A memo from Santa's wine consultant Gifts: If you're shopping for a wine enthusiast this Christmas, here's some good advice.

December 07, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

To: Santa Claus

From: Michael Dresser, Dionysus Consultants Inc.

Re: Wine Gifts Division, North Pole Enterprises

Dear Santa,

DCI's independent elf auditors have found a serious problem among your wine-loving customers.

The Belief in Santa (BIS) ratings among wine enthusiasts are down to their lowest level (38 percent) since the poor Bordeaux ** vintages of the early 1970s.

This is an alarming number, because wine lovers are by nature cheerful folks who have long formed a key pro-Santa constituency. The fact that their BIS scores have dropped below those of even Baltimore Ravens fans is an alarming sign of mismanagement in your Wine Gifts Division (WGD).

To put it bluntly, the problem is Silly Stuff. In far too many cases, recent wine gifts have been cutesy and utterly useless to the serious wine enthusiast.

A case in point would be those insipid Wine Butlers ($14) that seem to be everywhere now. The idea behind these is that wine drinkers want something to slip over their wine bottles to dress them up like something out of a Henry James novel. That has not been our experience with this client group.

Gifts such as these are precisely why our garage-sale elves have found a high proportion of wine-related items being sold in their original packages, indicating an unacceptable non-use factor. Likewise, our closet elves have noted little actual wearing of those goofy Nicole Miller ties with wine bottle patterns ($85).

This problem clearly stems from a lack of leadership among your Wine Elves. We noted that your Chief Wine Elf, Marvo Silvershanks, seems to be much more interested in cigars these days. Perhaps a transfer to the Tobacco Products Division would be beneficial all around.

Until you can find the right elf for the job, DCI proposes that you implement the following interim plan, with an emphasis on back-to-basics wine gifts:

1. The best wine gift is wine.

We have found that many of your gift-selection elves do not trust themselves enough to buy wine for intended gift recipients. We would suggest that you issue a short list of perennially reliable brands and a few can't-miss selections in the higher price ranges.

Our surveys show that the highest satisfaction ratings among nationally distributed, easily available, moderately priced brands are those for Beringer from California and Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington state. We have found that even the least wine-smart elves can memorize these brands and the word chardonnay and select a satisfactory gift for under $15.

More advanced elves usually can be trusted to keep in mind a few other reliable brands, though perhaps these wines are not as easily found. These include California's Joseph Phelps, Dry Creek, Chateau Montelena and the three R's of zinfandel -- Ridge, Ravenswood and Roseblum.

We know there are elves who love an artistically designed bottle but don't know much about the wine inside. Rather than constrain their aesthetic impulses (difficult with elves, we understand), we'd suggest you direct them to Ravens-wood's strikingly packaged proprietary red wine called Icon. This exquisite Rhone-style blend from the 1995 vintage costs about $27 and offers enticing floral aromas followed by concentrated black raspberry, exotic spice and black-currant flavors.

(In fact, Santa, this supple, complex wine is so charming now that we think you might enjoy a bottle on Christmas night with your traditional meal of roast insubordinate reindeer.)

One of Santa's favorites is back in the market with an excellent 1995 vintage red. We refer to the 1995 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a robust red wine that would be an excellent gift for the wine enthusiast with the patience to wait five to 10 years. It's now up to about $42 (as low as $32 on sale), but its price still hasn't caught up with its quality.

The Beaucastel seems to be coming into the market in smaller quantities each year, so you might want to tell your elves that Domaine Pegau's 1995 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($28-$36) is an exquisite substitute.

You also asked us to recommend something sweet for especially good grown-up boys and girls.

Our panel chose the Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Port ($46) because of its wonderful, Christmas-like flavors of orange, caramel, vanilla and cloves -- and because you don't have to cellar it 20 years as you would for a vintage port.

2. Good glassware is always welcome.

Our kitchen and dining room elves have been doing an inventory of wine drinkers' equipment, and we have found a serious glut of poorly designed, inappropriately colored, clunky and impractical wine glasses -- most of which were purchased from now-defunct department stores.

Santa, you need to remind the staff that real wine glasses are generally found in serious wine stores or in specialized wine catalogs such as the Wine Enthusiast (800-356-8466).

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