FOR THE stock investor, undervalued stocks and companies on the verge of dynamic growth and prosperity are regarded as hot items in which to invest. For the serious wine enthusiast, there is the analogous situation in which a wine estate will suddenly begin to produce wine above its reputation or price. Here's a choice list of some wine properties or wineries that are clearly on the upswing in quality.
In Bordeaux, while some estates are producing wine well below their official pedigree, others are making unexpectedly fragrant, gentle and elegant wine. Bordeaux enthusiasts should take notice of those cha teaux producing wine that is better than ever.
Interestingly, three of the hottest properties in Bordeaux are either managed or owned by women. In the southernmost portion of the Medoc is the ultra-modern, progressively operated Cha teau LaLagune. Owned by the Ayala champagne firm, but managed by Monique Borie, this estate has been making superb wine of late. Slightly north of LaLagune is one of the great wine names and cha teaux of Bordeaux: Cha teau Margaux, in the past a top-ranked wine, was making very undistinguished wine until changing ownership in 1977. Under the new ownership and management of Laura Mentzelopoulos, Cha teau Margaux did a turnabout in quality and produced two stunningly successful wines in 1978 and 1979. Not to be outdone by these two women, May de Lencquesaing has propelled Cha teau Pichon Lalande to the top of the pack since she took an active role in the making of that wine in 1976. Pichon Lalande has always made good wine, but the 1978s and 1979s from the estate are simply extraordinary.
Two other Bordeaux cha teaux on a hot streak are Cha teaux Grand Puy Lacoste in Pauillac and Chateau Ausone in St. Emilion. In 1978 Grand Puy Lacoste was partially acquired by Jean-Euge ne Borie, who is better known for his consistently excellent wine at Cha teau Ducru-Beaucaillou. Borie's son Xavier is in charge at Grand Puy Lacoste, and the results have been sensational. Watch for the 1978 and 1979 wines from Grand Puy Lacoste. They are old-style Pauillacs made very traditionally.
In St. Emilion, in what must be the best located, most scenic vineyard of the Bordeaux region, Cha teau Ausone is now making wines worthy of its reputation and lofty price tag. Consistently mediocre in the '50s, '60s and early '70s, Cha teau Ausone dramatically turned its quality around in 1976 with the hiring of a new wine manager and a renewed interest by the owners in the property. Ausone does not make much wine -- fewer than 3,000 cases per year -- but the 1978s and 1979s are excellent.
Bordeaux is not the only viticultural area of France that has witnessed some splendid turnabouts in the quality of its wines. In Burgundy, the house of Joseph Drouhin, a large owner of vineyards as well as a shipper and producer of wine, is now turning out some very fine wines after experiencing some problems in the early '70s. Under the direction of Robert Drouhin, this firm's multitudinous selections from the 1978 and 1979 harvests have been consistently good, whether a straightforward, moderately priced Mac,on like Drouhin's 1979 LaFore t, or an expensive Grand Cru Chambolle Musigny like the 1978 Amoureuses.
In California, new wineries seem to emerge daily. Many wineries are producing high-quality wine, but the following wineries seem to be on a particularly hot streak: Joseph Phelps, Caymus, Conn Creek, Ridge and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars have consistently turned out excellent cabernet sauvignons over the last few years. However, these wineries also produce other excellent wines, as consumers no doubt realize if they have tasted a Phelps chardonnay, zinfandel or riesling, a Caymus fume' blanc, a Stag's Leap merlot, chardonnay, or petite syrah, or one of the many Ridge zinfandels.
Two larger-sized wineries to keep an eye on are Beringer and Simi. For years, Beringer produced straightforward, medium-quality wines. However, since the mid '70s, Beringer's wines have improved dramatically in quality. Consequently, Beringer's wines, which still remain moderately priced, are among the best values currently available. Much of the credit for this increase in quality must go to Myron Nightingale, who is certainly making the best wines of his career. Consumers should look for Beringer's cabernet sauvignons, sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and johannisberg rieslings.
Simi Winery followed a similar pattern in the '60s and '70s. The wines were acceptable, but rarely distinguished. However, Zelma Long, arguably the top woman in wine in America, has recently taken charge of the winemaking. Long is obviously talented, as was evidenced by her efforts at Robert Mondavi's winery between 1971 and 1979. With the upcoming releases from Simi, one should expect to see increasing quality at fairly reasonable prices.
Two really fine values in drinkable red wine are the plump, fruity full-bodied Torres 1977 Sangre De Toro ($3.99) and the soft, fruity Fetzer 1979 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon ($5.99). Both wines should be drunk over the next several years.
Just about everyone likes a dry, fruity, elegantly styled white burgundy. However, the best California chardonnays are priced about $12 or above, and the top white burgundies of France are extremely expensive, usually retailing at prices $15 or more. One of the really sensational values on the market today is the 1979 Mac,on-Villages "Les Chazelles," imported by Henry Cavaliere. To my knowledge, it is available at only two shops in the District, but supplies are said to be good. A & A Liquors sells it for $5.99, and Woodley Liquors has it for $5.29 during its annual sale, which continues until Jan. 1. Be sure not to serve this delicate chardonnay too cold.