Cast your mind back 20 years, if you can (and if you can’t, sorry, indulge a sad old wine man for a few moments). Cheap Californian wine was just as disappointing as it was today, but in the midst of the gloom, one producer stood out like a beacon – Fetzer. The Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon was a dream of a wine, the Zinfandel did what it was supposed to do and then some more, and the Chardonnay was also a peach. In short, if it said Fetzer on the label, then it came up with the goods.
But then from the mid-1990s onwards… It’s hard to argue against some of the rot setting in following the purchase of the company by Brown Forman in 1992. Whatever it was, the wines, once so reliable, began to taste less interesting and more ‘manufactured’. I’ve kept recherching le temps perdu since then, and for the most part have remained underwhelmed.
But I’m always willing to have my mind changed, and it was that in mind that I opened this duo, a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Lake and Mendocino) and a 2006 Merlot (Mendocino).
I’d love to say that they’re opinion-changing wines, but they’re not. The Sauvignon has a pleasant, grassy pear character, with a character almost like fresh hops, but it still feels created, not begotten. The Merlot, though not a blockbuster, has that chocolately brashness of too many modern wines. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just slips out of the mouth and out of the brain, apart from a slightly sickly vanilla-like residue. Both are perfectly drinkable, but with so much interesting wine around, I really don’t want to drink any more of either of these.