Robert Finigan, the author of a respected wine newsletter that is widely circulated in California, has launched a "national edition." In the first issue, his monthly "Private Guide to Wine" reports on 75 German wines priced at $5 or less and a selection of Zinfandels:

Finigan is a personable man who "escaped" the business world to devote himself to wine appreciation. He has been publishing the Guide in San Francisco for the past five years. The writing and opinions are his own. As might be expected, he has a strong interest in California wines. He intends, however, to balance his coverage in each national edition issue with reports and tastings from other wine-producing areas.

Finigan said he decided to go national when he realized that 20 per cent of the newsletter's 10,000 subscribers lived outside California.

At $24 for a one-year subscription, the eight-page publication should be a popular Christmas gift for wine collectors and novice tasters alike.

An instructive and generally upbeat tasting of 1975 and 1976 Bordeaux wines was conducted last week in the New York offices of Frederick Wildman and Sons. It tended to support the early appraisals of both vintages. The '75s were deep colored, rich, high in alcohol with fairly pronounced bouquets. The '76s, still children of course, were less assertive, but the Medocs in particular showed signs of gracefulness.

According to Anthony Barton, whose family estate, Langoa-Barton, will be distributed by Wildman beginning with the 1976 vintage, the 1975s already have gained a great - and deserved - reputation in Bordeaux. "I don't think the 1976 wines will live as long as the '75s," he said. "They are lighter in style, but they are showing very well. It's a pity we couldn't have combined the fine summer weather of '76 with the ideal vintage weather this year." (It rained during the 1976 harvest and some wines surely will be sub-par.)

Wildman, incidentally, is sending to Washington a new line of three sherries personally blended by the firm's managing director, Anthony Sarjeant. They are distinctive wines of high quality priced in the $5 range. Several local wine shops will carry them.

All of which brings us, if indirectly, to the recently completed 1977 harvest.

It was a year of bizarre weather in both Europe and the United States. The year was so difficult one for growers. The dramatic extremes, so useful to wine writers and vintage chartmakers - a great crop or a sad failure - were absent.

"A low-average year," said a visiting Italian wine authority of 1977 in his country. German experts prefer to discuss the exciting wines of 1976 and 1975. Bordeaux has been blessed with ideal weather during an unusually late harvest, but Anthony Barton said last week: "We cannot replace those days of sunshine we didn't have in June and August. The wines have been saved, but they are not likely to be great ones. They may turn out somewhat like the '69s."

Despite scattered drumbeats, it is unlikely many great wines will emerge from other areas of France either. Unfavorable weather caused a loss of grapes in Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire on one side of the Atlantic and in New York state on this side. Yet in California, despite the much-publicized drought, a nearly normal crush has been reported.

"This is a year that will separate those who are great winemakers from those who think they are great winemakers," said a California vintner. Prospects for white wines are generally favorable, but red wines will be a challenge. At the end of October picking had been suspended as sugar levels of cabernet sauvignon grapes in Northern California inched rather than surged upward. Some rain complicated matters. Yet Robert Mondavi and others are convinced the red wines that do succeed will be extraordinary wines.

There were few gold medal winners in recent tasting of American wines at the Wine and Cheese Festival held here last month.

Those who won top honors are: Fetzer Vineyard's Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon '74 (open competition), Llords & Elwood Great Day Dry Sherry (open competition), J. W. Morris 1975 Port Works (Ruby open competition), Stags Leap 1973 Napa Valley Petite Sirah (California competition), Burgess 1974 and Sterling 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley competition), San Martin 1976 Soft Johannisberg Riesling (special production competition).

Coca-Cola strikes again! The soft drink firm has turned on to wine in such a big way that its third major winery purchase of the year was announced last week. The Monterey Vineyard, a young and ambitious California operation, is now a Coca-Cola property. Dr. Richard Peterson, the president and winemaker, has been retained by the new owners, who promise a continuation of "the same high standards." This summer Coke purchased a major Napa Valley winery, Sterling, and kept its management team intact. The initial Coke winery purchase was the giant Taylor Wine Co. of Hammond-sport, N.Y.