Glancing at the mishmash in wine shops' bargain bins, one is tempted to rate bottles by price alone. But after a few cheap-red headaches, most of us know better. To sniff out the best inexpensive bottles, we consulted Roberta Morrell, a wine connoisseur and co-owner of the upscale wine mecca Morrell & Company. Morrell carries many top wines (a $10,000 1870 Lafite Rothschild, for instance), but, she says, "I love discovering the good values." A sign in the store begs, please ask for our full list of fine and rare wines. To drink well this summer and have cash left for the Jitney, we asked instead for a different list: Morrell's favorite easy-to-find wines under $10.
Chardonnay: Californian Cartlidge & Browne '97 ($8.99). "Everyone agrees, it's absolutely the best inexpensive Chardonnay you'll find -- shut your eyes and you'll think you spent $15," she says.
Pinot Grigio: Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio '97 ($9.95). A "light, crisp, refreshing" wine -- and one of Morrell's own summer favorites.
Merlot: Talus '96 Merlot from California ($8.99). "A best buy," says Morrell.
Primitivo: Terrale '97 Primitivo ($6.99). The spicy, Zinfandel-like Italian red is "great with barbecue meats -- it really stands up to charcoal," says Morrell.
Table wines: Reserve St. Martin Selection Rouge, Selection Blanc, '97 ($4.99 each) and Rosé de Syrah '97 ($7.99). These French imports, staples at Morrell's summer house, also turn up at places like Tavern on the Green. "Marvelous value," she raves.
Sweet and dessert wine: D'Artagnan Late Harvest Gros Manseng '97 ($7.99 a half bottle). Morrell's verdict: "Very good. Not too sweet." Skip the Sauternes and try this import, distributed by the pâté folks -- and have enough left over for an extra portion of foie gras.
Morrell & Co., 535 Madison Ave., near 54th St. (688-9370).
Picks of the Week
Norma Kamali is clearing out her chic spring black-denim collection (pictured, right) plus a ton of cozy gray fleece (tops and bottoms) and rip-stop nylon (pants, anoraks, and trenches) -- all are perfect mix-and-match packables for summer evenings at the beach. Prices are half off: $55-$275. Ladies' sizes 4-12. 11 W. 56th St., third floor (957-9797); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 10-6; 4/26-5/10.
Delman and Delman Studio women's shoes retail for $130-$185. At the sample sale, they're all $65-$85. Styles include sandals, loafers, mules, and ballet flats. Sizes 6-10. 730 Fifth Ave., at 57th St., eighth floor (399-2323); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. 10-7; 4/28-5/5.
10/10 Optics is selling off masses of eyeglasses frames from designers like l.a. Eyeworks, Calvin Klein, DKNY, and other big names we can't print. Prices are mostly 50-70 percent off; selected new styles are 20 percent off. Eye exams are $75. 168 Fifth Ave., near 21st St. (366-1010); A.E., M.C., V.; Sun. noon-5:30, Mon. and Thurs. 10-8, Tues, Wed., and Fri. till 7; 5/2-5/16.
Deborah Harper's hats have been sold at Barneys and Bergdorf's. At her sale, twelve years' worth of summer styles are half off: from $15 for a baseball cap to $35 for a simple straw hat to $125 for a fine-sewn straw style. 114 Chambers St., third floor (227-3831); cash only; Thurs.-Sat. 11-7; 4/29-5/1.
Erik Stewart's soft, trim pastel sweaters for spring (as seen at Saks and Bergdorf's) are usually $60-$100. At the sample sale, grab the V-necks, tanks, and cardigans for a mere $25-$80. Ladies' sizes S-L. 1441 Broadway, near 40th St., thirty-fourth floor (944-9096); M.C., V.; Fri., Mon.-Tues. 9-5; 4/30-5/4.
ALWAYS A DEAL
Windows on the Wine
To navigate wine racks on your own, pick up the latest edition of Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (Sterling Publishing, $24.95). The slim hardcover book covers all the basics: characteristics of grapes by region, matching wine and food, and what to look for when purchasing (on any budget). And there aren't too many big wine words, so it's a great tool for beginners and experts alike. Available at Barnes & Noble; to order, call 800-367-9692.