Hodgepodge crate may hold treasure Wine: From the writer's 'bargain bin' comes a rare touch of Spanish gold.

July 07, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

At some of the country's best wine shops, there exists an institution known as the "bargain bin."

Into this bin, the wine merchants deposit a hodgepodge of bottles. Sometimes they will be wines that weren't quite up to snuff, but some will be overlooked treasures -- relegated to the bin because the retailer wants to clear some shelf space.

This is my version of the bargain bin -- the scraps of full columns that never came together, maybe a small gem of a recommendation and probably a dose of vinegar or two.

Safe in port

There's good news for those who savor the best-known agricultural export of Oporto, Portugal. For the first time since 1985, the 1994 harvest produced wines of such high quality that virtually every important port house has declared a vintage.

The 1994s should begin arriving in the fall. Those who pounce earliest will enjoy the best prices.

Spanish gold

The name is almost as much of a mouthful as the wine, but one of the most astonishing wines I've tasted this year was the 1994 Casta Diva Gutierrexe de la Vega Alicante Muscat. This Spanish delight was unfamiliar to me when I picked up a half-bottle for $13.49 this spring. No other sweet wine I've tasted displays such intense nutmeg and cinnamon, which combine with flavors of apricot, peach and honey to create a wine of awesome length and depth.

Alas, quantities of this wine are scarce, but dessert-wine lovers might want to keep an eye out for future vintages of this classic.

Blunt instruments

Has anyone noticed that American winemakers have developed an obsession with bottles?

It seems that each time I visit a wine shop, the bottles have become heavier, taller and more lethal. Where your traditional wine bottle might have broken if used on someone's skull, these artistic bottles seem to have been designed to crush craniums without losing a drop.

One can imagine a wily killer dispatching his victim with a bottle of an expensive Napa Valley white wine, replacing it in his cellar and later offering Lieutenant Columbo a drink from the murder weapon. Naturally he underestimates the shuffling cop's ability to solve a Conundrum (specifically, the 1994 Caymus Conundrum).

In the pink

Some so-called wine experts turn up their noses at rose wines as if they were barely a step above Annie Green Spring. It's too bad they're missing such a good time.

It's hard to imagine a wine so well suited to drinking outdoors on a hot summer day as the 1994 Joseph Phelps Vin du Mistral Grenache Rose.

It's a bone-dry wine with intense cherry fruit, crisp acidity and exceptional length. The color is deep for a rose, making it almost a light red wine. Match this beauty with ham or grilled salmon, and you will not be disappointed.

If the $12 price tag seems excessive, remember that a multitude of well-made white zinfandels are on the market for $8 and under. These wines, which are actually roses by another name, come into their own in July and August, when more profound wines can turn ponderous.

Among the top producers of dry-styled white zinfandel are Amador Foothill, Buehler and DeLoach. Just remember to look for the 1995 vintage, because these wines lose their freshness fast.

Sweet 17

The word was passed to me that the Maryland distributors of Marietta Old Vines Red cringe every time I make it a Wine of the Week selection. It seems their supplies never come close to meeting the demand.

So let it be noted that Lot No. 17 ($10) will not receive such a designation. But if there were enough of it to go around, it would have.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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