These three Thanksgiving-appropriate bottles have the distinction of being major award winners at this year's San Francisco International Wine Competition. The panel of 43 judges selected them as among the top entries in their respective categories.
BERINGER 1997 Howell Mountain MERLOT BANCROFT RANCH ($100)
Beringer was selected as Winery of the Year at the San Francisco Competition. The Bancroft Ranch Merlot has become one of the signature wines from this major Napa Valley producer. The Howell Mountain appellation is noted for the earthy complexity of its wines, a fact which in 1984 helped make it the first official AVA (American Viticultural Area) created within the existing Napa Valley AVA. The Ranch sits at an elevation of 1,800 feet, well above the fog that sometimes lingers on the valley floor. Even though temperatures are cooler at this elevation, the extended sunshine helps ripen grapes slowly and evenly.

The Merlot here is thick-skinned and small-berried, making for a structured wine that's very different from the flabby Merlots that are all too prevalent. The 1997 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Merlot is from a stellar vintage for Napa. It's a gorgeous wine with intense black fruit flavors, intriguing spice, and a svelte mouth-feel.

BAROSSA VALLEY ESTATE 1999 SHIRAZ E&E "BLACK PEPPER" ($84)