White wines, all but the very best (which sometimes profit by a nap before making an appropriate appearance on your dinner menu) are debutantes these days, pressed from '03 and even '04 vintage and ready to be enjoyed with late-summer salad and fresh catches from lake and stream.
It seems to me that many Californian wine-makers are taking to heart a growing discontent on the part of the national market - claims of too much oak and, still more, too much trite "standard-brand" style. Frequently you're looking at $25 and up for a chard that displays distinctive character. That's what made a Guenoc chard, the first I've had in many a year, a real treat in the $10 range.
An oblique "too much of a good thing" is a comment made by a beverage manager of a supermarket that sells more bottled wine than of all its competition put together. He says that his company will cut its Australian inventory; not the number of bottles offered and sold, but a reduction in the staggering number of producers.
What does this mean to you and me, you may ask. It means we would do well to pick favorites, a half-dozen, say, so long as they occupy a regular place on the wine shop shelf, and be ready to buy if the wine appears on a close-out sale.
You saw the name Bonello in this column not long ago, a Beringer import from Italy, bringing centuries-old know-how to make wine from grapes you don't expect to find in blends from all over Italy. But they know what they're doing. Two first releases are a blend of merlot and nero davola, both from grapes grown in Sicily. "Nero" means "black," and it describes an impenetrably deep, dark red. The nero dominates and lends some respectability to the merlot.
A second Bonello import is white, an engaging blend of - yes, chard, chard and pinot grigio. The pinot does as much as could be wished for, and for $10, like the red, it is an impressive bargain.
To wrap up brief notes on Spanish wines, the difference between natural-strength table wines, not well-known so far in this country, and the great classic, sherry, best known as the specialty of a region and a distinctive clay in which the grapes are grown, is the way it's made. Sherry is made to bring out the sweetness that can be cultivated from the Palomino grape.
Sherry, by the way, comes in four grades, remarkable for the creative gifts in their making. First, the driest, if you like, is a fino, including the proprietary name, la Ina. Next is one you may remember from The Cask of Amontillado, and the grade, slightly less dry, is amontillado. Next comes the slightly sweet Oloroso. It's no small achievement of the wine-makers that these three contrasting wines are made by the same grape, Spain's national grape, the Palomino. The sweetest grade, so much so that it is often served as a dessert to a fine dinner, is Pedro Jimenez; the wine and the grape have the same name.