Mead On Wine
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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
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by Jerry D. Mead

Wine lovers are among the easiest folks to shop for. There are scores of things they'd enjoy, including another bottle of wine. We'll get to some specific suggestions in that area a little later.

One of the best books for giving this season is The Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wines ($50) by Tom Stevenson. This 248 page, hardbound book with more than 600 color photos is a dazzler and covers every sparkling wine producing region in the world. I'll have a bit more to say about it closer to New Years.

For a more affordable book gift, The Connoisseurs' Handbook of the Wines of California and the Pacific Northwest ($20) by Bay Area authors Norman Roby and Charles Olken (reviewed here recently) is the hot title.

For stocking stuffers, and especially good for beginners, are Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine 1999 ($13) by Hugh Johnson or Pocket Wine Guide 1999 ($12) by Oz Clarke.

Then there are the gifts that keep on giving all year:

There are any number of wine clubs offering monthly tasting samplers, among them: California Wine Club (800) 777-4443; Gold Medal Wine Club (800) 266-8888; 301 Wine Club (800) 404-1390; and also specializing in direct to consumer wine shipments (even with personalized labels) is Windsor Vineyards (800) 333-9987. Windsor, while not available in retail stores, is consistently one of the three top medal winning wineries in America.

Wine lovers can never have enough stemware or fancy decanters, but make sure they're practical. No colored glasses, please. Wine aficionados want clear crystal that lets them see the color of the wine.

For that special person, or for a really special gift, the company known as Riedel is world famous for its crystal stemware. The hand blown glasses sell for $50 the stem and up, they have machine made crystal for around $75 a half dozen and up, and high quality glassware for around $100 the dozen. Riedel is the company that has designed special shapes for each wine type that they swear enhances the sensory experience. Riedel is available at many major department stores and a good discount outlet is The Wine Club (800) 966-5432. They'll send a free Riedel catalog.

Newsletters give and give again, and two of my favorites are California Grapevine and Connoisseur's Guide to California Wine.

Connoisseurs' specializes in reviewing West Coast wines and is perhaps the longest running of the wine newsletters in America. It rates wines on a one to three star system, but gives in-depth descriptions and is very strong on recommending food affinities. It is $50 a year (12 issues) and they'll send a sample for $2 to cover postage. Connoisseurs' Guide, P.O. Box "V", Alameda, CA 94501 (510) 865-3150.

California Grapevine is only published six times a year, but it usually runs more pages that Connoisseurs' and includes book reviews and regular editorials by writer Dan Berger. Grapevine ranks wines three ways, by U.C. Davis 20-point scale, 100 point scoring, and number of firsts, seconds and thirds by the panel of evaluators. It also focuses on West Coast wine, but occasionally reviews foreign wines, Bordeaux in particular. It is $35 a year and will also send a sample for $2. California Grapevine, P.O. Box 22152, San Diego, CA 92192 (619) 457-4818.

In shameless self-promotion, let me tell you that Mead On Wine is also available as a newsletter for folks who aren't fortunate enough to see it in a local newspaper. It is basically this newspaper feature with occasional additional material, and is thereby weekly. It's available by mail or fax ($65 a year), e-mail ($52) or a 3-months sampler for $16.95. If you enjoy Mead On Wine, your friends in Hoboken probably will too. Mead On Wine, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463; e-mail: And always feel free to contact my office if you can't find a wine or product reviewed.

Back to giving wine. If your intended recipient is just getting into wine, then quantity or variety is what I'd recommend. Here's where a good wine merchant can help. Tell them you want a mixed case, or six-pack, and about what you want to spend. And let the merchant know you're shopping for a novice. You should be able to put together a very nice mixed case for way less than $100, and there's something about that big package under the tree that seems really special. Give them some red, white and a few pink.

If your wine lover is more serious, and you know something about their taste, then go for smaller quantities (even a single bottle) of a wine that is not only good but has a fancy image.

Champagne is always correct. From California look for "J" by Jordan, Schramsberg, Roederer Estate or Domaine Carneros. And if you want to get the best in the world, forget Dom Perignon (though it does have the image) and go for Krug Grand Cuvee.

For a Chardonnay lover, Ferrari-Carano, Far Niente, Arrowood or Chateau Montelena will do nicely.

A Merlot fancier would enjoy a Clos Du Bois Reserve, Chateau St. Jean, Duckhorn or Whitehall Lane.

Cabernet Sauvignon collectors will appreciate a wine from Jordan, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (especially Cask 23), Grgich Hills or Simi Reserve.

Syrah/Shiraz is getting very fashionable and Geyser Peak, Joseph Phelps or Truchard will please.

Best Buy, Wine of the Week:

Wild Horse 1996 "Central Coast" ($18) Ripe black cherry and a little plum, with nicely oaked background complexities offering toasty, smoky (almost bacon rind) flavors and after-flavors. There's even a hint of spice. Nutmeg perhaps? This wine will be extremely versatile with everything from oily fishes like tuna and salmon to prime rib or roasted fowl. Should get even better for from 3-5 years. Rating: 90/90

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