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[whitespace] Taster's Choice

By James Knight

My plan for a pan-Pacific winetasting was this: Get a sampling of the popular wines in China, the California-supervised Sausalito brand, and throw in some inexpensive California wine for comparison. To get a knowledgeable perspective, I enlisted a colleague who is a self-described aficionado of wines at the entry-level price point. "I've drunk a lot of cheap wine," Pepe explained.

Mr. Godwin offered the bottle of Sausalito, and I picked up a ubiquitous California cab for $4. However, when I searched San Francisco for some of the bestselling wines in the People's Republic of China--like Dynasty or Great Wall--I was stymied. Finally, I bought something called Che Foo, because it seemed to be the most commonly available wine.

Sausalito has the best-looking label. Thomas Jefferson himself invites us to share a quaff, although his presidential poise seems to conceal a slight look of bewilderment at finding himself there.

The wine was nice and clear, with a bright, rosy hue. Not too much fruit on the nose. Pepe claimed to smell oak. I was pretty sure there was no cooperage involved in this wine's 3-month journey to the bottle. "It has a really pleasant aftertaste," Pepe noted, "or . . . a nonoffensive aftertaste." I asked if he detected what the back label says is a "nice sense of warm and romance."

"Um . . . Yes!"

Pepe declared, "Way better than wine in a box. I find it eminently drinkable."

The Che Foo has an orange label and is secured with a screw cap. A pretty red ribbon hangs off the top with a gold medal from the 1915 Pacific International Exposition.

It was clear, red, with a brownish tint. "Whoa!" said Pepe. "It's sweet, like port or sherry. Tastes like plums, like a late harvest Zin."

Did I accidentally pick up plum wine? Later I got out my Chinese dictionary, and found that, indeed, the characters on the bottle say "red grape wine."

Pepe warmed up to the Che Foo. "I like this. It's raisiny, sweet . . ."

He noted that it could be mistaken for a Nighttrain-type beverage. He poured another glass of Sausalito before I could move on to our California control group.

Initially, my colleague was dismissive of the Forestville. "I can smell this a mile away."

The 2000 Cabernet indeed smelled like a once noble grape that was forced to grow up in humble circumstances in the Central Valley and then badgered into a bottle long before it reached maturity. Mandarin prose it did not inspire. But there was no doubt that the Forestville had a richer flavor than its counterparts, albeit accompanied by harsher tannins.

After all is swirled and spat, the clincher of a taste test is to see which bottle is finished off first. The Sausalito was emptied within the hour. The Forestville, my colleague reports, was finished off the following evening. The Che Foo has survived the late-night rampaging of my housemate and friends, and in a corner of the kitchen it soldiers on, two-thirds full.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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