What is the value of a bottle of Chateau de la Riviere, 1982 Fronsac?

The Beaux-Arts-styled Chateau Margaux and the immense, turreted Chateau de la Riviere are probably the two most beautiful chateaux among the thousands of properties in Bordeaux. With the possible exception of 1959, 1982 is in my opinion the greatest vintage since the immediate postwar vintages 1945 and 1947. A bottle of 1982 Chateau Margaux is worth about $600; a bottle of 1982 Chateau La Riviere might be worth $35 on a good day. Why the discrepancy? Great buildings don't make great wine. Great vineyards do. And because of where its vineyards are located, Chateau de la Riviere doesn't produce wines of collectible quality.

Not that the vineyards of Chateau de la Riviere are any slouch. They are in Fronsac, an area on Bordeaux's right bank that is respected but that is also thoroughly eclipsed by its right bank neighbors, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. I tasted the 1982 Chateau de la Riviere when it was released and thought it was quite nice, its high Merlot content giving it much precocious charm. But I never thought it was a keeper, and my guess is that your 1982 probably peaked around 1990. But I would also note that Chateau de la Riviere is producing the best wines in its 500-year history today, under the tutelage of Bordeaux's leading consulting oenologist, Michel Rolland. At the current asking price of $15 to $25 a bottle, the 2000 and 2001 are well worth considering.

My advice on your 1982 would be to drink it up yourself. Although past its prime, it may still be enjoyable, its color brick red/brown at the rim, with a deeper garnet in the center. Don't look for a wallop of Merlot fruit, but expect to find autumnal aromas of cedar and sage on the nose, and light, lacy somewhat cognac/caramel fruit on the palate. It may not be a great wine anymore, but if it evokes memories of a special person who gave it to you or what you were doing way back in 1982 when it was made, you will truly be savoring time in a bottle.

I receive the Wine Spectator on a monthly basis. Many times I would like to buy wine they talk about, but they are unavailable here in Dallas. Can you recommend any Web sites where wine can be purchased via the Internet?

Confusing interstate shipping laws can land both sellers and consumers in serious hot water if transgressed, so buying wines from another state over the Internet, or by telephone or mail for that matter, can be hazardous. You are fortunate to live in Texas. A federal court ruled last year that several provisions of the Texas alcoholic beverage code are unconstitutional to the extent that they ban importation of wine for personal consumption by Texas consumers. Under the court's opinion, Texas consumers are allowed to order wine from out-of-state suppliers and to have that wine shipped to them in Texas. But the rule is riddled with exceptions and restrictions; the most charming, in my view, is that the wine may not be shipped into a "dry" area. The Texas ABC board has set up a special e-mail address to guide Texans through the legal thicket and will answer further questions. Direct your question to the General Counsel, Lou Bright, at l.bright@tabc.state.tx.us. Let's hope other state ABC commissions will follow Texas' lead and set up similar hotlines for confused consumers until the legal issues are sorted out by the courts or by legislation.

Bargain Wine of the Week

Raymond Amberhill 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($8-$9; California): In wine-tasting parlance, the 2001 Raymond Amberhill would be called a ringer -- an inexpensive wine that can fool an expert. If thrown into a blind tasting of $25 to $35 Cabernets, my guess is that only about half of the expert tasters would identify it as the ringer, and frankly I'm not sure which half I'd be in. The giveaway might be a somewhat short finish compared with the best of the rest, but other than that the 2001 Amberhill pretty much covers all the bases. It has a huge bouquet of sweet vanilla oak and cassis, a medium body, with nicely layered, ripe Cabernet fruit. Moreover, Raymond has significantly dropped the price for the 2001 vintage, even though the wine is significantly better than the quite decent 2000, which was offered at $12.

Cellar Selection

Wines of exceptional merit for those willing to invest in the best new releases:

Shafer Vineyards 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon "Napa Valley" ($51; California): Shafer Vineyards' Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon "Stag's Leap District" ($150) is a wine that routinely earns scores of 98 to 100 points in leading wine publications.

Even at its lofty price, it is on allocation in most vintages, which means you have to ask for it at your favorite wine shopBut as good as Hillside Select is, the smart money runs to Shafer's remarkable "regular" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which costs about a third as much.

Indeed, right down to its gold lettering on black background label, the 2001 Shafer Vineyards Napa Valley calls to mind a great vintage of Chateau Palmer ($80 to $90), the epitome of aristocratic elegance combined with subtle power, second only to the neighboring Chateau Margaux ($175 to $300) as an other-worldly avatar of this style. So by all means buy Shafer Vineyard Hillside select if you can find it, afford it and don't mind waiting 10 or more years for it to shed its hefty cloak of tannins. But don't pass on the privilege of savoring the seductive Shafer Napa Valley 2001, which is delectably ready to drink now, but which also has the capacity to age gracefully for five to seven years in a cool cellar.

Note that while the 2000 Shafer Vineyard Napa Valley was one of the better wines of that somewhat irregular vintage, the 2001 is significantly better. Note also, if you have your heart set on the Shafer Hillside Select but don't want to pay full freight, be on the lookout for deals on the slower moving 1998 and 2000 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernets. Although they come from supposedly off vintages, they are extraordinary wines that have been significantly undervalued by the market. (Shafer wines are stocked at many shops, but call before you visit, as supplies are limited.)