP Chateau Souverain.

#2) Kendall Jackson 1998 Vintner’s Reserve, $13
First released in 1983, KJ’s VR Chardonnay was still kickin’ in 2000. The wine, which has introduced millions to California Chardonnay, continues to deserve praise even though wine snobs deride it. I defended KJ Chard in 2007 in this post. Although rumored to contain secret amount of the Muscat grape to provide its signature fragrance and honeyed sweetness, I don’t see Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay going anywhere.

Others mentioned: Hess Select 1998, which continues to produce solid wines (like this one I just reviewed), and La Crema that pretty much owns the restaurant high-end Chardonnay market.

Top Sauvignon Blanc:

#1) Babich Marlborough 1999 (New Zealand), $8
Back in 2000, New Zealand Sauv Blancs were only peeking into the American market. I remember the first time I tried Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc circa 1999 — it was like a being speared by Cupid’s tart and cirtusy arrow. That wine, however, currently prices itself out of my fridge and I haven’t seen Babich on shelves or lists in a couple of years. Have you seen it?

#2) Caymus Vineyards 1998 (Napa), $20
Cult Cabernet Sauvignon producer Caymus doesn’t make a Sauv Blanc anymore, so maybe that says it all. $20 Sauv Blancs are a tough sell in this economy.

Top Zinfandel:

#1) Robert Mondavi 1997 Winery, $18
Ahhh… those were the days when the Mondavi Family still controlled their namesake wines. Due to embarrassingly public family infighting and a New York stock exchange greedy for more profits, Mondavi sold to Constellation in 2004. Their wines have never been the same, except maybe their super luxe Napa Cabernets. To my knowledge, they no longer produce Zin.

#2) Kenwood 1997 Sonoma Valley, $12
Kenwood Vineyards still produces great wines, although I see them more on restaurant wine lists than in retail shops. I especially admire the Jack London series with the interesting etched bottles. I need to revisit them… literally.

Top Cabernet Sauvignon

#1) Lindeman’s Bin 45 1998 Australia, $8
Ten years ago, $8 could actually buy a decent bottle of juice but then the heady days of economic success drove prices to obnoxious levels. Well… they’re back! If the recession gave us something positive, it’s affordable wine. And you can almost get a big, 1.5-liter jug of Australia’s Lindeman’s for the same money now. Can’t say it’s great juice but it remains drinkable.

#2) Gallo of Sonoma 1996, $11
The Gallo Family flipfloped from this brand name a few years ago, to Gallo Family Vineyards. But I remember tasting a single-vineyard Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet and changing my opinion of this winery (read my interview with Gina Gallo about their changes). They remain one of the largest wineries in California with upteen labels under its watchful eyes, but at least they remain family-owned and desire to control wine quality rather than public shareholder equity (RIP Mondavi).

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