Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Giving The Gift Of Wine
by Jonathon Alsop
December 2000

Around our house, wine is always welcome as a gift. Old wine, new wine, cheap wine, expensive wine, all wine finds its way into the food chain one way or another.

Whether we build a meal around a gift of wine, or cook with it, or worst case scenario, use it to remove bugs and road tar from my car's finish, every bottle of wine that comes in gets its proper and respectful use. Giving the gift of wine is, like all the best gift-giving, most successful when it recognizes the integrity of the receiver.

A friend of mine buys wine only once a year, spurred to action by the holiday gift-giving season. He goes to a top wine shop, spends a couple of thousand dollars on wine for business partners and the like, and a couple of thousand dollars on wine for himself (another story).

He takes me along every year, and we walk up and down the aisles, me saying things like, "Now THAT'S a chardonnay!" and "I want to buried next to THIS zinfandel!", him laying in a store of all the wines I'd love to receive as gifts, except they're for other people.

Because all these gift wines are destined for the degustation of total strangers, I feel compelled to offer one caveat: every gift of wine must first and foremost be delicious. Interesting is fine, complex is good, subtle is okay, but delicious is the target. The wines below are all that, and available around town.

Here's hoping we all give as good as we get.

We Who Are About To Drink Salute You: Wines To Drink Today

Right now, I'm a big fan of Clos du Bois and its whole line of Old World/New World wines, like 1998 Shiraz and 98 Tempranillo, both full of oak and ripe California fruit, and way under $20. 98 Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel and 98 Merlot are at Trader Joe's and many others for about $9, and they are always welcome for immediate consumption. Try the 98 Ironstone Symphony at Best Cellars for a uniquely aromatic wine that's ready to drink today.

At Our Age

Unless you know for a fact that the gift bottle is going into some kind of wine cellar, it's kind of pointless to give a wine that requires really long aging, but three to five years is fine. 97 Silverado Cabernet is only $36 at the Wine Vault in Framingham, and 97 Franus Cabernet is $38 at Kappy's in Sudbury. For about $15 everywhere, taste the 97 Buena Vista Carneros Cabernet and be amazed.

Have Yourself A Massive Little Christmas

Let's not kid ourselves, bigger is better, especially when it's got a ribbon around it. Marty's in Allston has dug up a nice assortment of magnums, double magnums, and other giant bottles for the holidays. Looking huge this year are 3 liter bottles of 96 Merryvale Reserve Merlot for $230, 97 Martin Ray Chardonnay for $80, and Schramsberg Champagne Millennium for $300.

Wine That Looks Good In A Bow

Sometimes, buying a wine because it has a pretty label makes sense, especially when you're about to put a bow on it. I love the 98 Murphy-Goode Pinot Blanc for its looks and under-$20 price, but anything from M-G is going to taste great. 98 Chateau St. Jean Petite Etoile is a steal at $15, and the shapely taper of the bottle is just interesting enough.

I Remember When

What are vintage years good for but to set a stake in time so we can enunciate our histories? Three bottles of Guigal, one from the year "you guys met," one from the year "you got married," and one from the year "little Lovely was born" really says you thought about it, although you'd only have to go back seven to ten years to pull that off for $75. Go to Brookline Liquor Mart on Comm Ave. in Allston for the triple-threat ready-to-drink-now 1990 Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape -- 1995 Gigondas -- 1998 Cotes-du-Rhone, then go shopping for some friends who match up. Avoid a scene where you say, "And 1998, that was the year you guys… bought the Sonata?"

The Usual Suspects

Paul Morganti, Fifth Ave., Framingham "Right now, everybody wants the 97 California cabs, 98 Rhones, and 97 Tuscans." For interesting magnums, there's 97 Chateau Montelena for $250 and 97 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel for $60. Paul's best value pick: 97 Mondavi Oakville Cabernet for $57. "It's basically half the price of the reserve cabernet, and it tastes better." What he wants to see under the tree with his name on it: "All the wine I want is stuff I can't get."

Joe Silvestro, Wine Vault, Framingham "I try to figure out something about the person receiving the wine. Is it a serious wine lover versus a fun-loving wine lover?" If it's a gift for the serious wine lover, it's off to Joe's rare wine room. 97 Stone Street Cabernet is $40, but there's no law that says a great wine has to be red, so check the 99 Caymus Conundrum for $30. His wish list: "Buy me Opus One from any year."

David Guber, Kappy's, Sudbury "For collectors, 97 California cabs, that's the big thing now thanks to the Wine Spectator article." Top of the list is 97 Seavey Cabernet for $73. Also great white wine gifts are 97 Bernardus Chardonnay for $20 and 98 Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc for $16. What he wants for the holidays: "For me, a bottle of Pierre Ferrand 'Ancestrale' Cognac, a limited bottling blend of 50 year-old cognacs, about $370."

Chuck Eldred, Marty's, Allston "I'm a push-over for a good Aussie shiraz, so that's what I've been recommending this year." Chuck likes the 98 Peter Lehmann Shiraz for $16, "pretty bottle too, great presentation." 98 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Bosquet du Pape Classique for $34 is what I want for Christmas, in case anyone asks. 99 Cray Cremant is a sparkling rose from the Loire that's only $10, "and it's good," Chuck said. Under his tree: "A confirmed order for 98 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Celestins, a case of it."

The Big Payoff

If you've read this far, you deserve a little reward, and here it is. Although the 1998 Rhone wines are currently the darlings of the wine world, the 1997 (generally considered a weaker and shorter-lived vintage) is drinking better right now, much better. And thanks to the popularity of the 1998 vintage, which I contributed to with abandon, the 1997 is now tremendously unwanted and cheap. Buy now and drink by spring.

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