Red wine suggestions for your Christmas dinner pleasure

By Staff
Dec. 20, 2000
I have a doctor friend who must have one of the best collections of Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry in this part of the country. His patients give him bottles of that sweet, almost syrupy, after dinner drink under the impression they are doing him a favor and paying a tribute to his skills.
If true, how come I have about four bottles of his gift wine which he won't drink and I keep only to serve people who don't know any better?
He also has gift baskets galore, many of them containing inexpensive Chilean wines or low end California cabernets in the $5 to $8 range. He won't be drinking those either. His tastes run better than that.
So once again we urge you to buy better wines as gifts or for your own consumption during the Christmas holidays. Spend the extra $5 to $10 dollars and get something memorable for your friends, your customers or yourself. They, and you, will remember the difference.
We talked about white wines last week. Let's look at the reds this time.
Sears made their fortune out of offering their customers the choice between good, better and best. Unfortunately we can't buy the best merlot here in Mississippi. It just isn't offered through the state warehouse.
Pride Merlot is my favorite at about $35 but it is available only in New Orleans. However, Pine Ridge is on many shelves as is Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Close Pegase (really good) and Geyser Peak.
In the "good" category we recommend Columbia Crest from Washington State, Meridian, a California wine or the Clos Du Val. All are acceptable.
Your favorite wine store is filled with outstanding cabernet sauvignons. That's because California has had a succession of really fine vintages. The best of the best are the 1997s, a truly classic year. It may be better than that. It might be the best of the past 25 years. If you're buying cabernets. look for the 97 vintage.
We recommend Far Niente, Geyser Peak, The Hess Collection (especially their Reserve), Siverado, Elyse and others. But spend those extra bucks. For example, Robert Mondavi is one of the most respected names in the wine business. He blends a cabernet under his own name called his Coastal variety. It sells for about $13-15 and frankly, is very ordinary. But Mondavi also produces a level of Cabernet called Napa that is anything but ordinary. Of course it sells for $20-25 but it really is twice as good as his Coastal variety.
One of my favorite cabernets is the Rosemount from Australia. Their Black Label for about $12 is good. But if you want the best, buy their Coonawarra bottling with the white label at about $20. It is marvelous. We discovered it at Edna's Supermarket wine store on Poplar Springs Drive and bought every bottle she had. I'm sure she has rebuilt her inventory since then but, if you want to know how good cabernet can really be, we recommend Rosemount's Coonawarra bottling. Outstanding.
On the subject of Australian red wine, you cannot miss on their Shiraz, a rich, fleshy grape that produces an almost peppery wine. Look for the Rosemount, Wolf Blass, Brown Brothers, Lindeman's, Penfold's and Wynn's. All are better wines.
The stores are filled with wines from Chile but be careful of what you buy. Santa Rita Reserve wines are very nice, but only the reserve. There is a day and night difference between the regular Santa Rita and the Reserve. Pay a little more and get the Reserve. It's worth the difference. Concha y Toro is also a very drinkable Chilean wine but their best label is their Don Melchor Cabernet. Look for it.
If you're contemplating an Italian wine, a chianti or sangiovesi for example, look for the 1997 vintage. What that year was for California it was also for the Piedmont of Italy. The 97s were the best vintage since 1990 and most experts consider them even superior to that classic year.
As for the French wines, look for classified growths. They have earned that ranking by the consistent quality of their product. But be prepared to pay big bucks. They are pricey and, frankly, you can get equally pleasurable wines from California for a great deal less money.
Happy Holidays to you and yours. The presents you receive will make it memorable but so will the wine you serve with Christmas dinner. You can't control one but you can the other. In both cases you deserve the best.
Stan Torgerson, a longtime Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years.