For the enthusiast a gift of the grape will be in good taste For the love of Wine Michael Dresser

VINTAGE POINT

December 19, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Forget sulfites.

The label the federal government really ought to slap on every wine bottle would read something like this:

"WARNING: Serious interest in wine can cause grave harm to your bankbook. Actual consumption not necessary to do damage."

As evidence that you can spend yourself silly on wine without touching a drop I submit Volume 29, No. 11 of the Wine Enthusiast, the nation's premier catalog for wine accessories. Here you will find everything you could possibly need to set the stage for a dramatic oenophilic experience -- except the wine itself.

Let's begin on Page 2. Ah, yes . . .

Who could possibly enjoy a glass of fine wine to the fullest without the proper sur- roundings? And what better way to give a room the proper ambience than "The Lunch Tapestry," a silk-screened reproduction of a medieval French tapestry?

That'll be $2,495. Enjoy your artwork.

Whoa! Don't reach for that bottle so quickly. How could you possibly dream of putting your grubby hands all over it? First, place it gently in your silver-plated Bacchus Bottle Holder ($29), with a little window so you can read the label. Isn't that clever?

But before you do that, you'll need to decant this fine old wine. And you wouldn't want to risk stirring up the sediment, would you? You'll need a decanting cradle, a crane-like device that gently pours the wine in an even flow. The Wine Enthusiast will gladly supply you with one for only $199.

Are we at Page 3 yet?

By now you've probably guessed that there's a lot of expensive junk out there chasing the dollars of wine enthusiasts and the people who buy them as gifts.

And there's some pretty neat stuff. You just have to admire the $60 Nicole Miller "Bordeaux" necktie It looks as if its designer found her inspiration in a dream she had after consuming too much cru bourgeois with her "lamproie Bordelaise" (eel cooked in red wine and its own juices).

So how does the gift-giver who isn't infected with the wine bug choose an appropriate, useful, wine-related gift for a fanatical friend?

Here are some tips, from a confessed wine wonk who has seen the best and the worst of wine gifts:

Rule No. 1: Forget the accessories and buy wine. This is the simplest, easiest route to the wine-lover's heart, providing, of course, that you don't make a wrong turn.

The first thing you need to do before buying wine for someone is to learn his or her preferences. It does no good to blow $250 on a bottle of 1988 Chateau d'Yquem if your dear friend gags at the thought of sweet wine. (If you've already made that mistake, just send the bottle here.)

One suggestion: Call the spouse or another person who knows your friend's likes and dislikes. Before buying wine that needs aging, determine whether your friend has a cool cellar. Also ask where your friend shops for wine. If it's convenient, talk to the wine manager there.

Set your budget in advance. Don't get talked into something beyond your price range. If your budget is very tight, like under $10, you might want to consider something other than wine. Chances are you'll want even an inexpensive gift to be something more than a Wednesday night gulp-with-spaghetti wine.

At the high end, there are both classic wines and classic names. They aren't always the same.

For instance, Moet & Chandon's Dom Perignon is a classic name, but the 1985 vintage is merely a very good Champagne -- hardly worth the $90 price tag. If your friend or business associate is a sucker for prestige items, it's always a correct choice.

But if your friend is a little more sophisticated, you might want to go beyond the obvious name and seek out something like the 1982 Krug Champagne, which costs a little more but delivers exceptional complexity, richness and sheer class. Such a choice tells the recipient you went to extra trouble to do some research.

Even if you don't know wine particularly well, you can keep an eye out for the labels of certain producers whose names are synonymous with high quality. They aren't household names, so your friend will know you made an extra effort. But even with these producers, it's wise to ask the retailer about the quality of a specific wine. Good retailers can also suggest less expensive alternatives.

* Bordeaux: Just about any wine with Haut-Brion as part of the name, from the approximately $25 Bahans Haut-Brion to the $125 white Chateau Haut-Brion. For dessert, Chateau Climens.

* Burgundy: Domaine Louis Jadot.

* Alsace: Zind-Humbrecht, Schoffit, Domaine Weinbach.

* Rhone: Chateau Beaucastel, Guigal.

* Champagne: Krug, Bollinger, Roederer.

* Germany: von Schubert's Maximin Grunhauser, Muller-Catoir, Merkelbach.

* Italy: Sassacaia, Bruno Giacosa, Podere il Palzzino, Altare.

* California: Ridge, Ravenswood, Kistler, Kalin, Chateau Montelena, Sanford.

* Australia: Penfold's Grange Hermitage.

* Port: Graham, Taylor, Fonseca, Dow.

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