Three famous old names looking for a good word floated across my field of vision last week. One was Harvey's, long the maker of England's classic cream sherry; another, Domecq, once a competitor but now an affilate; and Cockburns (pronounced “Co-burns”), almost as iconic for port as Harvey's is among sherries.
Hearing from them may mean that they are recently feeling the pinch of more intense competition. Incidentally, this reminds me that I owe readers a column on these fortified wines; look for it when summer fades and a cool autumn evening calls for a glass of sherry or porto in front of a fire.
So too, Pommery, one of Champagne's greatest names, is struggling to recapture the grandeur of its past. Not only is it emerging from a commercial eclipse, painfully hard in the best of circumstances; its effort to recapture a significant market share is doubly challenging because it comes just as sparkling-wine producers around the world are trying to grow and, perhaps, recapture some of the losses many suffered in the great New Year's 2000 fiasco, when sales fell far below expectations.
Mumm Napa also is making an effort to establish itself in a highly competitive market, which explains its dogged efforts to win well-deserved recognition of its sparkling wines.
Reflecting on these somber notes, which could be multiplied, I would rather suggest strongly that even as we rejoice in a successful search for decent, affordable table wines, everyday dinner wines, we ought not forget watering friends and guests on special occasions with wines as special as the occasions we celebrate. It would be a loss many of us would eventually suffer if the middle and upper shelves of the fine wine market were to shrink beyond our reach.
ITALY IS NOT a bad place to shop, as I was reminded by a tasting the other day. Relatively low prices (rising, but slowly) are one plus, and Italian growers and winemakers are another. They inherit an age-old tradition.
Here are a few suggestions, all of which should be available locally: '01 Orvieto classico, Il Tasso, $9, is just about a perfect white at the end of a hot afternoon. Orvieto is a small, ancient hilltop town that has been a source of ingratiating white wines, and this is a winner in my book.
You may not recall my annual endorsement of Verdicchio selling for about $10 to $12. Does Italy make a dry white that's better than pinot grigio? You bet - and it's verdicchio. A maker new to these parts is Sartarelli's '02 ($12), which may join Fazi-Battaglia and Garofoli on your wine shop's shelf.
A neighbor asked the other day for the name of a good chianti selling for $10 or less. Well, “good” is relative, but respectable chiantis start in the high teens and go up. Some '00 is from Castello di Meleto, which is associated with the origins of chianti.
New to me was a red from Sicily, '01 Colosi Sicilia Rosso, selling for around $10. Instantly likeable, it gathers into itself a handful of various fruit aromas and flavors. My note: Wow!