This is the season for lists. Guest lists for fall entertaining and, before long, guest lists for the holidays, grocery lists for special dishes and, of course, a select wine shopping list.
To complement the season's special occasions, many of us will be looking for wines of distinctly higher quality than our everyday fare. Fortunately, however, that needn't mean spending outrageous sums. It's my firm belief that the best values in wine today are to be found in the $7 to $15 range where many of us will concentrate our shopping.
Choosing the top wines for fall and holiday entertaining should start now. Wine shops expect to do 40 percent or more of their business between now and the end of the year. It won't be long before the aisles are crowded and the service unavoidably rushed.
More importantly, the best wines tend to disappear from the shelves with distressing rapidity at this time of year. Supplies are good now, but there's no guarantee that your favorite chianti or white burgundy won't be replaced by a gaping hole on your retailer's shelf by the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
The wines listed below offer extraordinary quality and value. No country or state has a monopoly on great wine. Thus, the list is varied. And there's no rule that says that each course of the meal can't use a wine from a different continent.
Prices are approximate. If your retailer does not have a wine, the store can order it from the wholesaler listed in brackets.
Red Wines Castello dei Rampolla 1984 Chianti Classico ($10-$12; Italy): Superb chianti. Spicy, plummy bouquet. Deep, cherry-like fruit; elegant and stylish, matches well with anything from pasta to delicate veal and poultry dishes. Great refinement here. (Washington Wholesale)
Domaine Les Goubert Gigondas 1984 ($9; Rho~ne): Deep purple color; ripe, lush, cherry-like fruit. May remind some of a top-notch burgundy, but Goubert is one of Gigonda's best producers, and this is a classic rhone; deliciously ready to drink now. (Dan Kravitz Selection, Beitzell)
Deletang Touraine "Cepage Cabernet Vielles Vignes" 1985 ($7-$8; France): Old vines ("vielles vignes") produce less wine, but what they produce is exquisitely pure and fine. Bursting with lively, berry-like cabernet franc fruit; impeccably fresh. (Robert Kacher Selection, Washington Wholesale)
Quintarelli Valpolicella 1982 ($8-$10; Italy): Very ripe, exotic bouquet, soft, supple, abundant fruit on the palate. Absolutely first rate, will astound those who who think of valpolicella in terms of the mass-produced Bolla and Folonari products. (Robert Chadderdon Selection).
Burgess 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16; Napa): Spicy, cassis bouquet, forward, lush fruit, fine finish. Quite enjoyable now, yet enough tannin to ensure aging. Fine effort from one of Napa's most consistent producers. (Vintage)
Pesquera 1984 "Tinto" ($10-12; Spain): Marvelous, spicy oak bouquet; ripe, savory fruit on the palate. The '84 is light for a Pesquera, but nonetheless quite well-structured. Enjoy now as a preview for the great but still closed in '82 and '83 Pesqueras. (Imported by Calvert Woodley)
Barca Velha 1978 ($12; Portugal): Maturing smoky bouquet with very pleasing vanilla oak scents; velvety, rich flavors of a fine red at its peak.
Scarzello Barolo 1982 ($16; Italy): Like any barolo from a great year, this masterful effort really needs 10 years to show its stuff. But the tremendous truffle and raspberry bouquet, and intense, deep, smoky fruit provide a great excuse to sneak a sip now. Decant at least two hours before drinking. (Washington Wholesale)
Chateau Montelena 1982 ($24; Napa): For those who like their California cabernets the old-fashioned way; big in structure and extract, loaded with chewy fruit and tannin, tremendous finish, tremendous aging potential. (Forman)
Rioja Alta "Reserva 904" ($11; Spain): Full floral and vanilla bouquet; silky texture on palate, deep savory fruit. Fully mature. (Imported by Calvert Woodley)
Santa Rita 1984 "120" Cabernet Sauvignon ($8-$9; Chile): Superb Chilean cabernet that seems to combine the herbal nuances of good bordeaux with California fruit and ripeness. Great value. (Beitzell)
Gundlach Bundschu 1984 Merlot "Rhinefarm Vineyards" ($12; Sonoma): Oodles of soft, lush berry-like fruit; smooth; excellent balance; perfect with any red meat and most poultry. (DOPS/Quality Beverage in D.C.)
Lungarotti Rubesco 1982 ($7.50; Italy): Spicy oak bouquet, earthy, full fruit, great match with red pasta sauces. (Forman)
Chateau Beaucastel 1984 ($14; France): Deep color, great authority and rich, forward fruit on the palate; particularly impressive considering the difficulties of the vintage; justifies Beaucastel's well deserved reputation as one of Chateauneuf du Pape's great propeties.
White Wines Rosemount Estate 1985 "Show Reserve" Chardonnay ($12-15; Australia): One of those Australian wines that gives vintners in California and Burgundy nightmares. Explosive, opulent fruit; big toasty and vanilla oak bouquet, tremendously lively flavor. (Kronheim)
Macon Ige' "Domaine des Roches" 1986: ($7; France): Immensely charming, youthful, vibrant chardonnay fruit shines through. (Robert Kacher Selection, Washington Wholesale)
Guerrieri-Rizzardi 1986 "Dogoli" ($8; Italy): Fascinating floral, cinnamon and spice bouquet, exotic and luxurious on the palate. Perfect aperitif, but will also complement light fish dishes. Great minimalist label. (Exclusive at Mayflower Liquors)
Villaine Bourgogne 1985 "Le Clous" ($10-12; France): From the co-owners of Domaine Romanee-Conti, a luscious, opulent white burgundy that is the perfect complement to rich cream sauce fish or poultry dishes.
Caillou Blanc du Cha~teau Talbot 1985 ($10; Bordeaux): Along with Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux, one of Bordeaux's true rarities, a white medoc. The best Caillou Blanc yet, fresh, crisp sauvignon fruit, a perfect match with shellfish, crabs or light fish, or as an aperitif. (Kronheim)
ABR Saint Veran 1985 ($10; France): Stylish, refined and now at its peak, this white burgundy has impeccable balance and a smooth, lingering finish. Similar to a well-made pouilly-fuisse. (Robert Chadderdon Selection)
Domaine Saint Andre' de Figuire 1986 "Blanc de Blancs" ($8; Provence): Aromatic peach and almond bouquet, refreshing, lively fruit on the palate. Lots of clever winemaking here. (Robert Kacher Selection, Washington Wholesale)
Vallania 1985 Terre Rosse "Vino Da Tavola" ($11; Italy): Soft, easygoing style; pure chardonnay fruit, unmasked by oak, shows to full advantage. Not everyone favors Italy's experiments with traditional French varietals, but this offering from Emilia-Romagna will make many believers. (Winebow)
Sparkling Wines Mure' Cremant d'Alsace Brut Reserve ($10; France): Made from pinot blanc in Alsace, but compares favorably to many champagnes; very creamy, light mousse, well-expressed fruit, lots of finesse; ideal aperitif style. (International)
Gosset Rose' Brut ($25; France): A good rose' champagne is always a treat. This pale pink offering has full-bodied, berry-like fruit flavors and strong finish. Try it with strawberry desserts. (Washington Wholesale)
Dessert Wines Joseph Phelps 1985 Delice du Semillon ($9; half bottle; Napa): If the French ever redo the classification of Sauternes, they should consider including this California wine not too far from Yquem. Light golden color with an sweet apricot, vanilla oak bouquet, deep, honeyed fruit. Superb effort. (DOPS/Quality Beverage in D.C.)
Seppelt "Para Port" Non-vintage ($22-$25; Australia): Australians love their "stickies" (sweet wines), and it's easy to see why. Impressive roasted nuts and caramel bouquet, complex, velvety flavors, great length and intensity. A world class tawny. (Beitzell)
Wine Briefs First-place honors in the Fourth Annual Sommelier Competition semifinal went to Olivier Daubresse, sommelier at the Madison Hotel's Montpelier Restaurant. The 2 1/2-hour competition sponsored by Food and Wines from France at the Willard Hotel included two blind tastings, questions on food and wine matching from a panel of judges, and a test of wine service technique. The win gives Daubresse, who is from Cannes, the chance to compete for a trip to his native land at the national finals in New York in March.
Virginia's wineries are the subject of an engaging new book. "Virginia Wine Country" by Hilde Gabriel Lee and Allan E. Lee (Betterway Publications, White Hall, Va., $17.95 cloth, $11.95 paper) profiles 35 of the state's top wineries. It's also packed with recipes paired with Virginia wines, and has extensive information on many small inns and restaurants one can visit while on a Virginia wine tasting tour.
Ingleside Plantation Winery in Oak Grove, Va., walked away with top honors at the recent Monticello Wine Festival Virginia Wine Competition in Charlottesville. The gold-winning 1984 cabernet sauvignon ($12) was vinified by Jacques Recht, formerly of Pomerol's Vieux Chateau Certan. The wine is available at local shops or at the winery (804-224-8687).