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High Spirits

wine bottles
Christopher Gardner

Temple of Wine: Santas seeking a rare and wonderful vintage for someone special will be overjoyed with the Wine Club's great discounts and incredible wine depth.

How to uncork those happy holidays with affordable party libations

By Christina Water

IS THIS a great country, or what? Within toasting distance, so to speak, of where any of us is sitting, there are many fine emporia absolutely filled to the brim with high-quality, tasty and affordable wines, beers and spirits.

There's no better season than the present to sample the wares, just in time for holiday entertaining. And for those who don't have enough hours during the short December days to explore their options, don't worry: We've done the legwork already. Read on.

Supermarket for Spirits

THE BOTTOM LINE at the amazing Beverages and More chain is simply this: "800 beers, 1,200 spirits and 3,000 wines," all available in any one of 10 stores (three in the South Bay alone), including our favorite, located at 14800 Camden Ave. in San Jose. In other words, you're in no danger of a) going thirsty or b) not finding your favorite libation at this gigantic mega-market of adult refreshments.

From Stoly to Jack Daniel's, Kenwood to Château Pétrus, ESB Hefeweisen to Bud Light--if it pours, B&M probably has it. And at a price you can dance to. Trying not to go into sensory overload, we recently toured the cavernous aisles of B&M--that was after we managed to drag ourselves away from the world-class humidors handsomely stocked with the finest in Dominican, Honduran and Mexican hand-rolled stogies.

Actually, here's where I should tell readers that merely by filling out a form, one can enroll in the store's Club Bev, thereby reaping even greater discounts on future purchases. For example, the Scharffenberger Brut (given 90 points by Wine Spectator) will run you a low $12.88, but an even lower $10.58 with a Club Bev card.

But let's say it's a case or two of special holiday handmade brews that you crave. Among the 800 beers B&M offers are specialties like Samichlaus Swiss Winter Ale, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's strongest beer ($3.85 for 12 ounces). Less heady, but making just as big a head, is Winter Welcome from Samuel Smith, Pete's Wicked Winter Brew, Sam Adams' Winter Lager and the full-bodied Noche Buena from Dos Equis. Fun stuff, and definitely seasonal.

A one-stop shop for that Super Bowl party, as well as New Year's Eve, B&M has an amazing embankment of sparkling wines, including the legendary Veuve Clicquot Brut NV for an astonishing $26.99. Or load up for cocktail gatherings with serviceable Almaden Mountain Chablis, under $10 for a four-liter jug. Airline bottles make great stocking stuffers for the devotée, in such flavors as Glenlivet, Johnny Walker, Remy Martin and Pernod.

Amid the major collection of single malt whiskies, we spotted the incomparably smooth 10-year-old Talisker for $39.95, and 12-year-old Highland Park for a rock bottom $31.95 (cheaper than Heathrow prices, so help me). Want to impress someone with a bottle of South African pinotage? They've got it. A merlot from Chile, or Dom Pérignon Brut '88 ($74.99)? Yup. Or just your favorite Santa Cruz Mountains zinfandel or Sonoma chardonnay. This place deserves a slot on any Santa's route. Tell him to pick up party snacks and mixers, too, while he's at it.


Beverages & More, 14800 Camden Ave., San Jose; open Mon.­Fri., 10am­9pm; Sat., 9am­9pm; Sun., 10am­7pm; 408/369-0435; also in Santa Clara and Mountain View.

Join the Club

NIRVANA FOR serious wine heads, the Wine Club is essentially one giant room filled with boxes and bins of great wines. Lots of great wines. And at prices that will tempt the oenophile to scream out loud. Sure, there's a self-service tasting bar, a few well-chosen cigars and even some top-of-the-line caviar for sale. But the name of the game here is incredible wine depth and great discounts, which manager Jeff Cochran modestly explains is due to the store's aggressive policy of high volume, allowing low mark-up.

The down side of this consumer-friendly style is that the inventory is continually changing. But that's also the up side, especially for those who appreciate novelty. Cochran likes the current bevy of champagnes for the holidays, citing a Brut for $10.59, and a Brut Reserve for $13.59, both from Moët et Chandon, "and both fantastic wines." Personally, I just about lost it when I stumbled over a goldmine of old-vine zinfandels, stuff you never see in normal stores, as well as syrahs from the Rhône, shiraz from Australia and syrahs from Fess Parker, Renwood, R.H. Phillips and River Run.

wine shopper
Christopher Gardner

Words on Wine: Self-serve tasting bottles at the Wine Club tempt the oenophile to sample the full flavor of the wine.

Santas seeking a rare and wonderful vintage for someone special will find that the Wine Club is the place. Costly and unforgettable French Bordeaux and Burgundies with fabled names like Vosne-Romanée, Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges, plus reserve selections of top California producers. I won't say that the great imported wines will be cheap; let's just say the prices are good enough that Santa will be very, very tempted to make someone very, very happy. One can even order the connoisseurs' favorite Riedel stemware from the Wine Club, and if you haven't sipped a Nouveau Beaujolais from these babies, you haven't even begun to sample the full flavor of the wine.

Staff will provide plenty of support to bewildered browsers; this isn't a pretentious temple of wine. And anyone who wants to expand his or her vintage vocabulary can drop by any Friday and Saturday around noon for the popular tastings (e.g., Piper Heidsieck bubbly on Dec. 14, poured with imported Russian caviar for a special $7 charge).


The Wine Club, 1200 Coleman (across from the airport), Santa Clara; open Mon.­Sat., 9am­7pm; Sun., 11am­6pm; 408/567-0900.

Global Marketplace

IN ADDITION TO all those baubles, bangles and beads (plus tasteful imported furniture, ornaments, chocolate, condiments, coffees, glassware and dishes), Cost Plus also carries beaucoup wines and beers at wonderful prices. Everyone has a favorite Cost Plus; mine is on Stevens Creek Boulevard, next door to Circuit City. There--amid the handsome single guys loading their carts up with chips, salsa and Cranberry Lambic beer from Sam Adams--are bins of vintage bargains.

How about a very decent Bordeaux, a Pauillac 1993 from Chateau Duhart-Milon (a Rothschild estate) for $16.99? Yeah, I was impressed too. For that holiday open house, stock a full case of Sausal 1994 Zinfandel Alexander Valley at $7.99 a bottle. Or the sensuous Kundé 1993 Century Vines Zinfandel for $11.99. These are low prices on serious wines. Or mix up the beverage buffet with some St. Stans amber, or all the wicked ale one could desire. The wall of imported and micro-brewed beer goes on and on. There are even myriad flavors of the bracing Wyder draft ciders, at $2.39 per big bottle.

One also can find Italian sparkling wine for $7.99--and it's not that sweet stuff, either. A crisp, oak-perfumed chardonnay 1995 from R.H. Phillips runs a ridiculously low $5.99, and for a fresh, young beaujolais nouveau to accompany that Christmas turkey, look no further than Georges Duboeuf ($7.99) or Beringer ($4.99). And of course, Cost Plus happily sells the gorgeous glassware to contain all of the above. Great store, with a surprisingly strong selection of holiday fluids.


Cost Plus, 4050 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose; open daily, 9am­10pm; 408/247-3333. Many other locations valleywide.

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Experts promote guidelines for sensible wine drinking.

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Insider Trading

THROBS THERE A BRAIN so dim as does not recognize the friendly neighborhood Trader Joe's among the top shopping spots for pre-holiday preparations? I thought not. I mean, we all fell in love when suddenly, not that long ago, one of the 84 Trader Joe's stores moved to a neighborhood near us. All that imported party food, all those frozen ethnic entrées! The fine beers and wines at bargain prices, the designer munchies that seemed to have our personal name on each and every package.

And yes, mes amis, all the goodies seem to expand and multiply just in time to fuel your a) dinner, b) romantic New Year's Eve tryst, c) open house. Chuck Arnold, who manages the TJ at the Pruneyard, says that the gift-pack sets of Perrier-Jouët 1989 champagne and hand-painted stemware ($73.99) are selling like hot crêpes. In fact, add to that some Black Forest ham, a bit of Jarlsberg cheese, smoked salmon, a handful of Parmesan crisps and some creamy pâté from Marcel et Henri (all available at Trader's) and voilà--easy, elegant party favors.

The clueless would do well to consider Trader Joe's own cheese tartlets and mini calzones, which need only to be heated up to wow the holiday masses. For brew hounds, stock up on Trader Joe's Brown holiday ale, $1.99 for the big 750ml bottle--"and it's good beer, too," vows Arnold. Other top items right now, says Arnold, are Italian panettone and gift packs of fancy dried fruits and nuts.

Gift-wise, one would do well to consider giving a Brew Sack kit ($19.99), which allows recipients to whip up homemade beer in the comfort of home. "Just add water," Arnold explains. TJ stocks nonalcoholic vintages from Ariel, tawny ports from Portugal, and many California chardonnays and cabernets at record low prices. The great thing about shopping for libations here is that you can find all the party food groups--from cheeses to chutneys--as well.


Trader Joe's, 1875 Bascom Ave., in the Pruneyard, Campbell; 408/369-7823. For other locations, call the Trader Joe's info line, 800/746-7857, or check the Web.

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From the December 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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