Giving some of the bigger wineries their due

Ten years ago, a large restaurant group opening up a place in San Francisco asked me to put together a wine list. Out of 150 selections, I was told I had to choose one wine from 10 different wineries, importers or distributors. Admittedly, at first I rolled my eyes, but instead of just saying “no way,” I asked these companies to send me a selection of wines that I put into a blind tasting, which is what I do with all wines when creating a new wine list.

<p>Without any peeking, I found an awesome merlot made by Chateau St. Michelle, a really good zinfandel from Gallo Sonoma and a memorably good Kendall Jackson syrah.

There is a tendency among wine geeks to think that big, well-known wineries make, at best, decent wine. There is also an old wine salesperson’s tale that small production means high quality.

The big catchphrase in the ’90s was “allocated.” If I, as a buyer, have been told by the producer or distributor that I, being the lucky person that I am, can get one case of a certain wine, I better jump on it lest someone else snaps up my allocation before I realize that I missed out on the holy grail.

Maybe I’m just getting crankier with age, but really, I am so over the buzzwords and marketing nonsense that I’ve decided the time has come to give the big-name guys another shot to prove that they, too — with all of their thousands of cases of wine — can deliver. Here are three that you shouldn’t miss.

Villa Maria sauvignon blanc, Private Bin, 2007 (Marlborough, New Zealand): While this is still a family-owned winery, Villa Maria makes a plethora of wines from different regions in New Zealand. This wine offers sauvignon blanc fans a true and enjoyable expression of the grape with a signature NZ gooseberry aroma, grapefruit, ripe peaches, melon and lime. Suggested retail: $15

Clos du Val cabernet sauvignon, 2005 (Napa Valley): Clos du Val has been making cabernet sauvignon with a nod to Bordeaux since the early 1970s. With cassis, chocolate malted, spice and moderate tannins, it should please cabernet drinkers on both sides of both oceans and will age well for another decade. Suggested retail: $32

Lindemans shiraz Reserve, 2004 (South Australia): I’ve been impressed with Lindemans ability to make mass quantities of good wine since I visited them in 2000. This is classic Aussie shiraz with juicy berry fruit, a hint of mint, a dash of vanilla and a smooth, round mouth feel. Suggested retail: $15

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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