The 1990 vintage is reputed to be a great one for Burgundy, just north of Beaujolais. It is also reputed to have been a a great year for the Rhone Valley, just south of Beaujolais.
For Beaujolais itself, it was not.
Hot, dry weather such as that in the summer of 1990 favors more robust wines, but it can bake all the delicacy and charm out of the gamay-based red wines of Beaujolais. That is what happened to many Beaujolais wines in 1990.
There were, in fact, some excellent wines made in the Beaujolais district in 1990, but overall the results were spotty. Along with Sauternes, it would have to be one of the most disappointing French regions in a vintage where nearly everyone was succesful.
These conclusions are based on a tasting of all of Georges Duboeuf's "flower label" bottles from the 1990 vintage, with the exception of his Julienas. Mr. Duboeuf is by far the largest producer of Beaujolais, and he is certainly one of the best. In many American wine shops, he holds a near monopoly on the Beaujolais wine market.
The "flower label" bottles are Mr. Dubouef's blends of wines from each of the important Beaujolais appellations, including Beaujolais-Villages and each of the 10 prestigious "cru" appellations. He also produces a wide range of single-estate Beaujolais wines, but in general the flower label wines are just about as good and much easier to find.
The basic Beaujolais-Villages ($8) is one of the more succesful wines -- light and racy, as a Beaujolais should be, but without quite the "grip" and length of the best vintages, such as 1988 and the benchmark 1985.
Among the "cru" appellations were some clear successes. Duboeuf's Saint-Amour ($12), Brouilly ($10), Cotes-de-Brouilly ($10) and Moulin-a-Vent ($12.49) are all excellent representatives their villages, with lots of black cherry and black raspberry fruit. The maverick Moulin-a-Vent is typically atypical -- resembling a junior Cote Rotie, the great Rhone red wine, more that its fellow Beaujolais.
However, the "cru" villages that depend the most on delicacy for their appeal had a rough time in 1990. When I tasted it, Dubouef's Fleurie was a disaster -- harsh, hollow and inelegant, with a thin, winy edge. At $12.49 this was tied for the title of most pricey, though its quality was inferior to that of the humble Beaujolais-Village.
The 1990 Chiroubles, as corpulent and flabby as the Fleurie was lean and ungenerous, at least had the advantage of price, only $10. The 1990 Regnie, the most recently created appellation, was better but still rather light and innocuous.
Somewhere in the middle were Duboeuf's Chenas ($9) and Morgon ($10), both worthy representatives of their villages but with no special intensity or concentration.
In general, 1990 is not a Beaujolais vintage to avoid. It might actually look more attractive next year when what there is of the freeze-damaged 1991 crop comes in at prices that are likely to be inflated. For now, though, one is probably best off drinking up what remains of the 1989 vintage -- a rather muscle-bound year for Beaujolais, but much more satisfying than the typical 1990.
The American Heart Association's annual Fine Wine Auction in Baltimore is steadily becoming much more than just going, going, gone.
The auction, sponsored by the heart association's Maryland affiliate to raise money for its activities, started out as just that. But in recent years related events have been added, making the auction an all-weekend event capable of attracting bidders from out of town.
The 1991 auction will be the most ambitious effort yet, but the heart association has signed up a powerful ally. Robert M. Parker Jr., the Parkton resident who has become the world's most influential wine critic, has agreed to reprise his role as honorary chairman for the first time since 1988.
This year Mr. Parker, editor and publisher of the Wine Advocate, will be playing a more active role than any previous honorary chairman.
On Friday night, Oct. 4, he will sign copies of his book, "Burgundy," and answer questions at a "Wine and Food Walk About" from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, where all the auction events will be held. Admission for this event is $35 and includes a copy of Mr. Parker's book.
On Saturday night, Oct. 5, Mr. Parker will give commentary on the wines to be served at a seven-course black-tie dinner, to be prepared by chef Tim Barger of the Omni Hotel. The cost of this 6:30 p.m. event is $125 a person.
The next morning, Oct. 6, Mr. Parker will lead a preauction tasting of 10 of his most highly recommended 1989 Bordeaux. The 10:30 a.m. tasting, for which the admission is $50, will be one of the first tastings of the celebrated 1989 vintage on American soil.
In a change of strategy from past years, the wine auction itself will carry no admission fee. It will last from noon to 4 p.m., with a silent auction preceding the live auction. Those who arrive late may miss out on some of the silent auction items.
The catalog for the event is not yet complete, but some of the notable items up for auction include:
*Dinner for eight at the Milton Inn, hosted by Mr. Parker.
*An exceptional 16-bottle collection of Pomerol from the great 1982 vintage, including two bottles each from eight top chateaux, including Petrus, Lafleur, Trotanoy and Certan de May.
*Four vintages, 1983-1986, in magnum, of Chateau St. Jean's celebrated Robert Young Vineyard chardonnay.
*A 12-bottle vertical collection of Jordan cabernet sauvignon, 1976-1987.
*A "grand cru gift box" of 1987 Burgundy from the house of Louis Jadot, including a half-dozen of the most famous premier cru vineyards of Chambertin.
In association with the auction, the Heart Association is holding a raffle for a tour of France for two, including visits to the wine country of Champagne and Burgundy. The cost is $25 a ticket.
For registration and further information, call 661-8000 or (800) 322- 7074.