The buyers' market for enthusiasts of European wine may soon be ending. Right now there is a plethora of excellent, high quality wines from Europe, at prices that are the best consumers have seen since the early 1970s.
Partially this is a result of the American dollar increasing in value against the currencies of wine producing countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, by an astonishing 100 percent and more since 1979. It is also the result of a succession of bountiful, high quality European harvests.
However, reports from Western Europe's vineyards indicate that 1984 was both small in quantity and below average to mediocre in quality. Importers and distributors are already clamoring to take positions on existing stocks of wines of such highly publicized vintages of 1981, 1982, and 1983, before prices began to swiftly escalate.
Thus, the message to consumers is that now, not tomorrow, is the time to stock up on a bevy of fine imported wines before the higher prices become noticeable early in 1985. If the dollar also begins to decline in value, as most financial observers seem to feel it will, then the cost of imported wines will escalate even further, and each dollar will buy fewer and fewer francs, lire, and pesetas.
The following is my buying strategy for wines under $6 per bottle. Most of these wines will certainly keep from one to two years, particularly if they are kept in a cool (below 70 degree), odor free, vibration free, dark storage area. The wines from these particular areas have especially high quality/price ratios. WHITE WINES
The great values in imported white wines under $6 fall into four categories:
(1) The wonderful, fruity, full-bodied wines from southern Burgundy in France, particularly those from the region called the Ma onnais, are outstanding values at the moment. These wines, generally called Ma con-villages, are produced from the chardonnay grape, and are round, fruity, buttery dry wines, with considerable character. Both the 1982 and 1983 vintages were successful in this region. If the 1982s are more typical of what these wines can achieve, the 1983s are almost opulent in their rich, alcoholic fruitiness, and best served with food rather than reserved for sipping as an aperitif.
(2) The distinctive, spicy, white wines of France's most beautiful wine region, Alsace, are exceptional values as the result of a strong dollar and a prolific, yet great, vintage in 1983. There are numerous excellent white wines made in Alsace, and there is no question that the rieslings and gewu rtztraminers fetch the highest prices, but the white wines made from the pinot blanc grapes are the real top values. In 1983 they can be found for under $6 a bottle. Any of the 1983 offerings from such highly respected producers such as Hugel, Josmeyer, Schlumberger, and Lorrentz will make splendid drinking for at least the next two years.
(3) The 1983 vintage was great not only for Alsace, but also for the wine regions just to the north of Alsace, in Germany's Mosel and Rheingau wine-producing regions. The less expensive wines from this vintage offer exceptional value to consumers who prefer a little less alcohol and less dryness in their wine than offered by those wines from the Ma connais and Alsace regions. Wines designated under the complicated German wine law as QBA and kabinett wines can easily be found at local wine shops for under $6 a bottle, and are extremely enticing in their floral, highly perfumed bouquets, and crisp, tart, round appley fruitiness.
(4) Italy, which is associated in most consumers' minds with wines called lambrusco and chianti, has made remarkable progress in producing crisp, dry, light and exuberantly refreshing white table wines. Most of this success has occurred in the last couple of years, and from Tuscany to Piedmont, one wine producer after another seems to have mastered the California-introduced technology of cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks to produce what even skeptics would call clean, deliciously fresh, crisp white wines at prices generally well below $5 a bottle. Consumers should be looking for only the most recent vintages, 1982 and 1983, since these wines never improve and are best served when they are zesty and young. RED WINES
There can be no doubt as to the greatest red wine values from Europe in today's market. Bordeaux, France, had a legendary vintage in 1982, and the wines from the meticulously run, smaller, less publicized cha teaux can be sumptuous, richly fruity wines worth twice the price and gustatory pleasure when compared to some of their more illustrious and expensive brethren. Undoubtedly, most consumers will not hestitate to recklessly pull cork from these 1982 bordeaux because of their unbelievable rich, glossy, fat fruitiness. But those who have the will to wait until 1986 to 1988 will find untold pleasures in the best of these wines.
France has also had a stunning, successful vintage in a region more commonly associated with effusively fruity, gusty, red table wines. Beaujolais, the wine that conjures up sidewalk cafes in Paris, is unbelievably good in 1983, and unlike most beaujolais vintages, which produce wines that are ready to drink when released, the top 1983 wines from beaujolais will be at their gloriously fruity best in the spring and summer of 1985.
The last great region for high quality red wine values under $6 is France's sun-drenched Rho ne Valley. Unlike Bordeaux, which until the 1984 vintage had had three highly exceptional vintages in a row, the Rho ne has had several mixed vintages in terms of quality. Nevertheless, there are a number of fine, robust, rustic wines that will take the chill off an evening this winter or next.
In summary, the consumers'time for buying imported wines is here. One can almost suspect that five years from now most of us will look back at what must certainly be the good old days, and wish we had purchased more. Wine Briefs
Restaurants' wine prices have long been counterproductive to the enjoyment of wine with a meal. Markups in price of 200 to 300 percent above cost reflect the fact that the restaurant treats wine as a special-event beverage for which consumers don't mind getting ripped-off when it comes to their anniversary or birthday. However, such prices inhibit wine drinking except for those who have big expense accounts.
Not every restaurant in Washington has outrageous prices on wines. One of the best wine lists I've seen recently is at the new La Reserve restaurant in the Embassy Row Hotel, at 2015 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The wine list is not only extremely well thought out, but is filled with smashing values. Some examples of outstanding values on the comprehensive wine list include:
* Robert Mondavi
* 1981 Fume' Blanc ($12.50)
* Simi 1981 Chardonnay ($12)
* David Bruce 1981 Chardonnay ($11)
* The delightful rose' from Sebastiani, "Eye of the Swan," 1983 ($9.50)
* 1981 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon ($13)
* The 1980 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.50)
* The 1980 Joseph Phelps Zinfandel ($11)
* The deliciously fruity and dry 1982 Chevalier de Vedrines White Bordeaux ($8)
* The 1980 Lafite Rothschild ($35)
* The 1976 Palmer ($32)
* The 1983 Macon Vire "le Grand Cheneau" ($9.50)
* 1983 Macon Lugny "Les Charmes" ($10)
* The 1983 Fleurie from Georges Duboeuf ($9)
This is just a minor sampling of a sensational wine list that is very complete and priced very, very fairly. I hope consumers will support establishments that take the bold initiative to introduce such reasonable prices at the restaurant level.