John JuergensOxford Wine Update

Note to Web readers
Although John's column this week focuses specifically wines available in his home town, Oxford, Miss., we thought they would still be of interest to our international readers since all wines are likely to be available across the U.S., and many of them around the world.
It's time for another update on the new wine arrivals in town, and there are lots of them at very good prices. Here are a few things I found in my latest survey of wine shops around town.

Most stores now carry one of the best lines of wines I've seen in a long time, the Beringer Founders' Estate wines. This is a full line up of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, all of which have big, rich flavors, and they all sell for right at $10. The Cabernet just won a gold medal at the Dallas Morning News wine competition. These represent some of the best wine values since Napa Ridge Pinot grew wings and flew the ten dollar nest.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, and which I still believe to be true, Rhone varietal wines made from Syrah/Shiraz and Petite Sirah grapes are the coming thing. Star Package Store now carries a couple of terrific wines in this category, the Bogle Petite Sirah for $10 and another one by Concannon for $13. Both of these are huge, meaty wines with loads of flavor. Star also has the Bogle Chardonnay that is worth checking out for about $8.50.

Rounding out some of the other new arrivals at Star includes a new Spanish Rioja and a French Bordeaux , and the Cypress label by J. Lohr Winery. The Cypress wines are good solid wines in the $10 price range - the Merlot just took a gold medal -- and they have a great looking label.

Across town at PJ's next to Kroger, Doug has all sorts of interesting things to check out as well. Meridian Vineyards has always been one of my favorite producers since they give a consistently good wine for a reasonable price. The Sauvignon Blanc is a gold medal winner and now has become my reference for this grape type. Even though they have gone up a couple of bucks across the board, PJ's has the full line up from Meridian in the $11 to $17 price range.

If you are still hung up on drinking Merlot, PJ's has something in every price range. Although I don't usually recommend Merlot, the wines made by Hogue Cellars and Pedroncelli Vineyards will give you a good wine for the money.

PJ's also has an impressive array of high end wines if you are ever in the market for something special. He has several "Meritage" wines, that is, wines blended from the very best grapes, by Geyser Peak, Sterling, and Sunstone wineries, all in the $30 to $40 range. If you spring for one of these, let me know how it tastes, since I certainly can't afford them.

Moving over to C&M package store by the hospital, check out a new wine from R.H. Phillips called Barrel Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon for $7. The term "cuvee" simply means blend. Although this is a Cabernet Sauvignon it tastes more like a Beaujolais with light, bright fruit flavors. It would make a great pizza, spaghetti, or hamburger wine.

Gallo is trying desperately to change its image by divorcing its name from the ultra-low end plonk that produced its reputation and fortune over the last 60 years. They are not getting out of the very lucrative plonk business; instead, the winery has spawned a plethora of just okay to good wines with alternatives labels that make no mention of the Gallo name. The only way you can tell it is a Gallo product is that it is made in Modesto, California.

The Gallo name is now reserved for their premium and ultra premium wines. Yes, Gallo is capable of making truly fine wines. The Gallo Sonoma line of wines are all quite good, but they seem to be creeping up in price as Gallo fills in behind them with their alternative labels. C&M currently has the best price on some of the Gallo Sonoma wines if you want to prove to yourself that they can make a good quality wine.

All of the stores also have many of the newer vintages of your old favorites. If you like Chardonnay, just about all of them in most price ranges are really good. Chardonnay just seems to get better each year and the 1998 vintage is right up there.

If Chardonnay prices are getting a bit steep for you, try one of the many Sauvignon Blanc wines available in town. For $9 to $12 you can get wines that will give you a nice glass of wine with lots of fruit flavors that are a little more crisp than those of Chardonnay. These wines are especially good with seafood, salads with vinegar based dressings, and pasta dishes.

Although the rush for the 1999 French Beaujolais Nouveau is over, the California version from Beringer just arrived in town and it's worth checking out. It is still a light, young, festive wine similar to its French cousin, but the American version is a lot softer with more intense fruit flavors.

One final note, if it seems like most of the local wine shops have been out of a lot of your regular favorites, they have. Several months ago the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, those fine folk down in Jackson who function both as the wholesaler for wine and spirits and as the booze police, decided it was time to fix the ordering and distribution system, which, by the way, wasn't broken. They put in new computer software that turned the entire ordering process on its head so that retail shops can no longer find things in the book, and when they do, there is better than an even chance that any particular item won't be shipped.

Those ABC wizards also instituted a policy that they will ship only a total of 10,000 cases a day of all alcohol products for the entire state. After that nothing gets shipped until the next day's cycle, which could translate into a delay of several days before a store might receive their order, or part of it.

Although 10,000 cases might sound like a lot of alcohol, there are about 500 retail alcohol permit holders in the state, including the casinos and restaurants. It is conceivable that one or two casinos could take up an entire day's allotment if they had a big bash coming up and no one else in the state would be able to order that day.

It is a mystery to me first, why the ABC would put such restrictions on an operation that represents a $50 million pure profit operation, and second, why in the world would we have the same agency responsible for providing the product that generates this profit also be responsible for enforcement. That's like driving your car with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. I'm sure that in someone's mind in the state government it makes perfect sense to keep the entire process not only under the same roof, but in the same office. Go figure.

So, if you can't find your favorite wine in town, don't blame it on the wine shop; it's probably your state tax dollars at work, or not at work, as the case may be. Look at it this way: If they are out of something you want, this is the perfect time to explore some of the great new wines in town.

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