Robust reds are still economical the better Bordeaux have crept above $10

October 28, 1990|By Michael Dresser

Here are some recommendations of fine wines and buying strategies for red wines. In most cases, the prices listed are the sticker prices as I found them. Some stores may charge more or less.

Big reds

Robust reds -- the wines from the far side of cabernet -- have typically been the superstars of the budget class, and now it's as true as ever.

The most dramatic story here is the excellence of the wines othe Cotes du Rhone, particularly the 1988 vintage. At their best, these wines rival the quality of such prestigious regions as Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Four Cotes du Rhone-appellation wines ranked among the top 20 in these tastings, and others weren't far behind.

Among the best:

1988 Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone ($8.99), the best wine of thtastings, and the 1988 J. Y. Multier Cotes du Rhone, Cepage Syrah ($7.99). Both are dead ringers for fine Cote Rotie.

1986 Guigal Cotes du Rhone ($8.49).

1988 Domaine Le Couroulu ($8.99), from Vacqueyras tastes lika miniature Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

1988 Foppiano Petite Sirah ($7.50), California.

1987 Coturri Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley ($9.79).

1987 Wyndham Estate, Bin 555 Shiraz ($7.19), Australia.

1984 Romiera Vinho Tinto, Caves Velhas, Portugal ($5.49).

Other fine wines: 1986 Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45, Cotes dRhone ($9.99); 1985 Marques des Caceres Rioja Tinto, Spain ($7.59); 1989 Chateau de Campuget, France ($4.99); 1986 Cuvaison Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($9); Marietta Cellars "Old Vines Red," Lot 8, non-vintage, Sonoma County ($5.59); 1988 La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Rhone Reserve ($6.39); 1985 Fitou, Producteurs du Mont Tauch ($5.99).

Claret-style reds

This category includes a wide range of medium- to full-bodied wines made primarily from the red wine grapes of Bordeaux (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc).

Besides Bordeaux, where most of the better wines have crepbeyond $10, the leading sources of these wines are California, Washington state, Australia, Chile and the south of France.

There was a lot of disappointment to be found in this groupWhile quite a few readers recommended Chilean wines, I couldn't get very excited about any of them, as most seemed either excessively vegetal or coarse. The biggest attraction about them is their price, with many below $5, but if you're on an extremely tight budget you might as well go for the 1988 Duna Cabernet Sauvignon from Hungary at only $3.

California was also a bit of a disappointment, with such "fightinvarietal" labels as Hawk Crest and Liberty School turning in disappointing performances. Still, there was at least one major find: Electa's Vineyard in Sonoma County.

Australia, on the other hand, continues to provide a steadstream of fine, attractively priced claret-style wines, occasionally blended with shiraz (syrah).

Among the best:

1986 Rosemount Estate Diamond Reserve, Hunter Valley DrRed, Australia ($6.29), 55 percent cabernet sauvignon, 45 percent shiraz.

1985 Cullens Cebernet/Merlot, Western Australia ($9.99).

1986 Electa's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley ($8.99).

1985 Electa's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley ($8.99).

1986 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, NapValley (normally over $10, but on sale for less in at least two stores).

Other fine wines: Grahm Crew California Vin Rouge ($7.49)Chateau La Cardonne, Medoc ($9.49); 1987 Wyndham Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Southeast Australia ($6.79); Bel Arbors Cask 88 Merlot, American-grown, non-vintage ($5.99); 1982 Gallo Cabernet Sauvignon, Northern Sonoma ($5.99).

Tight-budget picks: 1988 Duna Cabernet Sauvignon, Hungary$2.99; 1988 Walnut Crest Merlot, Rapel, Chile ($7.49, 1.5 liters).

Italian reds

The good news is the image of Italian wines has risen dramatically in recent years; the bad news is, so have the prices. Still one can usually count on finding something satisfying from such Chianti producers as Antinori, Ruffino and Fossi.

Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to find anything under $1from Italy's premier wine region, the Piedmont. It's relatively easy to find merlots, Bardolinos and Valpolicellas for under $10, but for the most part they aren't worth the trouble.

Most of the best values are to be found in the south, where somexcellent but little-known producers create jewels amid the prevailing mediocrity.

Among the best:

1981 Notarparano, Rosso del Salento ($7.49).

1983 Salice Salentino Rosso, Taurino di Cosimo ($6.19).

Other fine wine: 1988 Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti, CollFiorentini ($7.99).

Tight-budget pick: 1989 La Francesca Valpolicella ($3.59).

Light reds

The Beaujolais style has spread throughout the world, but seldom is it done as well as the original.

Unfortunately, most of the splendid "cru" wines of Beaujolaihave migrated to the other side of the $10 barrier, though you might find some still-lovely 1988s from premiere producer Georges Duboeuf on sale.

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