Liquid Assets

Wes Marshall reveals the best wine bargains of 2001.

Liquid Assets

Some wines are elixirs, potions guaranteed to elicit Keatsian poetry and heartfelt adoration. Unfortunately, they usually cost a lot of money. But there are a few extraordinary wines at daily-drinking prices. Rare as hen's teeth and harder to find than the proverbial needle in a haystack, these wines are the Holy Grail for savvy oenophiles. Here are the best I've found this year. Note: Wines with an asterisk will be harder to find. You should probably call around to see who has them.

Red Wines

1999 A Mano Primitivo ($10) -- The Italian relative of Zinfandel, a perfect match with rich winter Italian food.

1997 Cave de Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages "Temptation--* ($10) -- Delicious, peppery fruit and an absolute steal at the price.

1999 Peter Lehman Shiraz ($13) -- Intense fruit, an awesome example of Australian Shiraz.

1999 Seigneur de Lauris Cotes du Rhone* ($10) and 1999 Vieux Clocher Vacqueyras* ($11) -- Both rich and intense wines from the French Rhone valley, filled with peppery fruit.

2000 Seghesio Zinfandel ($15) -- Not yet in wide release. The 1999 is less expensive and almost as good. Ted Seghesio is quietly defining how to make a great California wine at a fair price.

White Wines

2000 Bertani Due Uve ($10) -- An Italian pairing of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. As seamless as a Fred and Ginger dance routine.

2000 Clos du Bois Chardonnay ($10) -- One of the highest production wines on earth, yet still tasty. Thank winemaker Margaret Davenport, a person who knows the tricky secret of how to put quality into quantity.

2000 La Playa Sauvignon Blanc ($7) -- From Chile, where the prices are depressed. Impossible to beat at the price.

2000 Le Mas du Cedre Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($13) -- From the Rhone Valley in France. Made mostly with Grenache Blanc and big enough to stand up to meat.

Sparkling Wines

Francois Montand Blanc de Blanc* ($9) -- Some of the magic of Champagne at a fourth of the price.

Gruet Blanc de Blanc Sparkling ($12 made from Chardonnay) or Gruet Blanc de Noir ($12 made from Pinot Noir) -- From New Mexico! You would have to spend twice this amount to find any other sparkling wine this good.

Zardetto Proseco ($10) -- Italian sparkling wine with a crisp flavor and nice aroma.

Finally, a Very Special Wine Maker

Cavit is a co-op of more than 5,000 wine growers in the Trentino area of Italy. By pooling their resources, this group of small producers has developed a good deal of clout in the marketplace. They've also presented us with a collection of astonishing wine bargains. Cavit's Pinot Noir ($7 per bottle, $10 for a 1.5L), with its unctuous cherry flavors, would beat most of California's sub-$15 bottles in a blind tasting. Their 1999 Merlot ($7 per bottle, $10 for a 1.5L) is smooth and a little smoky, done very much in a French style. Perhaps best of all is their 2000 Pinot Grigio ($7 per bottle, $10 for a 1.5L bottle), the standout of their line with a crisp and fruity taste that goes perfectly with food or conversation. Cavit wines are so good, and so inexpensive, they're now my first recommendation to those searching out bargain wines.

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